In Ireland, beer is toast of the towns

March 11, 2006|By GREGG GLASER | GREGG GLASER,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

It's dark in Ireland. Black opaque. Especially so in the pubs.

No, this isn't a comment on the economy or the psychology of the Irish. It's a comment on Irish beer -- stout, to be specific -- the black ale that personifies Irish beer throughout the world.

Venture into any Irish pub and you'll be hard-pressed not to find at least one tap offering the national beer, which, to be exact, is an ale. This factoid separates Ireland from the rest of the world, where most beer drinkers quaff golden, fizzy lagers.

Ireland wasn't always a stout-drinking nation. In 1759, the birth year of Guinness, the world heavyweight of stout brewing, the Irish consumed darkish ales, often brewed in England. More people drank whiskey.

Then along came young Arthur Guinness, who, after a brewing internship, finagled a 9,000-year lease for 45 pounds a year on the derelict St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin. Guinness decided to compete with the popular English beer of the day, a black ale called porter, made popular, as the legend goes, by the porters who carried goods around London. The story states that porters thought the black, toasty ale provided them with the strength needed for their heavy labors.

In Dublin, Guinness experimented with recipes and names for his porter. A roasty version was known as "stout porter." Eventually "porter" was dropped and stout came into its own. Today, "dry stout," "extra stout" and "foreign extra stout" are widely used names for the style.

In its most simple and basic form, stout is a jet black, roasty, bitter ale, balanced with a touch of malt sweetness. The finish is dry and the mouth-feel is remarkably soft. No gassy lager fizz here. Surprising for most people, a pint of freshly drawn stout is a low-alcohol session beer, usually about 4 percent alcohol by volume, a full point below most lagers.

Guinness dominates Irish beer, but the brewery, now part of Diageo, the largest alcohol-drinks business in the world, does have a few competitors. In the city of Cork, to the south of Dublin, Murphy's and Beamish and Crawford are the next two largest brewers in Ireland. However, their stouts and red ales are hard to find outside County Cork. These two breweries are now foreign owned. Heineken gobbled up Murphy's, and Scottish and Newcastle took over Beamish and Crawford.

Elsewhere in Ireland, there's been a mini-boom of microbreweries and brewpubs in recent years. This renaissance pales in comparison to what's occurred in the United States since the 1980s, but it's a start.

In Dublin, Porterhouse Brewing makes amazingly delicious beers for its Temple Bar pub and restaurant (16-18 Parliament St.) in the trendy Temple Bar entertainment district, just south of the River Liffy. The Oyster Stout is dark, roasty and silky. Porterhouse also brews several other beers, including a porter and German-style pilsners and wheat beers. Porterhouse's owners have been so successful that their groundbreaking brewpub (the first in Dublin) spawned a small empire that now includes two other pubs in Dublin, an inn and pub in nearby Bray (south of the city), a central brewery in Blanchardstown (outside Dublin) and a pub in London's Covent Garden.

A short walk from Temple Bar brings a thirsty beer voyager to Messrs. Maguire (Burgh Quay), Dublin's only other brewpub, also south of the Liffy and directly across from the O'Connell Street Bridge, a major thoroughfare.

This pub-restaurant also brews an excellent stout or two, a porter, pale and red ales, and a German-style wheat beer. At any given time, up to eight taps carry house-brewed beers.

Outside Dublin, there are a dozen or so microbreweries and brewpubs scattered about the country. Biddy Early, to the west in Inagh in County Clare, was Ireland's first brewpub in 1995. Its beers, such as Black Biddy, Red Biddy, Blonde Biddy and Real Biddy, are excellent.

In the southeast, about halfway between Dublin and Cork, is Carlow Brewing, in County Carlow. Carlow's flagship beer, O'Hara's Irish Stout, has a chocolate-nutty and malty-sweet aroma, followed by flavors of clean, roasted malt, malt sweetness and a smooth, roasty finish. It's a dandy of a stout.

Gregg Glaser is editor of Yankee Brew News and a freelance writer who lives in Connecticut. He wrote this story for Tribune Media Services.

Irish beers available in the United States

Guinness (Dublin)

Guinness Draft, 4.2 percent alcohol by volume

Guinness Extra Stout, 5.8 percent

Harp Lager, 4.3 percent

Smithwick's Irish Ale, 4.5 percent

Web site: guinness.com

Murphy Brewery (Cork)

Murphy's Pub Draught Stout, 4.0 percent

Murphy's Red, 5.0 percent

Web site: murphysbeers.com

Carlow Brewing (Carlow)

O'Hara's Irish Stout, 4.3 percent

O'Hara's Irish Red Ale, 4.3 percent

Web site: carlowbrewing.com

MURPHY'S RED LEEK AND POTATO SOUP

Serves 2 to 4

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 leeks, chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

3/4 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped

2 1/2 cups vegetable stock

salt and pepper, to taste

1 1/4 cups Murphy's Red

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Add leeks and onion. Cook gently, stirring occasionally for about 7 minutes. Leeks and onion should be soft but not brown. Add potatoes to the leeks and onions in the saucepan. Saute and stir occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover saucepan and simmer gently for 30 to 35 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender. Add salt and pepper to taste and remaining butter. Add Murphy's Red, leave uncovered and simmer until hot.

Per serving (based on 4 servings): 213 calories, 3 grams protein, 12 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 25 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 265 milligrams sodium

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