A St. Patrick’s Day without Guinness is like a July 4th without fireworks. If you’re not enjoying a few pints of “the black stuff” on Friday, you may not be doing it right. That’s true in America, and that’s also true in Ireland, where Guinness is the national drink and the country’s most popular stout—by a wide margin.
But traditional Guinness isn’t the only Irish stout worth sampling on St. Paddy’s Day. That fact was made plain late last year when Guinness welcomed a collection of Irish brewers to Dublin to celebrate International Stout Day. The event was held at Guinness’s Open Gate Brewery, an experimental facility tucked within Guinness’s larger St. James’s Gate Brewery.
In honor of Stout Day, the Open Gate team—including head brewer Peter Simpson—had concocted a half-dozen experimental, one-off beers to wow their guests. These included a sea salt and burnt sugar stout, a nitro double coffee stout and a take on the brewery’s Antwerpen Stout aged in rye bourbon barrels. The other attendees, several of which appear on the list below, also brought their own celebratory offerings.
Why would the Guinness folks invite the competition into their brewery and show them some of the new beers they’re perfecting? For one thing, the world of Irish brewing is not investment banking; many of the smaller brewers in the room got their start and learned their craft at Guinness, and so the vibe was anything but adversarial. For another thing, it’s clear when you talk to the people at Guinness that they love beer and love their country. They don’t see other Irish brewers as competitors so much as compatriots.
In that spirit, Peter Simpson agreed to share eight of his favorite non-Guinness Irish stouts. If you’re looking for something new to sample this St. Patrick’s Day, these are some good starting places.
THE PORTERHOUSE BREWING CO.
Oyster Stout, 4.6 percent ABV
Simpson says Porterhouse has been a mainstay on the Irish beer scene since 1996. They were one of the attendees at Guinness’s Stout Day celebration, and they may be best known for their oyster stout. “They actually use fresh oysters in the conditioning stout, which produces a subtle sweet finish,” he says.
DUNGARVAN BREWING COMPANY
Black Rock Irish Stout, 4.3 percent ABV
Simpson calls this a “classic old-style Irish stout.” Medium bodied and rich, its dominant chocolate notes are flecked with hints of vanilla and herbs. Its makers recommend you enjoy it at room temperature.
WHITE HAG BREWING
Black Boar Imperial Oatmeal Stout, 10.2 percent ABV
Simpson says he’s a huge fan of this County Sligo brewery. “This is a fantastic imperial stout, with intense coffee and dark chocolate notes, and a rich full-body mouthfeel,” he says. “It’s an incredibly well balanced stout.” Of course, you probably aren’t going to make it long on St. Patrick’s day if you’re knocking back imperials. Maybe use this to kick off your day (or end it).
5 LAMPS BREWERY
Blackpitts Porter, 4.8 percent ABV
“The 5 Lamps are our near neighbors here in Dublin,” Simpson says, “and their head brewer, William Harvey, is an ex-Guinness brewer, so he knows how to make a good stout.” He describes Blackpitts Porter as a malty, roasted and refreshing stout with a lingering toffee and caramel finish.
Leann Folláin Extra Stout, 6 percent ABV
Simpson calls O’Hara’s “one of the pioneers of the craft beer scene in Ireland.” Leann Folláin is Gaelic for “wholesome stout,” and that’s exactly what Simpson says this beer is. “Mocha coffee, dark roast, dark chocolate and a little hop bitterness combine to deliver a great stout,” he says. Again, it’s best served at or near room temp.
BLACK’S OF KINSALE
The World’s End Imperial Chocolate Stout, 8.5 percent ABV
blacksbrewery.com This brewery is based in Simpson’s hometown of Kinsale, and he says they’ve been making great beer since 2013. This chocolate and vanilla stout is brewed using fair-trade cacao husks and Madagascar vanilla pods, and is packed with rich flavors, he says.
KELLY’S MOUNTAIN BREWERY
Revenge Porter, 4.5 percent ABV
Simpson says brewers Ronan and Jacqui Kelly “make some great beer in their microbrewery in County Kildare, ably assisted by another ex-Guinness brewer, Joe Bergin.” He says this stout has plenty of caramel and toasted notes, and is mildly bitter thanks to its European hops.
Buried at Sea, 4.5 percent ABV
“A complex beer with dark, rich flavors but also a subtle sweetness,” Simpson says. “There’s a roasted dark chocolate flavor up front that gives way to a sweet smooth finish from the milk sugars.” He says Galway Bay owns a bar just a stone’s throw from the Guinness brewery, and “this is our beer when we visit after work.”