Good morning folks and a happy St. Patrick’s Day to all! Not only is this day the perfect excuse to party, its also a time when people all over North America celebrate and honor their Irish roots. And what better way to do that than to tilt a glass of something craft made, local or foreign, that is done in the venerable tradition of Irish brewing. It doesn’t have to be all about Guinness, you know 😉 And so I’ve decided to mark this occasion by highlighting the many Irish-style brews that I’ve had over the years which were satisfying, appetizing, and just generally a pleasure to drink. But first, a note on beer styles that come to us from the Emerald Isle.
As part of the British Isles, Ireland shares many varieties and brewing processes in common with England, Scotland and Wales. But at the same time, Irish brewers have been very good at establishing signature styles and brands. And much like the other locales in the Isles, ales and stouts are favored over lagers and other “Continental” beers. Irish Stouts are very common, and are often associated with Ireland almost exclusively. Chock this up to a very successful marketing campaign by companies like Guinness and Murphy’s, both huge purveyors of Irish Stouts. Then there’s what is known as “Irish Red Ale”, a pale ale that is deep red in hue and quite malty. Here, it is companies like Smithwicks and Beamish Red that are most often associated with the style.
But of course, this is not representative of the entirety of Irish brewing. Today, there are no shortage of assorted Porter’s, Pale Ales, and other varieties to be found that bear the name “Irish”. And when it comes to the export market, there are far more than just the major brand names to choose from. And in my experience, these are the next best thing to actually going to Ireland and sampling locally. So I present my list of Irish-style beers that have made an impact on me over the years, all of which can be found right here in the Great White North.
Mill St. Valley Irish Ale:
Brewed with a combination of pale, biscuit, chocolate and caramel malts, American and British hops, and even a touch of Lanark County maple syrup, Mill Street’s take on the traditional Irish Ale is a creamy, syrupy, and slightly smoky drinking experience. And of course, it’s name honors the Ottawa Valley’s long-standing Irish population. The smooth, malty character and clean finish of it also calls to mind such British classics as Boddingtons and Kilkenny, though I sincerely prefer this one when all is said and done. In addition to being more balanced and complex, it also appeals to my patriotic side, having grown up in the Ottawa Valley and owing a good deal of my heritage to Ireland!
Scotch-Irish Sergeant Major’s IPA:
Located in southern Ontario, the Scotch-Irish brewing company is one of the finest purveyors of ales, stouts and sessionals that I’ve ever experienced. And their Sergeant Major’s IPA stands out for me as the beer that familiarized me with what a real IPA should taste like. At once rich and thick in terms of its malts, it also packs a wallop on the hop front. The flavor here ranges from piney, to floral, to citrusy, and lingers on the tongue for quite some time. As a lover of hops, I was immediately charmed and sought this beer out whenever I could, especially when I returned to Ottawa to visit old friends. Imagine my disappointment then when I heard that the Scotch-Irish brewing company had been absorbed by the Kitchessipi operation. Though this sort of thing happens, it appalls me to see that the status of their traditional lineup is indeterminate at this time. I will have to investigate when I get back to Ottawa again…
Nelson Paddywhack IPA:
This beer I became acquainted with shortly after moving to BC. Crafted by Nelson Brewery, a purveyor of organic ales located in BC’s interior, this beer is not only the Gold Medal winner of the 2003 Canadian Brewing Awards but also the brewing staff’s favorite. Not hard to see why, since the beer is both heavily hopped but manages to achieve a good balance with a rather rich malt profile. Combining five varieties of American, British and German hops, the flavor is at once bitter, floral, citrusy and earthy, and stays with you long after your first sip.
Trafalgar Celtic Ale:
Ah, and old favorite, and another beer which I seek out whenever I’m back East. Brewed by Trafalgar Beers and Meads, the Celtic Ale is a prime example of an Irish pale ale that emphasizes clean, smooth, and complex flavor over bitterness. Auburn in color, the scent is gentle and reminiscent of toasted breads and biscuits, while the flavor is quite light, yet deceptively complex and layered. In the end, it finishes clean and without any real lingering bitterness. At first, I was a little put off by the its lack of hoppy flavor, but was drawn back to it due to its undeniable charm and subtelty. Whenever I was looking for a good beer to pair with spicey food, after a hot workout, or just in the mood for something smooth and refreshing, I’d pick up a case of four tallboys, which is how they are packaged. I tell ya, just about everything with this beer is unique!
And so I say to you, beer snobs and beer enthusiasts, seek these beers out if and when you can. You will not be disappointed. Now let’s all get out to our favorite watering holes, turn up the Celtic music, and enjoy a fine pint in honor of St. Patrick and our collective heritage, whatever that may be!