The gentle rain, cool breezes and fertile soil of Ireland have raised barley for around 5,000 years, and brewing of some description seems to have taken place among Celts in Ireland since the Bronze and early Iron Ages. Saint Patrick is said to have had his own brewer, and Ireland’s medieval monasteries continued the custom. – Michael Jackson, in Michael Jackson’s Beer Companion
An Irish holiday requires sing-along songs and Irish beer, or at least Irish-American beer.
But the sincerest expressions of Irish brewing aren’t the easiest to grab on Saint Patrick’s Day in America.
Green beer is festive but ridiculous – it comes from food coloring, not the Emerald Isle.
Guinness is a fine import, but it’s as overexposed as Killian’s Red, a brew with genuine Irish roots but ownership these days inside the Coors Brewing Co. buildings of Golden, Colo.
Despite how much Bud Light, Natural Light, and Miller Light will be consumed in Saint Paddy celebrations along the Grand Strand this weekend, those best-selling, tasteless beers are owned by God-knows-what foreign corporations – and rest assured they aren’t Irish corporations.
In other words, the beers most Americans will drink for Saint Patrick’s Day have nothing to do with Ireland.
To make matters worse, Irish beer styles are far more difficult to find on the Grand Strand, at least more difficult than I expected.
The explosion of interest in craft beers and imports has inundated the marketplace with quirky American microbrews, upscale Belgian beers and long-standing European styles. Irish imports simply don’t appear to be at the top of the list. For Irish beer, well, the first thing anyone says is, “Guinness.”
For that reason, Surge hired me to assemble a proper Irish 12-pack from what’s available here on the Grand Strand.
That perfect Irish 12-pack took some looking, but I found it, and I had no trouble drinking sample after sample, pint after pint.
Prime with Black and Red
The two most familiar beer styles from Ireland are the Irish Stout and the Irish Red Ale.
The Irish Stout can be a sweet if dark and threatening brew to the uninitiated.
I asked Brock Kurtzman, brewer at New South Brewing Co. in Myrtle Beach, what makes an Irish Stout, you know, Irish.
Compared to American stouts and Imperial stouts, an Irish stout is not as sweet, Kurtzman said. An Irish stout is made with fewer hops. It has flavors of chocolate and roasted coffee along with hints of roasted coffee and subtle caramel.
So what are the Irish Reds all about? The Irish Red Ale is amber to copper in color and rather sweet and accessible. Irish Red Ales are a “bit sweet, with a lightly hopped tea-like flavor,” according to BeerAdvocate.com. “Typically has a reddish color and a malt accent,” wrote the late beer critic Michael Jackson. “It sometimes has a suggestion of butterscotch.” That sweetness and gentle hopping give Irish Reds the kind of mass appeal that has made Killian’s Red a staple of the Coors portfolio.
But if we’re going for beer on St. Patrick’s Day instead of Jameson Irish Whiskey, Bushmills Irish Whiskey, Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey, or Michael Collins Irish Whiskey, what can we get in the Myrtle Beach area? If we are to set aside the typical Guinness Stout and Killian’s Red, what do we have available on the Grand Strand? We even throw in recommended Irish music pairings while you sip, just for the hell of it.
A Saint Paddy’s 12-pack
New South / TBonz Gill & Grill Irish Stout
New South’s recent foray into high-gravity beer, an Imperial Stout called Lily the Great, must have had some kind of unconscious impact on this season’s Irish Stout, produced for TBonz Gill & Grill. This Irish Stout is big and bold with perfectly balanced coffee and chocolate notes – and a noticeable dose of hops. It’s dark enough to pour with a light-brown head instead of the creamy white you see sometimes. The body, while not heavy as it looks, sure isn’t light-weight. I bought a pint for $2.50 during happy hour at the TBonz at 1169 Seaboard St., Myrtle Beach. I drank this while “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” by U2 played in the bar area, but this Irish Stout is too big and bold for such a mellow song. Instead, pair with “Your Spirit’s Alive” by Dropkick Murphys.
