St. Patrick’s Day is upon us again, and there’s never a shortage of opportunities in and around Mobile to get your Irish up. The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick parade and the annual street party hosted by Callahan’s are Mobile traditions. There are numerous other opportunities on both sides of the bay to celebrate your Irish heritage, no matter where you’re from.
There is perhaps nothing more Irish than a Guinness stout, brewed at St. James’s Gate in Dublin since 1759. The “black stuff’ is certainly the most identifiable Irish brew, with its distinctive creamy head and roasted malt taste. While traditionally found in Irish pubs in the United States, Guinness is now readily available at most bars that have any beer selection at all. It is easily found on tap in bars in our area, as well as in bottles and cans at local grocery stores. If you don’t get your Guinness on draft, make sure to pour it into a glass, rather than drinking it straight from the bottle, to make sure you get that distinctive head.
While certainly the most recognizable Irish stout, Guinness is not the only beer from the Emerald Isle you should try. When I was a young beer professor (actually no more than a beer lecturer at that time), I lived in Cork, on Ireland’s south coast. The second largest city in the Republic, Cork boasts two historic breweries of its own.
Murphy’s — the “Stout of the South” — is very similar to Guinness, but many people (including myself) find it to be a bit tastier, richer with hints of chocolate. It is available in the U.S. on tap (almost exclusively in Irish pubs) and in cans, but is not nearly as widely available as the ubiquitous Guinness.
The third traditional Irish stout, brewed in Cork since 1792, is Beamish. More bitter than either Murphy’s or Guinness, Beamish is only available in Ireland. When I lived there, its main selling point was that it was always priced 30 pence (about 50 cents) cheaper than its two rivals, giving rise to the saying, “Beamish at the end of the month!”
If you don’t like stout (?!?) but still want to celebrate the holiday and avoid green beer (which you most definitely should, for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that green beer is an American, not Irish, tradition), there are a number of great options for you to enjoy.
Smithwick’s (pronounced SMIT-icks) — which actually predates Guinness, having been brewed in Ireland since 1710 — is a deep red ale that is surprisingly light tasting, especially to those of us who have gotten used to the American ales and IPAs put out by craft brewers here. It is excellent and worth a taste.
Harp is a pale European lager brewed by Guinness since the 1960s. It is tasty but not distinctive. If you like Stella Artois or Heineken, you will like Harp.
Another way to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day is to partake in the long tradition of mixing Irish beers. The most famous combinations are the “Black and Tan,” a combination of stout and ale, and the “Half and Half,” a combination of lager and stout (usually Guinness and Harp), with the lager on the bottom and the stout sitting on top. McSharry’s Irish Pub in Fairhope — which has Guinness, Harp and Smithwick’s on tap — actually has an entire menu of different beer combinations you can try, including creative concoctions such as the “Black Velvet” (Guinness and Angry Orchard Cider) and their “Special,” Fat Tire Ale with a Guinness head.