As the story behind St. Patrick’s Day goes, Saint Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland—a great reason for a celebratory drink. Today, however, the holiday that celebrates the patron saint of Ireland has become a global party that has little to do with religion or snakes, but plenty to do with beer and whiskey.
It’s nearly impossible to talk about Irish beer and not mention Guinness. Thanks to tradition, great marketing and breweries around the globe, Guinness has cornered the market on Irish beer with its stout, which is immediately recognizable thanks to its nitrogenated pour that cascades down the glass—resulting in a thick cake of foam atop the pint.
That famed stout is ubiquitous all year, but St. Patrick’s Day is its time to shine. The brewery, owned by Diageo, says roughly 17 million pints are expected to be served this March 17.
“While we do actually brew different Guinness beers in 50 countries around the world and are served in over 150, all of the Guinness Draught we get here is brewed at St. James’s Gate in Dublin and imported to the U.S.,” says Jimmy Callahan, Guinness Brewery Ambassador. “It’s the same beer here and in Ireland.”
Now we’ve got nothing against enjoying a Guinness (or several) on Saint Patrick’s Day. But if you are looking to change things up, here are some Irish beers that aren’t Guinness but are definitely worth enjoying.
The Irish Beers to Enjoy Right Now
1. For Fizzy Drinking
Smithwicks Red Ale
Also produced by Diageo, this red ale is nearly as ubiquitous as its stout cousin, Guinness, at American bars. Garnet in color with a sweet grain profile and almost imperceptible hops, this beer adds a pop of carbonation to the tastebuds during those long afternoons at the pub.
2. Stout Alternative
Choice is a great thing. And when it comes to dry Irish stouts with a nitro pour, there is another option: Murphy’s. Owned by Heineken but brewed in Cork, Ireland, this stout has a stronger coffee and roast malt flavor, which adds a bit of oomph to the glass.
3. Another Stout Alternative
Beamish Irish Stout
Also owned by Heineken, this brewery dates back to the late 1700s. The stout has familiar flavors of coffee, dark chocolate and a touch of smokiness.
4. For the Discerning Drinker on St. Paddy’s Day
Sullivan’s Maltings Irish Ale
This rich red ale brewed by Sullivan’s in Kilkenny, Ireland, is malt forward with classic caramel and biscuit threads, and a touch of earthy, old world hops.
5. For The Lager Drinker
Harp is the lager most found next to Guinness, as it’s produced by the same company. It’s a crisp and easy-drinking alternative to a roasty ale.
6. The First Beer of the Day
Lough Gill Chuckee Larmz
This milk stout is brewed with breakfast cereal and marshmallows. At 9.1% alcohol by volume (abv), you will soon forget where you put that pot of gold. Brewed in Ireland’s County Sligo, it’s a proper pastry stout that brings the sugar and fun.
7. For the Hop Fans
Kinnegar Brewing Scraggy Bay IPA
Dark ales might rule the day, but there is still a space for hops. This 5.3% abv IPA has a “snappy little bite of hops” according to the Letterkenny-based brewery.
Is Guinness an Irish Beer?
Yes. Guinness is owned by Diageo and based in Ireland. It also has breweries around the world including one in Maryland. It is synonymous with Ireland, and its headquarters is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
What Is an Irish Beer?
Simply put, Irish beer is beer brewed in Ireland. There are two styles that are largely attributed to the Emerald Isle though: The dry Irish stout, and the Irish red ale.
A dry Irish stout, like Guinness, is dark in color and often appears black but shows ruby highlights. It is malt forward, often with flavors of roast coffee and chocolate that balance sweet with bitter. The hop profile is often low and earthy. It has become common to serve this beer through a nitro tap or can widget that adds a smooth texture to the pint.
An Irish red is copper in color with an emphasis on malt flavor that leans into caramel and light toffee. Traditional versions have a biscuity flavor mixed with a touch of roast bitterness. Hops, if perceptible, are often floral and light and it finishes dry thanks to the roasted malts.
What Is the Best Irish Beer?
The one that gets your eyes smiling. There are many popular and high-selling ones that have large distribution, like Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, Beamish and Murphy’s. But the best one is the one that you enjoy and that brings out the revelry of friendship.