A Dry Irish… No, It’s Not An Insult
When people hear the word “stout” (as a beer reference, not a reference to a rotund guy such as myself) they tend to picture an inky black beer, and sometimes use words like “heavy” or “thick” to describe what hits their palate. There are several variations to the stout style, each with their own nuances, but the one most people are familiar with is the Dry Irish Stout.
This familiarity is in no small part due to one brand: Guinness. The company started brewing their flagship beer over 250 years ago, and has nearly become synonymous with the word stout. It is no longer exclusively brewed in Dublin, and plans are in the works for a new stateside brewery in Maryland, but the lore of the Emerald Isle follows every pint. While it’s popularity has waned a bit, parent company Diageo reports sales over 7 million pints on St. Patrick’s Day.
Historically, the term stout was used to describe any beer that was bit stronger that a brewer’s other offerings, regardless of color. Over time, the term was more commonly used to describe a strong porter, and eventually became its own style. The dry stout was an offshoot of this move, and described beers that had a dry, roasty flavor as opposed to the sweeter variations of stout that were common around London.
Over time, brewers refined their beers using Guinness as a blueprint, brewing with un-malted roasted barley to achieve a smooth, roasty flavor with a slightly creamy mouthfeel. Flavors of coffee are common, as well as chocolate or cocoa. Contrary to what some believe, these beers are generally lower in alcohol, ranging in the 4-5% range, and not all that bitter, somewhere between 30-45 IBU.
Stouts are excellent complements to food. They pair particularly well with chocolate, which accentuates their common flavors. Try one with a sweet chocolate dessert like tiramisu, chocolate lava cake, or a chocolate hazelnut confection. If you’d prefer something less sweet, that also pair well with savory foods, like grilled meats , where the roasty flavors meld with the slight char of the dish. Finally, pair a nice pint with shellfish, like crab or oysters, which have been served with beer traditionally for generations.
With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, my wife and I decided to compare Guinness to a local favorite,
O’Connor Brewing‘s ODIS. (ODIS is an acronym for O’Connor Dry Irish Stout.) Irish stouts are arguably the prettiest looking beers when poured into a glass, and these two were no exception. Both beers poured black with beautiful, tight brown heads.
The similarities ended with the visuals, however. Once poured, the nose of the Guinness was weak coffee and little else, while the O’Connor had rich chocolate aromas backed by coffee. The flavor of the Guinness followed the nose, a bland, dry coffee with just a hint of tartness. It is easy to see why this beer sells so well – it is an easy, inoffensive beer one can slug down without much thought. The O’Connor was far more complex, starting out with a mild fruity chocolate flavor that progressed to a dry baking chocolate and black coffee as it warmed up a bit.
My wife summed our experience up nicely when she said “the O’Connor just has more flavor and is more interesting.” Well said, my dear!