Originally published March 17, 2010
St. Patrick’s Day may be an official holiday in Ireland, but around these parts it’s often just an excuse to hoist a pint or four of Guinness and pretend to be Irish for a day. As I prefer drinking less but better beer, I tend to be a bit of a curmudgeon about the way many American celebrations have become more about overconsumption and less about the event or person they were originally created to commemorate.
St. Patrick’s Day is a good case in point. It’s an official holiday in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but not in the United States, although for the last two years, Guinness has been promoting Proposition 3-17 in an effort to get St. Patrick’s Day recognized as a federal holiday. So far they’ve gotten nearly half-a-million people to sign their online petition.
But until recently, St. Patrick’s Day was a solemn day in Ireland. It’s a saint’s feast day — a religious holiday — and until the 1970s, pubs were closed on St. Patrick’s Day throughout Ireland. The first St. Pat’s parade certainly wasn’t held there, but in New York in 1762, although some Bostonians insist they celebrated even earlier. Dublin began hosting Carnival-like celebrations in 1996, and the increasingly lengthy St. Patrick’s Festival will last six days this year.
The beer most associated with Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day — do I even need to tell you? — is stout, one of the darkest beers made. Although it’s often referred to as Irish dry stout, historically the distinction is meaningless. Similarly, porter and stout, today considered separate beer styles, once were essentially the same. Brewing historians who have looked back at the records now believe there was no real distinction between the two, either.
Without question, the most famous stout in the world is Guinness, and it still tastes fine today, especially on draft, although I’d avoid the widget bottle. From Ireland, there’s also Murphy’s and Beamish (both now owned by Heineken) but the best, in my opinion, is O’Hara’s Celtic Stout. It’s made by the Irish craft brewer Carlow Brewing, and if you can find it, order it.
But you don’t need to go as far as Ireland to drink an excellent stout — and as it is Stout Day, you may as well have one brewed locally. Denise Jones, the brewmaster at Moylan’s, is one of best stout brewers in the country, if not the world. She just has the right touch when it comes to dark beers, and her Dragoon’s Dry Irish Stout is one of the best. It’s just what you want in a stout, with strong roasted notes and hints of chocolate in both the aroma and taste. Another great stout can be found at Third Street Aleworks in Santa Rosa, where Jones originally created Blarney Sisters Dry Irish Stout when she used to brew there several years ago.
Others worth a try include North Coast’s Old No. 38 Stout, Marin Brewing’s San Quentin’s Breakout Stout and Sierra Nevada’s Stout, all of which are available in bottles. Drinking any of these will be the perfect way to celebrate this year’s Stout Day.
The beer bucket list
The provocatively titled “1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die” will be released in the U.S. on March 23. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that it’s a collaborative effort by 42 beer writers — including me — from around the world. We each wrote up beers from our areas of expertise, telling the beer’s story and including tasting notes. There are 1,001 beers from 69 countries listed, though the United States has more in the book than any other nation. I contributed 35 beers to the project, many of them from the Bay Area or the West Coast.
It’s a beautiful book, I must say, fully illustrated with nearly every beer’s label or bottle shown in full color. With every beer getting at least a half-page and most a full one, it’s also one seriously heavy book, weighing in at nearly five pounds, with 960 pages! It’s available for pre-order from Amazon.com, although the American cover is different from what’s shown on the bookseller site. Our own Anchor Steam beer graces the U.S. cover (pictured) and it’s great to see a book about beers from around the world feature a San Francisco favorite so prominently. That’s more proof, I’d say, of just how important beer is in the Bay Area.