A Couple Suggestions For Stouts On St. Patrick’s Day. (Other Than….Well, You Know Which One.)

Dry Irish StoutChances are, there is a drinking song in your near future.  And usually this would imply that you’ve had at least a couple to get you in the proper singing mood, either of the food color influenced kind or of the Irish stout variety.  Quite possibly your plans also include some additional revelry as well, such as a parade, decked almost completely out in – you included – green décor.  Yes, you have intentions to tick all of these items off in just a couple days, as hazy as those plans might become.  No matter where you are on the craft beer spectrum – full fledged aficionado, devoted follower, solid fan, slightly curious, open minded, the reply is hazy, and even the “craft beer?  Are you kidding me?? Hand me my Natty Light before I kick you just south of your Sierra Nevada” types have some sort of plans involving beer this Saturday.  And in case you haven’t already noticed, the grocery stores are already assisting you with your action plan, thank goodness.  On a recent trip to one, I sleepily almost ran my cart into about a thousand six packs of Guinness that had been stacked up in a yellow and black mountain right in front of the cheese aisle.  I nearly bought fifteen of them just to get them out of my way.

The unfortunate loss of historical significance aside, we all – beer fans, that is, no matter where on that spectrum we fall – look forward to this holiday which gives us a reason to celebrate with a few choice beverages (don’t even look at me that way, New Years Eve, you don’t even come close).  But what about those choices?  Sure, during the evening, we all will probably don a green plastic bowler hat or someone we generally care for will shove a headband with springy shamrocks on us.  We will probably will take in a parade, or mumble through a drinking song or two, and no, there is nothing really wrong with any of this – ok, there is, but stick with me here – yes, there is plenty to be said for familiar and reliable ways to let a little loose.  But what about those all too familiar beer choices?  Now, before the St. Patrick’s Day traditionalists start mooning me from underneath their kilts, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Guinness, in any form.  As a matter of fact, I very much enjoy one version of the stout in particular, but more on that in a moment. Even on a day during which most folks can line up their events – and the beers to enjoy during them – as easily and neatly as a row of familiar looking, black, gold harp adorned cans, there is still room for a few alternatives.  GASP!! On St. Patrick’s Day??  Don’t worry.  We won’t stray too much from that immortal cascading foam head, and you can still wear your shamrocks while tasting them.

As a matter of fact, one alternative to Guinness….is Guinness.  Come Saturday, in case you get a little too caught up watching those tiny bubbles do their work and start feeling nostalgic for those Irish pubs you either may or may not have ever spent time in, one definite reminder of the past is a Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.  A beer that may have single handedly given birth to a whole style, the Export Stout, and the most current Guinness which can boast the longest ties to the brewery’s past, Guinness Foreign Extra does not lack for historical significance.  It was born out of a time when stouts were still stronger porters, which helped beers such as this, along with a higher level of hops, survive the long journeys by boat to distant locales such as the Caribbean.  According to the Guinness website, Foreign Extra was originally produced in 1801, and was shipped to the United States until prohibition cut that availability quite short.  Exports to other more tropical locales have continued through the years, before it was reintroduced to the US in 2010.  This came as no small delight to those who have had versions of it while traveling abroad or who simply had heard about how good this beer truly is.  The inclination is to compare it to Guinness Draught, their much more commonly available beer (the one you have had many times before, at least on St. Patrick’s Day), but resist such temptation.  This is a completely different tasting experience.  The beer is still velvety smooth, but with ample body and is much richer overall, with deeply roasted flavors, yet without much if any resulting harshness or astringency, similar perhaps to quality chocolate with an extremely high percentage of cocoa, and a bit of alcohol ‘heat’ (the beer has retained though the years its higher abv %, clocking in at 7.5%).  What truly makes it interesting are the dark cherry or even purple grape like notes that bob up to the surface and somewhat take control of each sip.  It’s a little like you’re drinking a luscious, dark chocolate covered cherry or grape cordial.  Don’t think sweet, either – think rich, sumptuous, but without filling you up too much.  There is also a decent level of hop bitterness, but the deep richness is what makes it stand out.  Go ahead, enjoy your “Draught”, but try this too – there’s no comparison.  Literally.