Liberty Steakhouse & Brewery Irish Stout
Liberty, a brewpub and restaurant at Broadway at the Beach, has produced what might be the least-sweet of the local Irish Stouts. That’s a compliment. The coffee tones and directly dry finish might just be the closest to traditional Irish Stout recipes, and it certainly spares you from the over-sugary malt of some canned stouts. I thought the dryness and the forthright coffee flavors to be a worthwhile, healthy departure from some of the others on this list. I bought a pint for $3.75, and during the Saint Paddy’s weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), your purchase of Liberty’s Irish Stout will go to a good cause: $1 of each pint will be donated to help with the medical expenses of brewer Mike Silvernale’s mother, who was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Raise a glass on her behalf. Pair with “Drunken Lullabies” by Flogging Molly.
Quigley’s Pint & Plate Irish Stout
I bought a pint of this one for $4 at Quigley’s, 257 Willbrook Boulevard, Pawleys Island. This is a rich and sweet stout (even my wife, who dislikes beer, dared to take a sip). I was scratching my head trying to figure out just what I was tasting. Bourbon? Vanilla? Molasses? Cocoa? Later, I thought perhaps I was tasting caramel. It’s no matter. I’ll be honest – I’m no sommelier, but I know any fan of stouts will want seconds, and thirds, and fourths, of this beer. It’s that good. If a beer can be a luxury item, this might be it. So be careful and make sure you have a designated driver. Pair with “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” by The Pogues, because with this beer, you just might.
Thomas Creek River Falls Red Ale
It’s not local, but it’s a South Carolina product. This beer from Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville is brewed in the Irish Red Ale style. I found a six-pack at Lowes Foods, 970 Cipriana Drive in Myrtle Beach, for $8.99. The hopping is balanced, barely even bringing tartness to the palate. The tea-like characteristics we’ll see in other Irish Reds is less pronounced. Instead, it leans more toward a malty sweetness that had me wanting simultaneously to savor and to chug. These are good things, reminding us why River Falls Red Ale won a silver medal at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. I might just give it gold – and the rest of my beer money. Pair with “Raggle Taggle Gypsy” by The Chieftains and Nickel Creek, especially after the second bottle, when you feel like dancing.
Here we acknowledge an oddball in the 12-pack: Harp Lager. The packaging for Harp Lager reads, “Genuine Irish Recipe,” but some disagreement has emerged. The late beer critic Jackson – a far different person from the late singer withe the same name – said Harp Lager’s Irish origin has nothing especially Irish in its recipe. It is, after all, a lager. Point taken, Mr. Jackson: lagers originated in central Europe, not the British Isles. And yet, Harp comes with its own special quality. It’s medium-to-light in body, it’s easy to drink, and it comes from the quality production of Ireland’s Guinness Ltd. One of my favorite drinking sessions involved a six-pack of Harp Lager shared with Paul Grimshaw, who covers music and sex-change operations for Surge. I saw Harp Lager at the Piggly Wiggly at The Market Common for $8.99, on sale for $7.49. Pair with “At the Close of an Irish Day” by Mary O’Dowd.
Guinness Black Lager
While we’re at it, here’s another oddball in the bunch – a lager, like Harp, but a black lager, an odder oddball, not unheard of, but certainly not common in the average grocery-store cooler sections. I bought a bottle of this for $3.50 at Coastal Ale House, 115 Waccamaw Medical Park, Conway. Guinness Black Lager tastes nothing like the best-known Guinness product, the famous and overexposed Irish Stout. The worst thing one could say of the black lager is that it couldn’t offend anyone. It’s about as accessible as a beer – any beer – could get. I liked it, but I can’t figure out what the blackness of this beer contributes to its taste. Until I can discover the meaning of this black lager, I promise to drink more. Pair with “My Love is in New York” by Black 47.
