Good-Bye, Guinness; Hello, Stout

Categories: Brew Blog

Goodbye Guinness, Hello Stout 2.JPG
St. Patrick's Day, or at least its observance in America, is not very Irish.

The modern manifestation of the Saint's feast bears some resemblance to its original tradition - a respite from the Lenten fast being one example. But while the Irish take March 17 (or the appropriate offset date mandated by the liturgical calendar) as an opportunity to reflect on genuine Irish culture, we take it as an opportunity to get blitzed. Usually via green beer.

The origins of even that have been largely lost through time, owing more to Catholic Trinitarian doctrine than to anything else. I figure, if we're going to reduce the celebration of a unique national spirit, steeped in religious tradition, to an excuse to get drunk, we should at least drink well.

It's no great secret that most St. Patrick's celebrants will be drinking Stout. It's one of three arguably Irish beer varieties, and certainly the most credible. The only trouble is, most people will fill their quota with Guinness.

Unfortunately, Guinness just isn't that good. While it promises a creamy body, backed by a depth of roasted malt and its pursuant coffee and chocolate characteristics, I've always found the iconic stout to be somewhat meek. My younger brother, who spent a semester in Dublin last year, insists that a pint pulled in-country will spoil you for what we get here, but the point remains. Guinness is not what it purports to be.

With that in mind, I set out to find a few examples of Stout - some hewing close to the Dry Irish style and some decidedly not - that are more worth your money and your time today. I picked the brains of Justin Vann, brew enthusiast and wine/beer manager at Central Market, and local home brewer and opinionated drinker Chris White. With their suggestions rounding out a few of my own ideas, I compiled this list of non-green alternatives.

Brewdog Paradox Isle of Arran

What could be more stereotypically Irish than Stout aged in whisky barrels? Never mind the fact that the barrels once contained Scotch. If we're going to bastardize a nationality by donning leprechaun outfits, why not confuse its distilling tradition, while we're at it? This is an espresso tinted, largely headless brew that smells of grape juice and peat. There's plenty of coffee and more than a whiff of smoke, too. This is not a typical stout, showing a strikingly savory character and significant richness, highlighted by oak and smoke, with dark chocolate and berries rounding out the sweet, heady profile. Its only drawback is textural, with a somewhat thin body.

O'Hara's Irish Stout

This is the beer you should be drinking when you think you want a Guinness. There's lots of that gorgeously thick, creamy, dark tan head, even poured from the bottle. It smells like over-roasted coffee in the best possible way, with malty sweet notes coming through, as well. This is a rich, thick feeling stout with a heavy roast profile and some sweetness and brininess, making me long for someone to create black olive brittle. It finishes with subtle smokiness that rides out on a creamy underbelly and a dry finish that succinctly seals up the sweet undercurrents that permeate the beer. Fantastic.

Oskar Blues Ten Fiddy

This is another near black, headless brew. It smells like brandy, figs, and charcoal. Ten Fiddy has a very sweet, almost syrupy body with light tang, like reduced coffee and pomegranate juice. The sweetness passes, though, giving way to a lingering ashy, roasted taste. It is strangely reminiscent of the cippolini onion ash that coated a piece of hangar steak I enjoyed recently at Bootsie's Heritage Café.

Boulevard Dark Truth Stout

Very dark with a tan head that exhibits fine bubbles but little creaminess. It has a very winey, un-stoutlike aroma, largely owing to the Belgian yeast at play. This beer is exactly as the bottle describes, with a full body of heavily roasted malts showing a predominance of chocolate and coffee, punctuated by fruity esters, and capped by a smoky finish. Nice depth, full feeling, and zingy.

Green Flash Double Stout

Darkest of the dark. True black with no tinting. For a bottled brew, this has a surprisingly creamy head, rivaling most competently pulled nitro-tapped stouts. A very alluring smell recalls coffee and dark bread baking. It's one thick beer, almost requiring chewing rather than swallowing. An incredibly deep-roasted profile fills out with hints of freshness that suggest grass and squash, with a bit of boozy astringency and some bitter notes. It's not quite chicory, but close, almost reminiscent of the rooted bitterness of Italian Amari. It's a complex brew, and drier than most non-Irish style Stouts. If you're looking for that more traditional Irish profile and don't mind leaving the land of shamrocks, this one's for you.

