St. Patrick’s Day, at least as we know it in the U.S., is infamous. From the heavy drinking, the Dropkick Murphys, the bodies of water dyed green and the lewd T-shirts that manage to offend on multiple levels, an Irish American could be forgiven for hating the once-holy day.
But it’s not all drunken debauchery. The American version of St. Patrick’s Day got its start as a celebration of Irish culture and heritage. And for many, it’s still exactly that. As long as your plan for March 17 is more cultural appreciation than, well, green SantaCon (LeprechaunCon?), the barkeeps at your local pub probably won’t spit in your Guinness. (As long as you’re polite and tip well. But that goes for every day of the year.)
While Guinness is the classic choice for a St. Paddy’s pint, it’s not the only brew worth considering. Of course, the dark, creamy stuff holds supreme for a reason — it’s a tasty, centuries-old tradition.
But there are plenty of other Irish imports and American takes on classic Irish styles deserving of a toast. We spoke to some real-life Irish bartenders working in the U.S., and they shared their suggestions for other beers to try that won’t make them want to roll their eyes at you.
Stouts are always in
Try: Finback Macchiato Stout, Murphy’s Irish Stout
Stouts are a quintessential style, and there are plenty to explore.
“When you think stout, don’t just think of Guinness,” offered Brendan O’Donohoe, an owner of the bar Ginger’s in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Even if you stick with the dark, roasty stuff, keep in mind that there’s a whole world of options besides classic Guinness.”
“There’s so many different types of stouts that have really good, long-lasting flavor notes, like something wine would have,” O’Donohoe continued. “Beer has really transformed over the last, I suppose, five or six years — especially with microbreweries.”
His recommendation is from a New York City brewery: Macchiato stout by Finback Brewery in Brooklyn. It’s brewed with added caramel and coffee to complement the naturally toasted, bittersweet malt flavor inherent in stouts.
Guinness isn’t the only stout that comes from the Emerald Isle itself. Michael Dorgan, owner of the Wicked Monk in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, recommends an Irish beer that, like him, is originally from Cork.
“Murphy’s stout is a great alternative to Guinness — it’s less bitter and less heavy, for those who don’t like the Guinness taste,” Dorgan said.
Murphy’s and Guinness belong to the same style — Irish dry stout — but Murphy’s is sweeter and milky in both taste and consistency.
Greatest hit imports
Try: Smithwick’s, Harp Lager
And if dark beers just aren’t your thing? No worries — stouts aren’t the only Irish exports you’ll find in the U.S.
“The other two Irish beers that are common stateside are Harp Lager and Smithwick’s ale,” Sean Muldoon, owner of the Dead Rabbit in Lower Manhattan, pointed out.
For those who lean toward classic lager styles — light, crisp, yellow — Harp Lager is an Irish import that may be to your taste. It’s subtle, with some balanced bitterness and citrus flavor coming from the hops, and the aroma is often described as sweet and floral.
Smithwick’s is an Irish red ale, and as you might expect, it pours a lovely deep ruby color. It has some of the roasty, coffee-like flavor you’ll find in Irish stouts, but it’s much lighter in body and has biscuity, caramelly flavor notes. If you’re planning on having more than a couple of beers on St. Paddy’s, something like Smithwick’s will go down easily.
Irish American reds
Try: Sixpoint Dead Rabbit Ale, Absolution Cardinal Sin, Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale
Don’t rule out American breweries’ versions of these classic Irish styles. Muldoon said that instead of Smithwick’s, Dead Rabbit serves an Irish red made exclusively for it by the Brooklyn brewery Sixpoint.
No worries if a visit to New York isn’t in your near future, though. There are other American-made Irish reds out there. It’s not the most common style these days, so check local microbreweries for hidden gems. Absolution Brewing in Torrance, California, sells an Irish red called Cardinal Sin, which is light, sweet, and toffee-like in flavor.
Ohio’s Great Lakes Brewing Co. makes one called Conway’s Irish Ale, which is sweet but full-bodied and strong. It’s sold seasonally, in the early part of the year, so you might just be able to snag some for your St. Paddy’s festivities.
If hops and malt just aren’t doing it for you, there’s one option that isn’t technically a beer at all.
For Kevin Quinn, bartender at Johnny’s Bar in Manhattan’s West Village, “the drink that comes straight to mind would be Irish cider.” Quinn named Magners Irish Cider, which is actually sold as Bulmers in Ireland.
“It’s typically one of the first alcoholic drinks an Irish person would experience, and it’s a perfect choice for day drinking if you’re going to fill up on Guinness later on in the night,” Quinn said. With a fairly low alcohol content and some very balanced sweetness, a Magners may be the perfect change of pace when you need a break from the dark stuff.
While St. Paddy’s is typically known as a big drinking holiday, those who are abstaining for whatever reason need not be left out. Nonalcoholic beer has been growing in popularity over the last few years, and the Irish king of beers has taken a swing at it, too.
Guinness first launched an NA beer, Guinness 0.0, a couple of years ago. NA beer tends to have a pretty uneven reputation, but O’Donohoe swears this stuff is the real (no-alcohol) deal. Customers and critics alike seem to agree. So, if you’re the designated driver or just hoping to avoid a March 18 hangover, consider treating yourself to one of these instead of sitting out the fun.