Tastings School - Ireland: Stout to the top

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Ireland: Stout to the top

Ireland's beer consumption has been dominated by stout in general and Guinness in particular. But as the country changes through new wealth, are its drinking patterns changing too?

If it didn’t have such negative connotations, you’d say that Guinness hangs over Ireland’s food and drink industry like a great black cloud.

Guinness has so dominated its market that not only has the beer it produces become synonymous with all things Irish but the company name has almost become the generic name for the beer style.

During the last 250 years a one-time independent and small brewer founded a dynasty that has become so powerful it was able to merge with another company to form the world’s biggest drinks empire, known as Diageo.

And just in the last 30 years it transformed a beer style most often associated with old ladies and turned it in to a celebration of all that is young, vital and Irish.

Such a huge black cloud does of course come with its down side. The sheer dominance of Guinness in Ireland has stifled competition and made a diverse and exciting beer industry all but impossible. It has traditionally been aided in doing so by tax laws that gave no advantage to newcomers, and as a result the microbrewery boom that has helped revitalise ale production elsewhere has been slow to take root in Ireland.

On the up side, though, Guinness has helped put Ireland on the map.

At the outset Arthur Guinness bought his brewery and started producing top quality beer at a time when Dublin hosted about 70 breweries, most of them poor and struggling.

Guinness may well have expediated the demise of those breweries but it is possible that they had no future anyway.

More than that, while Ireland clearly had its own beer, it was not a beer nation. Pot still whiskey and poteen were its drinks of choice. Long before St Patrick’s Day became a worldwide excuse for a hoolie, before every groom-to-be wanted his stag weekend in Dublin, and generations before the green tiger rode across the land and gave Ireland a standing in the world as a centre for fun and fashion, Guinness played a crucial role in promoting Ireland and turning the eyes of tourism towards it.

And if you’re going to have a beer monopoly, you could do far worse than Guinness. It might be brewed in 35 countries now and much of it might be relatively homogenised, but in its finest form it is an outstanding beer and ale lovers should note that Ireland is the last country in the world where the majority of the beer is still top-fermented. Our greatest beer writers, Michael Jackson and Roger Protz, both include Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, in their top beer lists.

In beer terms its dominance in Ireland itself has been pretty much absolute. Only in Cork, where Murphys and Beamish & Crawford held off Guinness through their tied pub estates, was there any resistance. That tie was ended in the 70s after pressure from local licensees who wanted to stock Guinness.

Although Beamish and Murphy’s still exist they are owned by international companies now and they don’t enjoy particular popularity at home.

There hasn’t been another major brewer in Dublin for 55 years and although brewers such as Dempsey’s and Harty’s attempted to found a market for cask ale in Dublin in the 80s it soon foundered.

So is stout the first and last word in Irish beer?

The signs are that it is not, and for two very good reasons. Firstly, because in Ireland itself stout is in decline. A new generation of Irish drinkers, seduced by international brands, are turning to international beers, particularly lagers.

And secondly, because the general move away from quantity to quality has encouraged a fresh wave of premium cask ale producers to attempt to carve out a market alongside their still mighty neighbour.

Ireland now has more active breweries than at any time for 80 years and while the total number remains relatively small, the new wave of brewery pubs and microbrewers provides grounds for optimism for beer drinkers in Ireland.

In addition to the predictable stout and red ales, a rising number of microbrewers such as Messrs Maguire and Porterhouse are experimenting with blonde and golden ales, wheat beers and Germanstyle lagers.

WHAT IS STOUT?

So how did Ireland end up with such a dominant beer, and what exactly is it?

Two hundred and fifty years ago the most popular style of beer in England was porter, a dark beer made using toasted barley and particularly in favour with the market porters of vegetable market Covent Garden and fish market Billingsgate – hence the name.

When Arthur Guiness first moved to the St James Brewery in Dublin in 1759 he took a decision to compete with the English beer producers head on and chose to brew porter. His experiments with the style led to different versions earning descriptive names. And a robust version came to be known as ‘stout porter’ and eventually just ‘stout.’ The style is also known as Dry Stout and Extra Stout, and it tends to have an ABV of 4-5%, slightly higher than porter.

Originally stout would have been served from two barrels behind the bar. Two thirds of a pint would have come from a relatively flat beer stored in the lower cask. The rest was made up with young beer from a smaller cask, known as high stout.

Porter is a classic beer style and somewhat ironically it is having a resurgence in the hands of microbrewers. In Roger Protz’s new book 300 Beers To Try Before You Die there are more entered for porter than any other beer type.

DIAGEO Guinness, Dublin

The three principle versions of Guinness Stout are: * Draught Guinness, 4.1% ABV Served by mixed gas pressure, pasteurised and served very cold or very, very cold.

* Guinness Original 4.2% The bottled version found in British off-licences and it is noted for its roasted barley bitterness.

* Guinness Extra Stout 4.3% Bottle-conditioned stout still available in Ireland and recommended.

