Article By: Andy Crouch
As the global consolidation of the beverage alcohol industry continues, from mega-brewers to mega-distillers, there seems in recent years to be a bit less emphasis placed on the St. Patrick’s selling holiday. And that’s pretty understandable. When you’re run by a Belgo-Brazilian outfit, dressing up Bud Light bottles in green shamrocks just seems plain ridiculous.
The St. Patrick’s Day holiday, while remaining popular in many parts of the United States, nowadays has little to nothing to do with beverages with an actual connection to Ireland. Most drinkers prefer to fake their way with the wildly offensive Irish Car Bomb or perhaps a simple pint of Guinness. These consumers, and perhaps many in the beverage alcohol industry as well, have little understanding of the receding nature of local beer and spirits production. The biggest names in local beer in nations across the world have been time after time swallowed up by larger and then larger breweries and conglomerations.
On the Emerald Isle, fewer than ten breweries and brewpubs now operate, including larger concerns such as Guinness (owned by Diageo) and Murphy’s (owned by Heineken). In an age of consolidation, Irish ale, stout and whiskey exist in name and lore only. While the popular Guinness St. Jame’s Gate Brewery in Dublin pumps out millions of barrels of stout and stout essence, the brewery is run by accountants and business people in London. And the locals have noticed. Guinness now sells more beer in Nigeria than it does in its founding country.
With flagging sales in some markets, this year saw the return to the United States of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Perhaps in response to growing concerns over the perceived lightening of the flagship Dry Irish Stout, the expectedly robust Foreign Extra Stout, with its 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, tried to restore some glory to the flagging brand. Released with great fan fare, the Foreign Extra met with criticism from beer enthusiasts who were hoping to enjoying the more flavorful versions of the beer that are available in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Despite these seemingly tough times for Ireland’s beer market and heritage, there does appear to be a few flickers of new life. While the American craft beer movement continues to influence brewers from Turin to Tokyo to take up their mash paddles and open new breweries, a small group of Irish brewers are trying their own hands at brewing. In Dublin, the Porterhouse Brewing Company produces an eclectic line of beers – three types of stout, including the obligatory Dry Irish, two types of lager, an Alt beer, and the 7 percent alcohol Brainblasta.
At the Dungarvan Brewing Company in County Waterford on the island’s southern coast, brewers have been working since April 2O1O to produce three beers, including the Black Rock Irish Stout, Copper Coast Red Ale and Helvick Gold Blonde Ale. Founded by brothers-in-law Cormac O’Dwyer and Tom Dalton, along with their wives, the brewery focuses on offering local drinkers a greater diversity of beer options, with a focus on bottle-conditioned products.
While these beers are accessible to local drinkers, none are available for export markets and so we must look inward for the St. Patrick’s holiday. With these points in mind, it is perhaps time for the local beer retailer to take another look at this popular sales event. Instead of trying to fake an Irish brogue or placing green colored paraphernalia around your store or pub, why not give some consideration to the flavors people tend to prefer during this beer drinking holiday. Obviously, there will be no getting through to the kids who want to drink Coronas while offering their own versions of Irish folk songs and jig dances. So let’s focus on the two most popularly identified Irish or Irish-style beers, namely stout and malty ale.
ANOTHER SIDE OF STOUT
In a recent issue I wrote at length about alternatives to the classic Dry Irish Stout style, including Oatmeal Stout and Export Stout. Now it is time to take a look at a sometimes difficult to find style that explores the lighter, creamier side of the roasted stout world. Far from a cloying, unbalanced mess, these medium to full-bodied ales balance roasted grains, with cream coffee and milk chocolate aromas, and a medium level of sweetness to create a very unusual yet agreeable beverage. With their deep and dark colors and low carbonation levels, the high residual sweetness comes from unconverted sugars left over in the beer and often the addition of lactose, an unfermentable ingredient also known as milk sugar.
Duck-Rabbit Brewing Company
Farmville, North Carolina
Founded by a former college philosophy professor, the quirky little Duck-Rabbit brewery focuses on brewing dark beers for the southern market. It is the brewery’s Milk Stout, with its dark brown color and copper edges, that is a clear winner for the brewery. The beer’s aroma brims with dark roasted malt notes and a slight touch of sweetness and cream from lactose sugars. Medium bodied and possessing a substantial roasted character of chocolate malt, the beer slides into a higher gear of roasted bitterness mixed with a touch of lactic sweetness and creaminess. The whole package is an intriguing and playful offering, resembling a creamy, highly roasted brown ale.
Left Hand Brewing Company
Much easier to find that many Milk Stouts, this Colorado classic starts with a dark brown color with ruby hues at the fringes and possesses a chalky, mocha-like dryness in the aroma, with deep and dry roasted notes and a slight burnt malt character. The flavor begins slowly with a lightly toasted maltiness reminiscent of molasses, before heading into a moderately dark malt hint that plays well with a light lactose creaminess from the addition of milk sugars and flaked oats. For the stout skittish among your customers, this Milk Stout is actually light bodied and possesses an overall sweetness, which makes it a great suggestion for dark beer wary novices, like a brown ale with lactic sweetness.
WHY NOT TRY SCOTTISH-STYLE ALE?
