St. Patrick’s Day – The Homebrewer’s Favorite Holiday

drinking beer leprechaunWe’re quickly approaching on the one holiday that is almost solely about drinking beer.  OK, so there’s the whole wear-green-or-get-pinched thing, oh, and those pesky leprechauns and their non-existant pots of gold.  But the #1 way of celebrating St. Paddy’s day is to hit the bar and have your favorite Irish beer!

America has come up with some pretty funny ways of selling beer on St Pat’s.  We’ve even started turning our light American lagers shamrock green.  So let’s take a look at a few of the various Irish brews, and the American renditions, as inspiration for you to brew up a batch for St. Patrick’s Day (or maybe next St Patrick’s Day since this year has snuck up on me)!

1 – Dry Irish Stout (Guinness)

The most popular beer of the Irish is the beer that made Ireland famous – Guinness.  The style is a dry stout and became a trademark of Dublin due to the hard water that lent itself to making these tasty dark ales.  You can impress your friends by making your own Guinness-inspired ale at home, and I’m willing to bet it will be fuller and tastier than what is poured at your favorite pub.

If you want to make one at home, you should start with a base of about 65% English grain, specifically Maris Otter, then add roughly 25% flaked barley and 10% roasted barley.  You can throw in 3-6oz of acidulated malt, or try leaving a pint of Guinness out in a bowl to sour for about a week then add it to the boil.  Either option will give you that trademark Guinness “tang.”  You’ll only need about 35-40 IBUs of English hops added at the start of the 60 minute boil to balance the malt.  No late additions needed.  Ferment with an Irish Ale yeast for true authenticity.  Be sure to mash in between 148 and 150 so that you have a highly fermentable wort.  A 2-step mash with lower-temperature rest at about 120 for 20 minutes or so will also help achieve a highly-fermentable wort.

If you’re an extract brewer, just replace the base grain with some English pale malt extract, and steep the flaked and roasted barley.

Lastly, if possible, serve your dry stout on nitro in an English Nonic Pint glass to get the lovely cascading bubbles.  Oh, and I’m just sayin’…Irish Car Bombs with homebrewed beer are AH-MAZ-ING.

For a more complete recipe, check out our NC State Fair “Best of Show” Dry Stout recipe.

2 – Irish Red Ale (Killian’s)

The other trademark ale from Ireland is the Irish Red, made popular by Killians.  Unlike the popular hop-heavy American Amber Ales, Irish Reds are a malt forward beer, backed by a touch of English hops (hops don’t grow well in Ireland, so they have to get them from the UK).  The caramel sweetness, with a touch of roasted dryness in the finish can make for a truly delightful beer.  The deep red color comes from the use of highly kilned malt that will also result in the dry finish.

When brewing an Irish Red at home, note that the roasted grains will add bitterness, so be careful not to over-do the hops.  The real key is to balance the dark malts, caramel malts, and the hops.

Making an Irish Red at home can be done by utilizing a base of about 85% English grain, Maris Otter will do the trick.  Then try adding complementing this with 5% each of a lighter crystal/caramel malt (20-60L), a darker caramel/crystal malt (120L or so), and roasted barley.  A 25 IBU addition of English hops at the start of the boil will balance nicely.  Unlike the Dry Stout, you will want to mash a little warmer, 152-154 to get a fuller body to the beer.

Again, use an Irish Ale yeast, and if brewing with extract, just replace the marris otter with English pal ale malt.

3 – Green Lager

Okay, so this is not necessarily an Irish tradition, but green beer can be found in almost ever bar in the US on March 17th, so we figure we have to at least mention it.

If you’re going to turn a beer green, you should use your clearest, yellowest lager.  This will insure that the color will come through.  Also, try a pint with green food coloring, then try a pint with blue.  Yellow and blue mix to make green, so depending on the exact hue of your brew, you may have better results with one or the other.

There are a few ways to go about dying your beer.  The easiest way is probably to just add 3-6 drops of food coloring to the bottom of your pint glass, then pour the beer on top.  This is definitely the way to go if you are bottling your beer.  You’ll also keep from running food coloring through your beer lines and faucet in your kegorator.

However, if you love the idea of green beer pouring from your taps, then you can add about 8 tablespoons of die to a ful 5-gallon keg of brew.  Be careful with mixing if your beer is not filtered.  You don’t want cloudy green beer.  It’s probably best to use filtered lagers so that you can give the keg a good shake to mix in the coloring.

Of course, no one will judge you too harshly if you’re serving your favorite Scottish Ale or Wee Heavy on St Paddy’s day, as who really can tell the difference between the Scots and the Irish anyways!?  And let’s be frank, if you’re sharing your homebrew, then you’re going to be the most popular one at the party regardless if the beer is of Irish origin or not.

Cheers, and happy St Patrick’s Day!