The Beer of St. Patrick’s Day

To celebrate the holiday right, Guinness Master Brewer Fergal Murray talks about the iconic beer and its optimal food companions.


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Among the cacophony of bagpipes and drums, cheers and merriment, the clinking of beer glasses is a sure sound of St. Patrick’s Day. And the beer most likely to be in the glass? Guinness, of course.

It was 1759 when Sir Arthur Guinness opened his now famous St. James’s Gate Brewery and, since then, the jet-black beer with the creamy head has become a source of Irish pride, globally synonymous with the day when people celebrate a Catholic man who rid an island of snakes.

So it was a bit of a surprise to find out that Fergal Murray, Guinness’ master brewer, was in a conference room at the Empire State Building in New York on the run-up to the big day and not among his countrymen in Dublin.

It was the cap to a day of media events that started with teaching people the six steps to pouring a perfect pint of the Irish stout. As the sun set, he discussed pairing Guinness with food and directed focus away from the holiday itself and more towards the other 364 days of the year.

St. Patrick’s Day is the best day, he said, for sales. On the flip side, he also considers it one of the worst days because it creates missed opportunities for first-timers to truly learn about the famed ale as opposed to just consuming it en masse. Even worse, because most bars do not take the suggested 119.5 seconds needed to pour it and present it perfectly, the true beauty Murray expects consumers to find with each glass is unfortunately sacrificed on such a busy day.  Such actions, he said, can sour the experience towards future rounds and potentially lose customers.

There are three versatile Guinness brands currently available to consumers in the U.S. Guinness Draught is the traditional recipe with bold malt flavor and hints of chocolate and coffee. When served nitrogenated (that specialty tap handle that the beer is known for), it results in the creamy beverage known around the world. Guinness Extra Stout is a carbonated version of the classic that is served in bottles; it has an extra kick thanks to the bubbles but a less full mouthfeel than its Draught counterpart. The newest addition in the states (that has been in the U.S. for less than a year) is the Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. This boasts a higher alcohol content that gives added depth through some warming sensations coupled with a pleasing finish of strong espresso. The hops are also a little more noticeable in this beer.

With such distinct characteristics, each has its own ideal food pairing. “Seafood is my preferred choice,” Murray declared.  As a demonstration, Murray offered three specific pairings for their brews: The standard Guinness Draught paired with braised boneless short ribs, the Guinness Extra Stout with smoked salmon and the pièce de résistance is the 7.5% abv Guinness Foreign Extra Stout served alongside oysters, chocolate and cheese. With its deep malt backbone and pleasing bitter bite, the Foreign Extra Stout is a fine complement to all three food items, and good for any day of the year.

If you're craving a classic beer and food pairing that screams of St. Patrick's Day, go with corned beef and cabbage. Spice it up by adding Irish stout while preparing the dish. Here's the recipe:

Stout Cured Corned Beef Cooked with Cabbage, Carrots and Potatoes

Courtesy of Sean Z. Paxton, The Homebrew Chef

Even though the true traditional corned beef and cabbage was more for royalty in Ireland (Irish bacon and cabbage was more traditional for the commoners), this dish has become a celebrated dish in the US. With enough planning, this recipe will show you how to take a beef brisket and turn it into corned beef.

For the brisket:
1 beef brisket, about 5 pounds

For the Stout cure/brine ingredients:
6 cups of water, filtered
2 pints of beer
2  cups kosher salt
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 ounce  pink salt (sodium nitrate)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cloves, whole
1 teaspoon mustard seed, black or yellow
1 teaspoon grains of paradise, whole
1 teaspoon allspice berries, whole
1 teaspoon cardamom pods, green or black (optional)
1 teaspoon star anise, whole (optional)
1 teaspoon  caraway seeds, whole (optional)
1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
1 teaspoon  red pepper flakes
7 bay leaves
3  garlic cloves, peeled
2  cinnamon sticks
4 cups of ice

For the brisket:
2 pints beer
Water as needed to cover meat
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander, whole
1 teaspoon cloves, whole
1 teaspoon mustard seed, black or yellow
1 teaspoon grains of paradise, whole
2 cabbage heads, quartered
5 carrots, peeled and quarted
6 potatoes, washed and peeled
1 onion, yellow, peeled and sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

To make the Stout cure/brine:
Rinse off the beef brisket, to remove any of the juices and small pieces of fat. In a large stock pot or 12-quart dutch oven, add the water, beer, salt, sugars and pink salt, and turn heat to medium. In a sauté pan over medium heat, add peppercorns, coriander, cloves, mustard seed, grains of paradise, allspice berries and (if using cardamom pods), star anise, caraway seeds and orange zest. Mix with a wooded spoon until the spices start to pop and release their essential oils (you should smell all the spices). Remove from the heat and add to the water/beer mixture. Add the red pepper flakes, bay leaves, garlic cloves and cinnamon sticks to the water/beer mixture. Bring the mixture to a boil for about 5 minutes, to dissolve the salts and sugars. 

Turn off the heat and add the ice to chill mixture. Check the temperature of this mixture to make sure that it is below 36°F or chill in the refrigerator until that temperature is reached.  Transfer the mixture to a 2-gallon container or ziplock bag and add the brisket. If using a container, add a small plate to the top of the brisket, to make sure the beef is completely submerged. 

Place in the refrigerator for 5–8 days to fully cure the brisket. Remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well to remove any spices.  Notice how the color changes, not only from the dark stout, but the brine. The corned beef should feel firmer, than when it was just raw meat. Serves 4-6.

To make the brisket:
Place the corned beef into a large dutch oven or pot and add beer and enough water to cover the brisket. Add the rest of the spices and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to medium low, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 2½ hours. 

Prep the cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onion and garlic cloves. About 2½ hours into the cooking of the brisket, add the vegetables to the pot and recover, checking the level of the cooking liquid, making sure there is enough to fully cover the meat and vegetables. Cook for another ½ hour or until the brisket is fork tender.

To serve, remove the corned beef from the cooking pot and slice across the grain.  Place meat on a serving platter and add strained vegetables.  Use a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid to moisten the meat for presentation. Serve with clarified butter, mustard ale sauce and/or horseradish ale sauce (recipes for the sauces available at homebrewchef.com).

John Holl, writes about beer and the culture of drinking. His first book, Indiana Breweries, will be published this month. He occasionally blogs on his website, BeerBriefing.com and may be reached at JohnHoll@gmail.com or via twitter @John_Holl.

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