- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

It’s dark in Ireland. Black opaque. Especially so in the pubs.

This isn’t a comment on the economy or the psychology of the Irish. It’s a comment on Irish beer — stout, to be specific, the black ale that personifies Irish beer throughout the world.

Venture into any Irish pub, and you’ll be hard-pressed not to find at least one tap offering the national beer, which, to be exact, is an ale. This beery little fact separates Ireland from the rest of the world, where most beer drinkers quaff golden, fizzy lagers.

Ireland wasn’t always a stout-drinking nation. In 1759, the birth year of Guinness, the world heavyweight of stout brewing, the Irish consumed darkish ales, often brewed in England. More people drank whiskey. Then along came young Arthur Guinness, who, after a brewing internship, finagled a 9,000-year lease for 45 old Irish pounds a year on the derelict St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin.

Guinness decided to compete with the popular English beer of the day, a black ale called porter, made popular, as the legend goes, by the porters who carried goods around London. The story states that porters thought the black, toasty ale provided them with the strength needed for their heavy labors.

In Dublin, Guinness experimented with recipes and names for his porter. A roasty version was known as “stout porter.” Eventually “porter” was dropped and stout came into its own. Today, “dry stout,” “extra stout” and “foreign extra stout” are widely used names for the style.

In its most simple and basic form, stout is a jet black, roasty, bitter ale, balanced with a touch of malt sweetness. The finish is dry and the mouth-feel is remarkably soft. No gassy lager fizz here.

Surprising for most people, a pint of freshly drawn stout is a low-alcohol session beer, usually about 4 percent alcohol by volume, a full point below most lagers.

Guinness dominates Irish beer, but the brewery, now part of Diageo, the largest alcohol drinks business in the world, does have a few competitors. In the city of Cork, to the south of Dublin, Murphy’s and Beamish & Crawford are the next two largest brewers in Ireland. However, their stouts and red ales are hard to find outside County Cork. These two breweries are now foreign-owned. Heineken gobbled up Murphy’s; Scottish and Newcastle took over Beamish & Crawford.

Elsewhere in Ireland, there’s been a miniboom of microbreweries and brewpubs in recent years. This renaissance pales in comparison to what has occurred in the United States since the 1980s, but it’s a start. In Dublin, Porterhouse Brewing brews amazingly delicious beers for its Temple Bar pub and restaurant (16-18 Parliament St.) in the trendy Temple Bar entertainment district, just south of the River Liffey.

The Oyster Stout is dark, roasty and silky. The Porterhouse also brews several other beers, including a porter and German-style pilsners and wheat beers. The Porterhouse owners have been so successful that their groundbreaking brewpub (the first in Dublin) spawned a small empire that now includes two other pubs in Dublin, an inn and pub in nearby Bray (south of the city), a central brewery in Blanchardstown (outside Dublin) and a pub in London’s Covent Garden.

A short walk from Temple Bar brings a thirsty beer voyager to Messrs. Maguire (Burgh Quay), Dublin’s only other brewpub, also south of the Liffey and directly across from the O’Connell Street Bridge, a major thoroughfare. This pub-restaurant also brews an excellent stout or two, a porter, pale and red ales, and a German-style wheat beer. At any given time, up to eight taps carry house-brewed beers.

Outside Dublin, there are a dozen or so microbreweries and brewpubs scattered about the country. Biddy Early, to the west in Inagh in County Clare, was Ireland’s first brewpub in 1995.

The beers, such as Black Biddy, Red Biddy, Blonde Biddy and Real Biddy are excellent. For a short time, the owners shipped kegs of their beers to the United States, but that experiment was short-lived.

In the southeast, about halfway between Dublin and Cork, is Carlow Brewing. This small County Carlow microbrewery has a tough time finding tap handles for its beers, with Cork to the south being Murphy’s and Beamish territory and the rest of the country being a Guinness stronghold. However, the family-owned brewery, under the guidance of Seamus O’Hara, fights the good fight, for beer’s sake.

Carlow’s flagship beer, O’Hara’s Irish Stout, has a chocolate-nutty and malty-sweet aroma, followed by flavors of clean, roasted malt, malt sweetness and a smooth, roasty finish. It’s a dandy of a stout. The brewery also produces Curim Gold Celtic Wheat Beer, Molings Traditional Red Ale (also called O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale) and Beerkeeper Gold, as well as several one-off beers throughout the year.

Grilled Murphy’s Red salmon

1 1½-pound) salmon fillet

1 to 2 teaspoons garlic salt

Pinch of black ground pepper

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Juice of half a lemon

1 small onion, sliced thin

1 scallion, chopped

12 ounces Murphy’s Red

Preheat grill to medium-high. Place salmon fillet on tray and season with garlic salt to taste and black pepper. Lightly place dabs of butter on salmon and add lemon zest and lemon juice. Add onion and scallion, on and around salmon.

Pour Murphy’s Red onto fillet. Cover tray with aluminum foil, creating a tight seal. Close grill lid and allow salmon to grill until flaky, about 8 minutes, although time will vary greatly with thickness of fillet and intensity of fire. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Murphy’s Red leek and potato soup

4 tablespoons butter, divided

2 leeks, chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

3/4 pound potatoes, peeled and chopped

2½ cups vegetable stock

Salt and pepper, to taste

11/4 cups Murphy’s Red

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Add leeks and onion. Cook gently, stirring occasionally for about 7 minutes. Leeks and onion should be soft but not brown.

Add potatoes to the leeks and onions in the saucepan.

Saute and stir occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. C

over saucepan and simmer gently for 30 to 35 minutes, or until vegetables are very tender.

Add salt and pepper to taste and remaining butter. Add Murphy’s Red, leave uncovered and simmer until hot. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Gregg Glaser is editor of “Yankee Brew News.”

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