Staying near to the Emerald Isle, the beers of Scotland, or at least the American versions of these beers, also make for a selling option for retailers and pub owners. Within the last several hundred years, Scottish beers were often taxed according to their particular alcohol levels, with lighter ales known as 6O schilling, while more portent Wee Heavy offerings were deemed 9O schilling. As far as American re-creations of these styles, four main categories of Scottish Ales exist today, including the mid-range 7O and 8O schilling varieties. Each offers a wide-range of flavors, bodies and complexities. On the lighter side of the flavor spectrum, Scottish-style Light Ales offer a simple body, low alcohol levels, little bitterness, and mild nutty or caramel malt flavors. They generally pour bright and occasionally possess the faintest whiff of smoky or peaty notes – a nod to the country’s distilling heritage. These beers remain very clean and focus on their signature malt flavors, while developing a low overall hop character, remaining very drinkable to the end. They are a solid suggestion for beer drinkers who inquire about Irish Red Ales or dare mention the name of George Killian, the last named descendent of whom passed away at the age of 84 in Enniscorthy, Ireland this past December.
Pike Kilt Lifter Scotch Style Ale
Pike Pub and Brewery
One of many beers similarly named in a tongue-in-cheek manner, Pike’s offering starts with a dull amber orange color, a substantial and sustained off-white deck of foam, and a nose of lightly sticky sweet malt, floral fruit, earthy hops, and
a caramel and toffee topping. The flavor involves layers of creamy
malt, with occasional heights of toasted grain and sweet caramel, all mixed together with mild fruit notes and a slightly earthy hop and yeast bite over a mildly warming alcohol sensation. The lightly spicy hop dose manages the malt sweetness into a dry finish.
Claymore Scotch Ale
Great Divide Brewing Company
A less heralded offering from this popular Colorado craft brewery, Claymore Scotch Ale pours with a vibrant and beautifully bright dark ruby color, a decent sized pillow of off-tan foam, a captivating aroma of mocha mixed with peat smoke notes, and a near-syrupy sweet caramel malt wash that is curtailed by an earthy bitterness. Claymore is substantial in form, with a full body that simply coats the tongue in malt. An excellent Scotch-style Ale, it represents with a full but not cloying frame and a dizzying array of elements traditionally found in the best versions of this style.
Wee Heavy Scotch Style Ale
The Duck-Rabbit Craft Brewery
Farmville, North Carolina
At the 7O schilling level and higher, Scottish-style Heavy Ales, known as Wee Heavys, try and turn their flavor dials up to eleven. Deceivingly dark red, bright and luminous in spots and a touch hazy in others, Duck-Rabbit’s version of the style is a model of restrained potency, a firecracker in a box waiting to be set loose. Pouring with a sizable off-tan head, the Scotch Ale smells strongly of sweet toasted and bready malts, with noticeable alcohol esters, hints of dark fruits, and a touch of reserved bitterness that stops the onslaught from tipping into cloying. Medium to full bodied, the flavor is where this beer really shines. While the aroma suggests some reserve, the body booms with a cacophony of flavors, ranging from a toffee, treacle and raisiny sweetness, to a dry and slightly earthy bitter finish that rounds out the edges.
THE AMERICAN AMBER ALTERNATIVE
While it might at first blush seem disrespectful to the spirit, to the extent any still remains, of St. Patrick’s Day, it holds true that many American Amber ales are exactly what your consumer wants when he or she references an Irish Ale and does not mean stout. Once the most ubiquitous of beers in the craft beer movement, Ambers have developed a bad reputation in recent years as mere child’s play. When compared to big, bruising alcohol and hop bombs, this may be true. But when done properly, these beers remain among the most drinkable offerings out there. Encompassing everything from smooth, malty lagers to bitter, hoppy ales, the American Amber style focuses on balanced malt sweetness.
Speakeasy Brewing Company
San Francisco, California
This Prohibition offering bestows a hazy brown toned
pint with mild auburn hues at the far reaches, a khaki colored soft layer of pillowy foam, and a cracking mélange of sweet, biscuity and creamy malt mixed with a mild piney hop ester. The first sip starts creamy, with light citrus hop flavors making a quick appearance before deferring to a medium-bodied malt sweetness comprised of bready, biscuity and caramel sugar notes. A smartly crafted American Amber, the Prohibition effectively balances the American hops with the level of malt sweetness necessary to maximize drinkability.
Old Yankee Ale
Cottrell Brewing Company
Once the brewery’s only beer, Cottrell’s Old Yankee Ale is brewed in a 19th Century warehouse that once housed a manufacturing plant owned by the owner’s ancestors. Meting out a bold and clean copper color with a moderate off-white head, the complex aroma teems with pleasant biscuity and toasted malt flavors that gel effectively with its earthy, citrusy hop esters. Starting with a toffee and caramelized sugar malt sweetness, Old Yankee Ale transitions to a light fruity and earthy flavor before returning to the true bready malt elements that define its character.
Coney Island Lager
Shmaltz Brewing Company
San Francisco, California
A copper-amber colored offering with a simple off-white head, this lager shows a mellower side of the sometimes fruity and hoppy American Amber category. The aroma fills with toasted caramel and bready malts mixed with the lightest fruit and apple notes, with a nutty touch added. The flavor suggests toasted bread, with sweeter grain elements playing against a caramel coating, all mixed with a slight creamy quality and a moderate carbonation level that helps smooth out any rougher edges.
Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale
Moylan’s Brewing Company
Weighing in at a hefty 8 percent alcohol, this Wee Heavy shines with a mildly hazy amber color and a soft beige head, with big notes of sweet caramel mixed with a touch of cotton candy and hints of spicy hops. The flavor offers strong tones of sweet, chewy caramel malts, with loads of residual sweetness boxed in by a slight resiny hop bite, a wispy note of smoked malt and a healthy alcohol base. Soft and smooth in body, this fine Moylan’s offering tantalizes your tongue without overwhelming your palate.