* Guinness Foreign Extra Stout 7.5% Filtered and pasteurised for export only. It is a stronger and more bitter version of the beer and is considered the closest to the tradional style of the brand.

In addition to its stout, Diageo also owns the Great Northern Brewery, where Harp Lager is produced. The brand enjoyed particular popularity 20 years ago when Guinness invested heavily in comedy and music sponsorship to promote it. Its advertising catch phrase was

‘Harp stays sharp to the bottom of the glass.’ It also owns the Smithwick and Sons Brewery in Kilkenny, home of Kilkenny Ale

MURPHY’S, Cork

Owned by Heineken, Murphy’s has pulled back from the brink under its new owner, having faced extinction when its oujtput fell below 15,000 barrels a year in the 70s.

The main brands are:

* Murphy’s Irish Stout, 4%

Draught version served by mixed gas pressure. Described as oily in texture and surprisingly sour with good roast malt character

* Murphy’s Irish Stout 4.3%

The bottled version, filtered and pasteurised

* Murphy’s Irish Red 5%

Irish ale introduced 10 years ago and not very exciting

BEAMISH & CRAWFORD, Cork

Owned by Scottish & Newcastle but it’s becoming harder and harder to find.

The stout is sweeter and lighter and therefore easier to drink than either Guinness and Murphy’s but not necessarily better for that. Enjoyed some success in the 90s when the brand was involved with music sponsorship.

* Beamish Irish Stout 4.1%
* Beamish Red Irish Ale 4.2%

OTHER BREWERIES

ACTON’S COUNTRY PUB AND MICROBREWERY
Macreddin, Co Wicklow Microbrewery in a leisure complex
www.brooklodge.com

BALBRIGGAN BREWING CO
Lusk, Co Meath Microbrewery
Key brand: Ballymaguire (4.8%)
Tel: +353 8437 512

BIDDY EARLY BREWERY
Inagh, Co Clarence Walls Brewpub
Key brands: Black Biddy (4.2%),
Blonde Biddy (4.2%),
Red Biddy (4.9%)
www.beb.ie CARLOW

BREWING CO
Carlow Microbrewery
Key brands: O’Hara’s Celtic Stout (4.3%),
Curim Gold Celtic Wheat Beer (4.3%),
Molings Traditional Red Ale (4.3%),
Beerkeeper Gold (4.3%)
www.carlowbrewing.com

CELTIC BREWING CO
Enfield, Co Meath Microbrewery
Key brands: Finnians Red (4.3%),
Finnians Organic Lager (4.3%),
Finnians Stout (4.3%),
Shiva Premium Lager (5%)
Tel: +353 405 41558

DUBLIN BREWING COMPANY
Dublin
Microbrewery
Key brands:
Beckett’s Dublin Lager (4.3%),
D’Arcy’s Dublin Stout (4.3%),
Revolution Red Beer (4.3%),
Maeve’s Crystal Beer (4.7%)
www.dublinbrewing.com

EMERALD BREWERY
Roscommon
Microbrewery
Key brand: Emerald Gold (5%)
Tel: +353 903 25737

FRANCISCAN WELL BREWERY
Cork
Microbrewery
Key brands:
Shandon Stout (4.2%),
Blarney Blonde (4.2%),
Franciscan Wheat Beer,
Rebel Red Ale (4.3%)
Tel +353 212 10130

HILDEN BREWERY
Lisburn
Microbrewery
Key brands: Hilden Ale (4%),
Molly Malone’s Porter (4.6%),
Scullion’s Irish (4.6%)
Tel: +353 28 9266 3863

IRISH BREWING CO
Newbridge, Co Kildare
Microbrewery
Key brand:
Brew No 1 (5%)
Tel: +353 45 435 540

KINSALE BREWERY
Kinsale
Microbrewery
Key brands:
Kinsale Cream Stout (4.3%),
Williams Wheat (4.3%),
Landers Ale (4.3%),
Kinsale Irish Lager (4.3%)
www.kinsalebrewing.com

MESSRS MAGUIRE
Dublin
Brewpub with its own cask and keg beers
Keybrands:
Plain (4.3%),
Haus (4.3%),
Yankee (4.2%),
Rusty Red Ale (4.5%)
Tel: +353 1 670 5777

PORTERHOUSE BREWING CO
Dublin
Brewpub Key brands:
TSB (3.7%), Chiller (4.2%),
Haus Weiss (4.3%),
Hersbrucker (5%)
www.porterhousebrewco.com

STRANGFORD LOUGH BREWING CO
Killyleagh
Microbrewery
Key brands:
Barelegs (4.5%),
Legbiter (4.8%)
www.slbc.ie

ULSTER BREWERY
Heineken
Key brands:
Caffrey’s Irish Ale (4.2%),
Caffrey’s Irish Stout (4.7%)
Tel: +353 28 9030 1301

WHITEWATER BREWING CO
Kilkeel
Microbrewery
Key brands:
Natural Blonde Lager (3.7%),
Belfast Ale (4.5%)
www.whitewaterbrewing.co.uk