Smithwick’s Irish Ale
I bought a single bottle of this for $1.89 at World Market, 1144 Seaboard Street in Myrtle Beach, because I hadn’t tasted a Smithwick’s in a while. A few years ago now, a bartender at Bully’s, at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, corrected my pronunciation: It is pronounced “Smiddicks.” It is a long-brewed beer and among the best Irish Red Ales around. Anyone who drinks tea will recognize the tea-like flavor attributed to many Irish Reds. As beers go, there’s nothing the least bit bitter about Smithwick’s. Light hopping allow the malty reddish body full sway. Owned by the Guinness folks, this one could easily carry you through a Saint Patrick’s weekend. Smithwick’s could become downright addictive with the right music. Pair with “Soon” by My Bloody Valentine, and drink one soon.
Black, black, black, and sweet, sweet, sweet. If beer-haters can get past the color and their preconceived notions of beer, they might actually like this one. I’m not sure hops were even used in this beer – it’s all chocolately, malty sweetness. I don’t think I could find coffee tones in this one if I tried, meaning not much in the way of roasted or toasted notes to report. It’s the kind of beer you could pair with any number of chocolate desserts. You could even pour this one over vanilla ice cream. I bought a four-pack of pint cans for $7.49 on sale (regularly $7.99) at the Piggly Wiggly at The Market Common. Pair with the dreamy, syrupy “A Day Without Me” by U2.
Killian’s Irish Stout
Killian’s Red might be overexposed and domesticated, but damn, Killian’s Irish Stout deserves extra publicity. My first mouthful of this one and I knew I was onto something special. I got a sample of this one from The Yahnis Co., local distributer for Killian’s parent company, Coors Brewing Co. Later, I saw a sixer for $6.99 at Lowes Foods, 970 Cipriana Drive in Myrtle Beach. The balance of roasted flavors and malty sweetness tastes original. Perhaps “combination” is a better word than balance because this Irish stout seems to have a different angle on the intersection. Specific cereal flavors come to the surface in the aftertaste. Nice semi-dry finish. And, it’s more affordable than many of the other stouts. This beer could even make a Monday easier to swallow. Pair with “I Don’t Like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats.
Harpoon Celtic Red
I got this one at the growler station inside Green’s, 2850 North Kings Highway, Myrtle Beach. The 32-ounce growler cost me $4.49 for a fill-up. I had planned to drink just one pint that evening, but wound up drinking the entire 32 ounces. It was as irresistible as red hair and green eyes. The deep copper color of this ale delivers a sweet flavor with just a touch of tartness on the end. The touch of tea flavor is unmistakable, but the malt has just enough character to avoid a likeness to sweet tea. Harpoon Brewery is located in Boston, so chances are the Irish influence on this beer is hereditary. Pair with “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” by Dropkick Murphys.
Murphy’s Red Ale
Murphy’s Red Ale is the energetic sibling of Murphy’s Stout. I bought Murphy’s Red Ale at the Piggly Wiggly at The Market Common, $9.49 for a six-pack, on sale for $8.99. My guess is Murphy Brewery in Ireland does a little more with hops in its red ale than Guinness does with Smithwick’s. The tea-like tones of Smithwick’s are there but not quite as present in Murphy’s Red, which also has a slightly drier finish. But not too dry. Murphy’s Red Ale has depths of drink, drink, drinkability. This is the session beer for a night of rock-and-roll, Irish style. Pair with “Jailbreak” by Thin Lizzy.
Magners Irish Cider
For those who cannot abide the red ales, stouts, and peculiar lagers, the Irish have a crisp, clean, easy-drinking, hard apple cider. I saw it at Owens Liquors, 8000 North Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach for $9.99 a six-pack. It’s not bitter, but it’s not sweet, either. Magners wouldn’t have achieved international distribution if it were either too sweet or too tart. It seems lighter in body than Woodchuck Amber Cider from Vermont, although it’s the same in calories. Honestly, Magners might make the best Irish beverage to drink with assorted Irish cuisine. Pair with “Molly Malone” by The Dubliners.
Enjoy drinking your way through Saint Paddy’s Day weekend, get a designated driver, and remember, as the old saying goes, “An Irishman is not drunk as long as he can hold onto a blade of grass and not fall off the face of the earth.”
Contact Colin Burch at firstname.lastname@example.org .