This is but a small sampling of the enormous variety of Stout available in the market. Just looking back through my previous Brew Blog entries, I can also recommend Allagash Black Belgian Style Stout and Left Hand Milk Stout. If you're celebrating today in stereotypical Irish fashion, think about doing it with an atypical brew. You might just find something you'll love to drink the other 364 days of the year.



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19 comments
Christopher
Christopher

I appreciate the several shouts-out, mentions, and references to me in these posts. Keep 'em coming and feed my vainglory.

Also, it's true: an in-country pint of Guinness is a totally, totally different experience, and an amazing one. It's literally like a different drink. Damn, I miss it. We'll go sometime, you and me, and have a few at Doyle's.

Steve
Steve

I don't get the Guinness hate. The draught Guinness is an excellent session beer and not much more caloric than "light beers". Foreign Extra Stout is fantastic if you want something heavier.

Bruce R
Bruce R

Responding to Nicholas L. Hall:

Yeah, I think the introduction of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout to the US is new. But it kicks huge arse. (I said arse instead of ass to keep it wholesome for the children.)

jason tinder
jason tinder

Have to disagree that Guinness isn't good. Guinness draft is actually a light beer and a good, low calorie option. The carbonation widget changed everything in the early 90's to gave us an option other than a nitrous tap. Yes it is tastier in Ireland but the draft version isn't meant to be a heavy meal like the other beers you focused on.

A comparison to the other stouts would be the extra stout which is marketed in the Caribbean and Africa and is often what people think about Guinness. If going heavier Saint Arnold Winter Stout and Southern Star Buried Hatchet are two great local options.

Dundle
Dundle

No love for our locally brewed Souther Star Buried Hatchet Stout? I had one on nitrogen at Petrol Station about a week ago and it knocked my socks off. Tremendously delicious, especially when propelled by nitrogen.

Houstonbeerweek
Houstonbeerweek

Man, I'm just excited to see discussions about good beers. Drink craft for life!

SirRon
SirRon

Ten Fidy isn't $10.50 per four pack... it's a lot more. If someone had asked me, I would have made the case that it be priced at $10.50 for a four pack. But no one asked. And if NLH had asked me about stouts I would have swooped my arm across the table... sending all those beers in the picture above flying across the room. The scene would be spectacular. Then, in an annoyingly dramatic fashion I would gently place an Independence Brewing Convict Hill Imperial Oatmeal Stout on the table. Cheers!

Chuck
Chuck

Ha ha ha! As soon as I saw the picture at the top, I thought, "Nick has been talking to Justin Vann."

melissa
melissa

I don't know why everyone feels they have to drink *stout* specifically for St. Patrick's Day. There's other good Irish beer, too (Smithwick's is a great "anytime" beer, for example).

BBB
BBB

When you like something, you're supposed to say it's TREMENDOUS. K?

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Jason, my point is largely that Guinness has developed a reputation that it doesn't deserve. People tend to think of Guinness as being this big, bold, rich brew and, as you yourself mention, it just isn't. There are plenty of stouts (of course some that I failed to mention) that do a better job of doing what people think Guinness will do.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

Buried Hatchet is tremendously good. I was trying to find some options that I thought (accurately or not) might be less well known. Haven't had the pleasure of trying it on tap yet, though.

SirRon
SirRon

Who is hungry for nuggets?

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

The choices ended up being pretty evenly split between Justin's recommendations, Chris' recommendations, and my own selections. I was especially pleased with Justin's recommendation for Green Flash and Chris' for O'Hara's (I'd not tried either before).

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I agree. Quite frankly, as evidenced here, I don't know why people think they have to drink Irish beer, specifically, for St. Patrick's Day. It's easy to drink thematically while leaving the Emerald Isle.

Bruce R
Bruce R

Of the three varieties of Guinness available at Kroger, the Foreign Extra Stout is by far my favorite. Then Extra Stout, which unfortunately is brewed in Canada. Then Draught.

SirRon
SirRon

...in bed.

er, I mean... online.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

The FES was just made available stateside last year, right?

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