Last night I went to Firefly’s La Table Commune for a crash course in all things Irish and beer; kind of like a “dry” run for beer geek’s Christmas also known as St. Patrick’s Day. And no, before you comment, ask aloud or even form the thought in your brain we did not have any green beer, and no, green food colouring does not enhance the drinking process until at least six pints into the evening. In the place of emerald brews we sampled beers from Ireland and not just Guinness – apparently there are other beers in Ireland, who knew???
The evenings line-up included Ireland’s most popular beer Harp Lager (blanched Guinness …kidding), Kilkenny Cream Ale (best Irish name), Granville Island Irish Red (re-christened Granville Isle for the evening – at least in my mind), Smithwicks Ale (the ‘w’ is silent -thanks Lundy I don’t want to sound like a rookie), Magners Irish Cider (not beer at all), Half & Half (a cocktail of Harp and Guinness), Innis & Gunn Scotch Stout (comes in a green box!) and last but not least and not unexpected Guinness Dry Stout (aka Guinness for light weights). Our Irish beers were accompanied by a nice selection of cheese including Guinness cheese AND an amazing beer truffle from Cocoa Nymph.
We got some interesting background information on the evening’s theme:
- For instance, even though Ireland=Guinness=Stout in the minds of many 63% of the beer sold in the country is lager – perhaps this is why Harp is brewed by Guinness.
- At the beginning of the 19th century there were over two hundred breweries, today there are fewer than twelve.
- Historically Ireland produces ales without hops because the hop is not native to Ireland.
- Popular Irish beer styles include Lagers, Cream Ales, Red Ales and of course stout.
- Guinness pioneered the use of the ‘widget’ (that thing rattling around in the bottom of your beer can) in the late 1980’s to maintain that creamy draught character.
- Guinness is actually the lightest of the beer selection served in terms of calories and alcohol content. Guinness for health indeed!
HARP LAGER: Clear and golden with lots of stiff white head; grape and apple on the nose with a hint of nuttiness; light bodied and crisp with the ever so slightest bitter finish; drinkable but not remarkable.
KILKENNY CREAM ALE: Light amber, clear with a decent amount of head; a little sweet malt on the nose; clean and creamy in the mouthfeel but very flat.
SMITHWICKS RED ALE: Reddish amber with cream coloured head and good clarity; touch of sour and sweet on the nose; nice malt/hop balance and a bit of depth body wise; subtle bitter finish.
GRANVILLE ISLAND IRISH RED ALE: Deeper red colour with lots of white head; definite hop on the nose; smooth to drink with caramel notes and a soapy hop quality; bitter finish.
MAGNERS IRISH CIDER: Very, very pale gold, effervescent and clear; sweet apple nose; crisp and easy to drink; sweet finish but not cloyingly so more refreshing and not cooler like, which is a definite bonus.
INNIS & GUNN STOUT: Dark reddish brown with a quickly dissipating caramel coloured head; sweet, oaky nose; smooth in body, smoky overtones, lots of whisky flavour; liquor-like finish.
GUINNESS DRY STOUT: Deep black and tan with lots of creamy head; roastiness on the nose; very light in body and dry but with lots of flavour notes like coffee, chocolate and roast cereal; bitter finish.
HARP AND GUINNESS (Half and Half): Points go to this one for awesome aesthetics for this cocktail; a layered drink with the dark Guinness floating atop the light Harp.
HARP AND MAGNERS (Snakebite): I’m a big fan of this ‘radler’ style of mixing lager with something sweet like cider, soda or lemonade; reminds me of picnics and sunshine.