• Dining

Here’s To The Green Isle

Cheers to beer, St. Patrick, and Ireland

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March 11, 2015
By Jeffrey Gredlein | The Beer Snob

Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have driven the snakes out of the emerald isle. Whether there were ever snakes there in the first place is up for debate. However, we are sure that Ireland has beer to offer, and there is no better time of year to reap the benefits. St. Patrick’s Day is only a week away.

Rumor has it that Saint Patrick, the priest who introduced the country to Christianity, had a brewer in his employment. Further, for a large portion of Ireland’s history, the brewing of beer was controlled by the church; an interesting and colorful beer history, indeed.

Today, few countries are so inextricably linked to one style of beer as is Ireland to dry stout. Ask your average beer drinker where stout comes from, and they will usually say Ireland. Inquire as to the first stout ever made, and most will probably state Guinness. However, both of these answers are incorrect.

Where Ireland is concerned, likely the first style of beer widely brewed and consumed in the country was un-hopped sweet ale. Modern versions of this Irish red ale are still available today, but it was the typical beer in the 1700s. At the same time, in England, dark ales known as porter were all the rage. Soon, this dark style brew came across the sea with and to the British living in Ireland, and it took hold of the country.

In 1759, Arthur Guinness purchased a brewery in Dublin at St. James’ Gate. This decision eventually changed the history of beer in Ireland. It is likely that Guinness originally brewed some sort of ale, probably similar to a red ale, and their version of an English porter. In 1799, the brewery discontinued the lighter colored ale in favor of the darker one. This was the sole beer made at the brewery until some time later.

The brewery was producing two styles of porter, X and XX. In both Ireland and England, the public was restless for darker and stronger porters. The XX would become Extra Porter Stout, which eventually evolved into just stout, with breweries dropping the porter at some later time, as the new style of beer became distinguishable from its predecessor.

In England, although endemic porters and stouts are still available today, they began to fall out of favor in the 19th century as pale ales took hold. But for whatever reason, stout was embraced in Ireland, and is still the style most preferred in the country. Guinness only gave up on the porter style in the 1970s. It was porter that, at least in Ireland, gave birth to stout, at least the dry Irish stout we know today.

During the middle to later 20th century, as in much of Europe, crisp, clear lager made an impact in Ireland. However, with a renewed interest in dry stout during the 1980s, Ireland is today a dark ale country, with stout accounting for over half of the beer consumed there.

These days, although a craft beer movement is afoot, you still have Irish dry stout, Irish red ale and lager; all of these styles are brewed and drank on the green isle. And all are also available here as well. Best to you all and have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day! Enjoy the brews … Sláinte.

Gene’s Haufbrau has more than 200 beers in bottles or on tap. Gene’s is located at 817 Savannah Hwy. 225-GENE. E-mail the Beer Snob at publisher@westof.net.

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