The subject of my column today in the Oakland Tribune/Contra Costa Times and other papers is Guinness. As promised, here;s a column on a Guinnes vs. othe stout tasting we did three years ago.
Oakland Tribune Beer Column, March 16, 2005: Irish beer.
Stout Is What
It’s All About
By William Brand
I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, but I’ve danced to many a Celtic tune, shed a tear or two listening to a haunting Irish melody and shared more than a few pints of Irish ale.
St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday and there’s no better time to take a look at Irish beer and there’s no better Irish beer style than stout. In an afternoon of tasting, Don Gortemiller, brewer and co-owner of Pacific Coast Brewing in Oakland, and I, sampled all the Irish-made stouts available in Northern California and a random selection of Irish-style stouts made here on the West Coast.
So what is Irish stout? It’s often a low-alcohol beer made with roasted barley and dark malt. It began life as porter, created in 18th century London. The Irish – those in the Irish Republic, not under the English yoke – embraced the style and soon made it their own.
Irish porter was darker, more viscous and intriguing than English porter. While English porter and later English stouts were on the sweet side, Irish stouts were dry and quenching.
Finally – so the story goes – the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin acquired in 1759 by brewer Arthur Guinness, produced “Guinness Extra Stout Porter.’’ The name `stout’ stuck and the St. James Gate Brewery became famous worldwide. Guinness became so popular in the U.S. in the 1930s, that the brewery cut a deal in 1939 with a Long Island brewer to make Guinness in America, so German U-Boat attacks wouldn’t threaten our supply.
Today, versions of Guinness Stout are brewed at 13 other Guinness breweries around the world and under license in more than 20 countries. But our Guinness comes from Dublin. In the pub, draft Guinness is pushed to the tap from the keg by a mixture of nitrogen and carbon dioxide instead of CO2 alone. The nitro produces the creamy pour that made Guinness Stout famous.
But there’s a downside to this story. Guinness became so popular in Ireland that it literally drowned its smaller competitors. By the 1960s, the company dominated Ireland.
The only survivors were Murphy’s and Beamish & Crawford in Cork. Eventually, both were bought by multi-national brewers eager to tap the stout spigot. Heineken owns Murphy’s;
The good news is – there’s been a revival of craft brewing in Ireland and a number of quality, Irish stouts can be sampled – in Ireland.
The only one that’s imported to the U.S. is O’Hara’s Irish Stout****. This is a beautiful beer, bottle conditioned – a bit of fresh yeast is added to each bottle so fermentation continues slowly – dry with a wonderful roast barley nose and a hint of chocolate.
The bad news is that at this time, it’s not being sold in California. But O’Hara’s is one to watch for; it’s so good it’s got make it to the coast.
At our tasting, we sampled three Irish stouts in cans, each with a widget, a plastic cylinder inside. The Guinness cylinder contains beer forced in under pressure; the others use a container filled with nitrogen. Each has a pin hole in it and when you pop the top, the nitro squirts out, churning the beer into a froth.
We added a bottle of Guinness Extra Stout and a sampling of American, Irish-style stouts, Rogue Shakespeare Stout, Mad River Steelhead Extra Stout, Sierra Nevada Stout ands ¬– representing Bay Area brewpub stouts, Pacific Coast Luck O’ the Irish Stout. Remember, just about every brewpub around here will be offering an Irish-style stout this month, so drop into your local soon.
First, the cans in order of finish:
– Beamish Irish Stout***, 4.1 percent ABV, Beamish & Crawford plc, Cork, Ireland, owned by Scottish & Newcastle, London, UK. Best of the cans; a very dark brown beer, pours with a creamy nitro head, striking aroma of roast barley and just maybe a slight lactic note that delivers a definite sourness on the back of the tongue. Very nice pub beer.
–Guinness Pub Draught,***, 4.1 percent ABV, Guinness, Dublin, Ireland. Darkest in color of the three canned stouts, very light, roast barley nose, creamy head, very smooth, well balanced and drinkable with perhaps a proper sour note on the edge.
–Murphy’s Pub Draught Stout **, 4.1 percent ABV, brewed in under license to Heineken Ireland. Slightly lighter color than Beamish, thicker head, smooth, well-balanced taste, but lighter than Beamish.
And now the rest of the crowd, again in order of finish:
– Guinness Imported Extra Stout ****, 6 percent ABV, Guinness, Dublin. A very different beer than Draught. Powerful, thick, tan head rises above an opaque brown body. Foam lacework trails down the glass. Definite sour note in the roast barley aroma, complex taste: roast grain in front, a sour-tartness in the middle, balanced by roast grain and perhaps a hint of bitter hops. Guinness doesn’t say, but expert homebrewers insist that a small percentage of Guinness soured by Brettanomyces (wild yeast) and lactic acid bacteria is added to each batch of bottled Guinness. That would account for that sour edge, which definitely adds another dimension to a very interesting beer.
– Sierra Nevada Stout,**** 5.8 percent ABV, Sierra Nevada Brewing, Chico. We both liked this big, hoppy, tasty stout with its dense head of foam, and slight, roasted barley nose. Don liked the balance of black malt and hops and the huge attack of the finishing hops. I liked the smooth balance and the lingering notes of hop bitterness and roast malt.
– Shakespeare Stout***+, 6 percent ABV, Rogue Brewing, Newport, OR. Don found chocolate, roast grain and espresso coffee notes in the aroma. Tasted like a double espresso with hops and a hit of alcohol. Again, an excellent beer.
– Luck O’ the Irish Stout***, 4.5 percent ABV, Pacific Coast, Oakland. Caramel nose, great balanced taste with hops and more hops in the finish. On tap all month.
– Steelhead Extra Stout**, 5.5 percent ABV, Mad River Brewing, Blue Lake, CA. A big, dark malt beer, lots of roast grain in the nose and in the taste. Definite hop bitterness lasts and lasts. An excellent, hoppy, West Coast-style stout.
Finally, there’s more to Guinness than stout. Try a Black Velvet, a mixture of equal parts of Draught Guinness and chilled Champagne. Pour the Guinness into a Champange flute, add the Champagne and enjoy. Careful tho’ it’s strong stuff ¬– but so delicious. Well, as the Irish flag states: Erin Go Bragh.
Want to learn more about Irish beer? Try: http://www.xs4all.nl/~patto1ro/irlbrew.htm. Interested in the Irish in Northern Ireland and America, I highly recommend “Forever,’’ the new, fantastical novel by Pete Hamill.
Oakland Tribune Staff Writer William Brand has written What’s On Tap, a beer and cider column in the Oakland Tribune since 1988. He also writes a beer blog at at www.oaklandtribune.com and at www.beernewsletter.com. E-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call: (510) 915-1180.
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