21st Amendment's Marooned On Hog Island Oyster StoutEven if you agree that nothing beats a plate of oysters accompanied by a cold beer to wash them down with, it probably has never occurred to you to combine those two loves in one product.  Now, if you’re one of those unfortunate disbelievers in the deliciousness of oysters in general, you might already be feeling a little queasy.  Either way, this seemingly odd joining of brew and mollusk did occur over the years, although it involved a much darker beer than one would usually have if enjoying the shellfish separately. Although the history behind exactly how the Oyster Stout came to be is still fairly mysterious, it seems simple enough to me.  Origins either connect this beer to the North Atlantic or to New Zealand, but its invention likely was the result of the same kinds of meals we enjoy today, just with an eventual greater sense of experimentation.  Credit the current explosion of craft beer and the breweries which are constantly reinventing old styles, and the Oyster Stout has seen a mild revival in popularity.  Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery has had a “Pearl Necklace” Oyster Stout on the market for some time now, and just recently, California based 21st Amendment Brewing released their version, “Marooned On Hog Island”.  Still thinking this is some sort of unholy union?  Don’t worry so much.  Number one, most breweries use just the oysters shells during brewing, and as far as the taste, think this – a less heavy stout, more like a Dry Stout, and still with plenty of typical, deep roasted grain like flavors, but with just a little “brineyness” or a touch of salty ocean water.  Chances are, if just the words “Oyster” and “Stout” immediately turned you off, none of that description likely changed your mind, did it?  Trust me, it’s worth at least a taste.  Perhaps St. Patrick’s Day is your day to truly step out of the traditional mold.  If just for one beer.

Left Hand Brewing's Milk StoutIf you’re into craft beer at all, you’ve probably at some point tasted at least one Milk Stout.  A popular version of the stout in which milk sugar has been added to give the beer further complexity and help balance out any bitterness from the sometimes heavily roasted ingredients in a stout, these are usually smooth and slightly to noticeably sweet.  They can sometimes taste like a darkly roasted but also sweetened coffee, and because of this, are generally easy to drink, just in case you’re not a big fan of stouts in general.  (Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.)  A regularly found version is Colorado based Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout, and Virginia’s own Starr Hill just recently released a coffee infused milk stout called Red Roostarr, which should be easy to find come Saturday.

There are plenty of other “styles” of course, and also plenty of wonderful things being added these days to stouts.  Coffee infused stouts can range from ones that taste like a shot of espresso, like Sixpoint Brewing’s delicious “Three Beans” and Founders Brewing’s Breakfast Stout to Williamsburg Alewerks’ tasty, rich Coffeehouse Stout.  There are more straightahead versions that have plenty of complex, wonderful flavors such as Sierra Nevada’s Stout and Avery Brewing’s Out of Bounds Stout.  There are Belgian inspired stouts, high abv% Imperial Stouts, and more barrel aged stouts than you can count.  Often, all these “styles” mix and cross with each other, creating amazing beers.

So regardless of just how traditional and hallowed of a holiday you consider St. Patrick’s Day – and try to remember that, when you see the first pair of shoes covered in green glitter – the beer choices you’re likely to make are allowed to stray a bit, even on Saturday.  Yes, traditions are nearly always worth keeping, and if the tried and true is a personal favorite, by all means order up a pint.  Just don’t forget to start up the required discussion about the “correct” way to pour one, though.  And if your bartender managed to do just this on Saturday, consider yourself, well…quite lucky.  (Either way, tip well.  It’s a crazy day for them.)  Just also consider leaving open the possibility for something a little different, certainly there will be, as there always are, plenty of choices to pick from.  You could discover a new favorite beer, one even good enough to humor the shamrock decorated headband that’s been placed on you.  Me?  A Guinness Foreign Extra may be calling my name at some point during the day, delicious as that beer is.  Just don’t give me any grief, especially in any forced Irish accent, if you happen to catch me drinking an IPA instead.

(Also, not that I have to say this, right?  Let’s be careful out there, have fun, and get back home safely, so we can enjoy next year’s St. Patrick’s Day too.)

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~ by thebeerroad on March 14, 2013.

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