When COVID-19 closed taprooms and cancelled festivals, I looked for ways to still engage with Chicago’s craft beer scene. I therefore decided to finally work my way through The Complete Beer Course. Doing so involves the tough job of sampling beers for each style the book details; I’ll balance national (and international) recommendations from author Joshua Bernstein with examples from Chicagoland breweries. Unless otherwise stated, historical background comes from The Complete Beer Course.
Dry Irish stout
Porters were all the rage in 18th century England, and their popularity eventually found its way across the Irish Sea. In 1799, an Irish brewer by the name of Arthur Guinness responded to rising consumer demand by ceasing ale brewing and focusing exclusively on porter. While Arthur Guinness shifted his brewery’s production to English-style porter, it was his son, Arthur Guinness II, who ultimately developed a unique Irish style.
Junior’s brilliance, like his father’s, was his adaptability. In the early 19th century, new techniques were developed to blacken barley malt (patent malt). By mixing patent malt and pale malt, beer would be both roastier and less sweet, or drier, than porters brewed with brown malt. Guinness II took advantage of this technological advancement to develop a new recipe for his Guinness Superior Porter. Other breweries like Murphy’s and Beamish employed similar methods, leading to the development of a distinct style: dry Irish stout.
Dry Irish stout remained relatively stable through the first half of the 20th century. In fact, Guinness Extra Stout, available by the bottle throughout the United States, is a “direct descendent” of the 1821 recipe. The Guinness (or Murphy’s or Beamish) you’d order at a bar, however, is a relatively recent development. In 1959, Guinness introduced nitrogen into the beer (Guinness Draught), resulting in a smoother beer and more consistent head. With nitrogenation, dry Irish stout finally reached its modern form.
“A black beer with a pronounced roasted flavor, often similar to coffee. The balance can range from fairly even to quite bitter, with the more balanced versions having a little malty sweetness and the bitter versions being quite dry. Draught versions typically are creamy from a nitro pour, but bottled versions will not have this dispense derived character. The roasted flavor can be dry and coffee-like to somewhat chocolaty.”
Guinness Draught was released to celebrate the 200th anniversary of brewing’s most famous real-estate deal: Arthur Guinness’ original 9000-year lease on the brewery at St. James’ Gate in Dublin.
Third Coast Review’s Take
I wrote about the style in 2019, after visiting Ireland with my family. My take remains the same now as it did then: dry Irish stout is best enjoyed as an after-dinner session beer, especially while enjoying live music.
- Guinness Draught
- Hopewell Next Round
The standard-bearer for the style, and one of the most iconic beers in the world, there’s not much I can say about Guinness that hasn’t already been said. I stand by my assessment from my post on the beers of Ireland: Guinness’ rich flavors yet light body makes it a perfect after-dinner session beer.
If you’re venturing out on Saint Patrick’s Day, you’ll almost certainly get Guinness Draught that’s been infused with nitrogen gas to produce the signature thick head and creamy flavor profile. For those who are staying at home, however, I recommend picking up a 6-pack of Guinness Extra Stout (I find its robustness to be better from the bottle).
Hopewell released Next Round just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, offering Chicagoans a local option if they’d like to mix things up. True to the style’s form, it has big, roasty flavors with a super-light body and a pleasantly low 4.2% abv.
We go back to the old country with altbier.