Going to the dark side this winter? Stout is one of the most popular craft beers enjoyed in Ireland. The 1st November marked International Stout Day and helped inspire a number of brewers to create a seasonal stout to sustain that success.
The essential cereal for all beers is barley and when its kernels are toasted/ malted in the kiln, the natural sugars in the kernels are caramelised. The hotter the kiln, the deeper the toast and the darker the colour of the resulting beer with added bitterness (think burnt toast).
Porter first appeared in England in the 1700s as a darker and more bitter alternative to Brown Ale. Its popularity spans over 200 years and is a blend of malted barley from dark roast to caramel malts. Porter prepared the way for Stout and differs from Stout by its toffee and nutty aromas, fruity ester compounds and more acidic refreshing palate. A good partner with hearty and meaty stews.
Stout is generally a stronger style of Porter being an abbreviation for stout (strong) porter. Its toasted barley malt adds a deeper colour, aroma and flavour and some bitterness. Bitterness can be accentuated by adding more hops. Dry Stouts use unmalted barley, giving a creamy velvet-smooth texture. Other variations are oatmeal stout and milk stout. The oatmeal especially adds proteins and oils to the toasted barley malt and is characterised by hints of coffee, caramel and cocoa. These Stouts go as well with oysters as they do with chocolate desserts.
Imperial Stout references its royal title to Catherine the Great, Czaress of Russia Apparently, the empress loved its potent alcohol, coffee and chocolate richness and hoppy bitterness. Imperial Stouts can vary in alcohol strength from 7% to 13% ABV. Excellent as a partner with mature strong cheddar and blue cheese.
Belgium’s Lambic is one of the world’s most unusual beers. Uniquely in beer making, no yeast is added to initiate fermentation. Instead the wort/ sugary liquid is left exposed to native yeasts in its environment of Pajottenland, south of Brussels. The spontaneous fermentation accounts for Lambic’s distinct fruity, almost wine and cider flavour with a pronounced tart finish. Often aged afterwards for up to two to four years in old Port or Sherry casks for added complexity.
Kriek is another variety of Lambic with the addition of cherries, a sweeter fruit than the also popular Framboise (raspberries). While fruity on the palate, Kriek usually finishes with an earthy oaky dry aftertaste. Exceptionally versatile with food and matches most dishes associated with white wine.
Irish Craft Beers have their carbonation achieved naturally by a second fermentation in the bottle – bottle conditioned. Boosting beer’s popularity are the growing talents of Irish Craft Breweries and the recent innovations by the long established breweries. One of the positive impacts they are making is giving more diverse choices, widening beer’s appeal to new customers.
Eight Seasonal Stouts listed in no particular order:
Irish Craft Imperial Stout, Boyne Brewhouse, Drogheda, Co. Louth
Aged in Irish Whiskey Sherry Casks and bottle conditioned. Subtle vanilla aromas. Intense mouth-filling mousse and flavour. Obviously very full-bodied. Rich spice of the whiskey casks underpins the almost sweet maltiness, lingering long with a honeyed finish.
Food friend: a Christmas companion with the season’s plum pudding or cake.
€4.60 330ml at O’Briens, nationwide; Molloy’s, Dublin citywide; O’Donovan’s Cork citywide; specialist off-licences and selected craft beer bars on draught nationwide.
Leann Folláin, Extra Irish Stout, O’Hara’s Independent Craft Beer
Rich aromas of milky coffee. Fuller bodied alcohol drives the malty finish further. Smooth and velvety texture with a vanilla coffee finish, counter-balanced by a hop bitterness.
Food friend: robust enough to match with a fiery Szechuan Chinese Kung Pao Chicken first marinated in a little of the stout and soy sauce, finishing with coffee and chocolate cake.
€3.59 50cl widely available
Yannaroddy Porter, Kinnegar Farmhouse Beers from Donegal, Letterkenny
Rich malty aromas and flavours with an exotic coconut addition that rounds the edges of the hops’ bitterness and gives a little fruitiness. Awarded “Best in Category: Porter & Stout” in the 2018 Dublin Craft Beer Cup.
Food friend: perfect throughout a meal with barbecued ribs, gruyère cheese and chocolate chip cookies.
€3.00-€3.30 500ml at off-licences nationwide
Coffee and Oatmeal Stout, Winter Brew, Dungarvan Brewing Company
This seasonal stout just released for its eighth year. Rich, malty and coffee bean aromas. Creamy smooth texture from the oatmeal gives a rounded mouthfeel. Gentle hop bitterness adds contrast and the coffee adds a fruit to balance the caramel and chocolate character. Medium-bodied with a creamy white coffee finish.
Food friend: enjoy with smoked bacon and cabbage.
€3.40 – €3.70 500ml from independent off-licences and craft beer specialists, O’Brien’s Wines, nationwide; Molloy’s Liquor Stores, Dublin citywide and Carryout Stores nationwide
Belgian Imperial Stout, Limited Edition Small Batch Beer, Rye River Brewing Company
Sweet malty chocolate flavours and rich dark fruits and full-bodied. Delicious malty flavours amplified on a mocha coffee and chocolate finish.
Food friend: indulge with gooey chocolate brownies.
€6.00 440ml can at specialist off-licences
Lambic & Stout, Guinness (Ireland) in collaboration with Timmermans (Belgium)
A unique blend of Guinness Original Porter, Guinness Special Export and Timmermans Oude Kriek from the world’s oldest Lambic brewery. Deep tan colour and a pink hue in the foam. Sour cherry aromas. Refreshing, tangy cherry fruit to counter the stout’s rich malt.
Food friend: use the cherries in the Kriek to link with a venison loin and mushrooms and a cherry sauce.
€35 75cl limited availability at select independent off-licences and at Guinness’s Open Gate Brewery taproom.
Irish Stout, The Crafty Brewing Company
Powdered chocolate aromas. Mouth-filling carbonation. Very smooth and the mellow maltiness lingers. Bronze award at 2018 Irish Quality Food and Drink Awards.
Food friend: pair with pan-fried duck breast and smoked bacon.
€1.89 500ml exclusively in Lidl nationwide
Murphy’s Draught Irish Stout, Cork
Aromas of cocoa and milk chocolate. Smooth texture enhanced by the nitrogen delivers a gentle hop bitterness veering to sweet maltiness in a light to medium bodied stout.
Food friend: perfect with a platter of oysters.
€2.35-€2.75 per 500 ml can and €10-€16.49 x 6 cans at Dunnes, SuperValu, Tesco, Centra and Mace.
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.