Irish beer? Erin go blah

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FOR A NATION whose patron saint annually inspires so much alcohol consumption, Ireland leaves a helluva lot to be desired when it comes to beer.

Maybe it’s last night’s green foam that’s doing the talking here, but with all due respect to St. Patrick, Dylan Thomas and Tullamore Dew, Ireland has been coasting on its rep for way too long.

The nation that practically invented the pub evidently forgot how to brew anything for us to toast with.

Yeah, I know:

Guinness Stout. Please, most of it’s made in Canada or Africa or some other factory far from St. James’s Gate.

Harp. C’mon, Dick Yuengling kegs that stuff without breaking a sweat at half the price.

Smithwick’s. I can only imagine it tastes better in Ireland because the draft they pour here is about as remarkable as week-old Wonder Bread.

How lame is the Emerald Isle’s beer?

“The Encyclopedia of World Beers” by Benjamin Myers and Graham Lees spends all of one page on Irish-made beers – about the same space devoted to such notable beer-producing giants as Wales and Estonia.

BeerAdvocate.Com’s populist beer tasters include not a single beer made in Ireland in their top 100.

And in his “Pocket Guide to Beer,” British author Michael Jackson diplomatically notes, “The fame of Irish beer greatly exceeds the number of its breweries . . . “

The “fame,” of course, is largely due to that aforementioned stout, one of the largest-selling beers in the world. But if this so-called Perfect Pint is so bloody Irish, why is it that Ireland hardly bothers to drink it? Sales are dropping faster than those tiny tan bubbles (a decline that was worsened last year, Guinness says, by Ireland’s ban on tavern smoking).

Guinness is so desperate to sell its frothy brew, it shamelessly blathers about its low calories and carbs like it’s some kind of cheap light beer. The company now recommends practically freezing the stuff so young buds can swallow the stout without actually tasting its trademark bitter, toasty flavor. It’s gotten so bad that one Irish writer recently remarked, “Guinness now produces a drink that puts one in mind of what Americans call Popsicles. “

Have you stuck your neck into an Irish pub lately? Lord knows there’s nothing better than spending an hour or six holed up one, in Philly or Dublin. But grab a stool in one of those cozy pubs and you’re likely to be greeted with such traditional “Irish” nectars as Corona and Miller Lite. In Ireland, Heineken is the No. 1 selling lager. No. 2 is Bud. And guess what: It’s imported by Guinness.

The irony is that, while at least two of the world’s classic beer styles were born in Ireland, the country provides the world with few decent examples.

One style – dry stout – is the hoppy, roasted-malt cousin of England’s sweet stout. Guinness, of course, is the best known, and Murphy’s and Beamish are available in Philadelphia as well. Lately, I’ve been enjoying a relative newcomer, O’Hara’s Celtic Stout from Carlow Brewing.

The other, Irish ale, is a malty, lightly hopped reddish ale that’s Ireland’s version of an all-nighter. For a while, you could find Caffrey’s, which was decent enough. But it’s almost invisible in America nowadays; that leaves us with Smithwick’s and, in a pinch, Murphy’s.

Those are slim pickings, folks.

You say I’m forgetting George Killian’s Irish Red? This thoroughly forgettable dreck is neither Irish nor an ale. It’s a lager whose so-called roots extend to a 15th-century Irish brewery that closed 50 years ago. Today, it’s lovingly mass-produced in the green-sodded hamlet of Golden, Colo.

But don’t blame Coors just because Ireland doesn’t bother to stand up for its own heritage.

Instead, try an American craft version of one of those Irish styles. O’Reilly’s Irish Stout at Sly Fox Brewing Co. (Pikeland Village Square, Phoenixville) is an excellent start.

Or find a leprechaun and make a wish: Next St. Patrick’s Day, may Ireland send us a better beer.

Beer radar

Randall the Enamel Animal, the hop-filled beer-dispatch system from Dogfish Head, will get the hookup from 6-9 p.m. March 25 at Tria Cafe (123 S. 18th St., Center City). Owner Jon Myerow plans to pour 90 Minute IPA through the gadget, possibly on a permanent basis. Randall filters beer through a tube filled with fresh hops (like a Mr. Coffee for suds) for a fresh, one-of-a-kind flavor.

The makers of Erdinger Hefe-Weizen say sales are up since the beer’s cameo in “Million Dollar Baby. ” Its banner is in the background of the film’s opening fight scene. The brewery’s reps also note that Hilary Swank plays a waitress at a joint called On the Waterfront Cafe, which in real life is a Venice Beach, Calif., establishment that’s the largest Erdinger Hefe-Weizen draft account in the world.

Speaking of Hollywood brews, here’s a Kevin Bacon-like beer connection: In “Boys Don’t Cry,” Swank’s earlier Oscar-winning role, her character drinks Celis Pale Rider Ale, named after the 1985 Western starring Clint Eastwood, her director in “Million Dollar Baby. “


Tomorrow: Brewery Preservation Success Stories, a presentation by beer historian Rich Wagner at Yards Brewing Co. (2439 Amber St., Kensington). Free, with brewery tours before and after. 2 p.m., 215-634-2600.

March 26: Split Thy Skull barleywine festival at Sugar Mom’s (225 Church St., Old City). The annual high-octane event features big beers from Heavyweight, Lagunitas, Stone, Lakewood, North Coast, Independence, Brooklyn, Sly Fox and Nodding Head. Pay by the glass. Taps open 1 p.m., 215-925-8219.

March 29: Celtic dinner at Annie’s Cafe (98 Cricket Ave., Ardmore). Beer appreciation instructor Peter L. Cherpack looks on the bright side of Harp, Guinness, et al. $40, includes four-course dinner and tutored tasting. 6:30 p.m., 610-649-1660.

Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a pint of Dunedin Redhead Red Ale. 


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