Numerous beers have strong associations with specific times of the year. Cold weather brings out the strong and malty brews meant to ward off the chill of winter. Fall bodes well for pumpkin beer aficionados, as well as fans of Marzen and Octoberfest-style lagers. Spring is the traditional time for the release of Maibock, while summer offers lighter fare, such as wheat beers, light lagers, and saison.
But one type of beer really stands out come March: Irish-style dry stout. Perfect for any St Patrick’s Day session, Irish-style stout is relatively low in calories, and weighs in at roughly 4% alcohol by volume. There’s a reason that people who love Irish stout can drink several pints before feeling tipsy – low alcohol!
Many people associate dark beer with full-bodied ales with a robust alcohol content, but Irish stout is inherently quaffable. Draft stout is normally served through a special tap via a nitrogen/carbon dioxide blend. This method of dispense forces the beer through a fitting called a “sparkler,” which creates a dense head of foam on the top of the beer as the nitrogen comes out of solution (the “cascade”), while enhancing mouthfeel (the perception of the beer’s body). The use of a mixed gas blend sparkler was originally devised to emulate the effect achieved when beer is poured through a traditional pub-style beer engine, or hand pump. The world wide popularity of draft Guinness, et al, speaks volumes regarding the efficacy of this technique.
Not only is Irish stout highly drinkable, but it offers a lesson in simplicity when it comes to ingredients. We’re talking hops, roasted barley, pale malted barley, and some flaked barley for body and head retention, and that’s it. Classic examples of the style include Guinness, Murphy’s, and Beamish. Many craft brewers in the USA brew this venerable style, as well.
Don’t be afraid of the dark!