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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Irish Beer, Beyond Guinness

This St. Patrick's Day, try something different

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Forget about Guinness for a moment. To be sure, the dry stout is the perfect beer, endlessly complex yet refreshingly light, but Ireland's most popular beer too often overshadows other deserving Irish beers. This St. Patrick's Day, before you reflexively reach for Guinness, take the opportunity to sample some other distinguished Irish brews.

Of the imported stouts readily available locally, Murphy's Irish Stout is the one that most gives Guinness a run for its money. It's a milder, creamier alternative to Guinness, smooth with a slightly sweet finish that is perfect for those who find Guinness too bitter. Originated in County Cork in the 1850s and now distributed by Heineken, the stout can be found at many of Milwaukee's Irish taverns.

Smithwick's is one of the most common imported Irish beers, a red ale with a malty, bitter taste. For a more novel alternative, seek out Murphy's Irish Red. On tap locally at the Irish Pub and Brocach, it is pressurized with the same blend of nitrogen and carbon dioxide as an Irish stout, which tames some of its bitterness. "It gives you a creamy texture and it is easy on the taste buds," explains Irish Pub manager Keegan Pavlik.

The most popular cider in Ireland, Magners Irish Cider, is stocked at some of Milwaukee's Irish bars (though unlike in Ireland, local bars do not serve it over ice). The Magners brand recently began producing a pear cider, which is dryer than its apple counterpart. County Clare Irish Inn & Pub sells the pear version by the bottle.

For those who prefer to drink local, Lakefront Brewery offers its own spin on Irish-style stout. The brewery's Snake Chaser is an aromatic brew accented with flavors of caramel, chocolate and toffee, yet it finishes dry. It's available at Slim McGinn's, Nomad, Champion's Pub and the Sugar Maple, as well as several area liquor stores.

The Irish Pub, meanwhile, stocks a distinctly American interpretation of Irish beer: McSorley's Irish Black Lager, based on the house beer at New York's oldest Irish tavern, McSorley's Old Ale House. The lager is flavored much like a stout, with the same roasted accents, but the body is much thinner—this is a dark beer that's designed to be pounded.

If none of those beers can replace Guinness in your heart, you can still try something new while enjoying your favorite beer. Guinness is a remarkably versatile drink that pairs well with other beers and alcohol. The most famous Guinness combination drink, of course, is the Black and Tan, a 50/50 split of Guinness and Smithwick's, but there are countless variations, including the Black and Blue (with Blue Moon), the Black Castle (with New Castle) and, locally, the Black Cow (with Spotted Cow). Guinness can also be served over lemonade as a shandy, or under champagne in a tall flute as a Black Velvet. Mo's Irish Pub spikes Guinness with a shot of Chambord for a drink called the Lady Guinness. On request, some restaurants and cafés will serve Guinness with a shot of espresso, a drink that plays on the beer's complex, coffee undertones. Those same undertones make Guinness one of the best beers for milkshakes. For a simple St. Patrick's Day dessert, just blend roughly equal parts Guinness and either vanilla or chocolate ice cream, adjusting the amounts for desired thickness.
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