Order a round of drinks on St Patrick’s Day and it’s inevitable that at least one of them will be a thick, black stout with a deep, creamy head, served in a pint glass with the Guinness logo on the side. Other Irish beer brands, such as Murphy’s, Caffrey’s and Harp, have tried to elbow Guinness from its perch but the black stuff still dominates the Irish drinking scene.
These days there is, at last, more choice of Irish beers for the discerning drinker, with smaller breweries in both the Republic and Northern Ireland gaining a following among both the craft crowd and traditionalists. And for those of us who like to join in the St Patrick’s Day celebrations on the other side of the Irish sea, quite a few of those beers are becoming available for the revelry. We’ve scoured the land to bring you the best for home consumption, so save the Guinness for another occasion and raise a glass filled with one of these instead.
1. Galway Bay Buried at Sea, 4.3%: £3.95 per 500ml, KWM Wine
Anyone in need of a comforting beer to cradle should consider pouring this chocolate milk stout into their favourite pint pot and taking long, slow sips. Black with a thin tan head, it has all the toasty aromas you would expect from a stout along with the requisite silky smooth texture. There’s a decent hit of chocolate and a creamy sweetness which dries out with some smoky and nutty notes at the finish.
2. The White Hag Little Fawn, 4.2%: £2.49 for 330ml, Beer Hawk
Named after a mythical Irish creature, the White Hag brewery has been muscling in on the craft ale scene with a fine range of flavour-packed beers. Little Fawn is its session IPA, brewed with clean malts and American hops to an easy-drinking strength. Grapefruit flavours lead the way with some juicier tropical notes of mango and a grassy bitterness joining along for the ride. These myth-loving brewers are well placed to become Irish brewing legends.
3. Boundary, D’etre, Raspberry/Blackberry, 4.9%: £2.59 per 330ml, Honest Brew
Belfast based Boundary Brewing is at the cutting edge of the current Irish craft beer movement. It has four core beers in its portfolio – two IPAs, an APA and a stout – which are supplemented by an ever rotating line-up of experimental specials and eye-opening collaborations. Its D’etre beers are a range of seasonal saisons with a fruity twist. Pick of the bunch is this raspberry and blackberry mash-up – an inviting, opaque booze that swirls with dark red hedgerow fruits and ends with a refreshing, spicy kick.
4. Mescan Westport Red Tripel, 8.5%: £4.39 per 330ml, Beers of Europe
Mescan Brewery is the work of two vets, one from Dublin and the other from Genk in Belgium, who produce Belgian-style beers from a farm in the shadows of Craogh Patrick mountain. We like our tripels to have an almost grubby graininess, and this one delivers just that, along with some boozy berry flavours and tangy spice.
5. Eight Degrees The Full Irish, 6%:£2.99 per 330ml, Honest Brew
This corking American IPA is a bright, beer-ey international collaboration; brewed by a Kiwi and an Aussie, and made using locally sourced Irish malts. Expect an explosion of piney hops when you pop the cap. On the palate, punchy grapefruit leads the charge, with lime and lychee adding support. There’s a smattering of sweet floral flavours in there too, and the finish is dry, herbal and long-lasting. Best served at eight degrees.
6. Brehon Brewhouse Brehon Blonde, 4.3%: £3.90 per 500ml, Beer Hawk
County Monaghan’s Brehon Brewhouse aimed for maximum refreshment with its blonde ale and fulfilled the brief with simple effectiveness. The clear golden liquid has a soft, cotton wool head and gives off fresh aromas of lemon and light bready malt. The flavours have an effortless elegance – touches of citrus zest, pinches of spice and a steadily simmering bitterness. If you need a break from big-hitting beers, this is certain to reset your flavour dial.
7. Mourne Mountains Brewery Red Trail, 5.5%: £3.45 per 330ml, KWM Wine
Mourne Mountain Brewery is a relatively new Warrenpoint-based outfit, outputting a range of beers that are inspired by the granite tipped peaks that lie south of the brewery. It brews up with mountain water, tapped from the Spelga Dam, which makes its beers noticeably soft on the palate. Born from a tryst of New Zealand and US hops, Red Trail is its enticing red IPA – an aromatic, hoppy number with hints of sweet, toasted malt on a long, dry finish.
8. Northbound 08, 5%: £3.95 per 500ml, KWM Wines
German Kolsch-style beers have been rapidly gaining in popularity, with Derry’s Northbound firmly among the appreciation club. Brewed with pale malt, peppery German hops and ale yeast, it’s a pale honey-hued drink, with soft doughy malts punctuated by a light fizz and some dry, yeasty spice.
9. Whitewater Brewing Maggie’s Leap, 4.7%: £3.45 per 500ml, KWM Wine
Situated just a misty, mountain hop away from the Mourne Mountain folk is the Whitewater Brewery, another shining light in the Northern Irish beer scene. With a raft of traditional ales to choose from, it’s Maggie’s Leap that springs out as one of its best. It’s a clean, punchy IPA, stacked with New World and American hops, and brewed from yeast acquired from the now defunct Belfast Brewery. An inviting, sessionable, moreish booze.
10. Metalman Brewing Co Heatsink, 5%: £2.32 per 330ml, Ales by Mail
With a smidgen of chilli and a waft of smoke, Waterford’s Metalman has gently turned up the heat on this can of porter. It’s a slightly fruity, dark ale that dries out nicely with some coffee bean bitterness at the finish. And if you think that smoke “n” chilli combo is too subtle to start with, you’ll certainly feel its warming glow by the end of the can.
The Verdict: Irish beers
Ireland is now offering the world a full range of beer styles, but we’ve stuck with stout for our best buy. Galway Bay’s version provides everything you want from a thick black beer with added chocolate creaminess to make it even more special.
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