It’s no secret that there are many Irish influences in Syracuse — from the traffic light on Tipperary Hill to the many Irish type pubs. As we enter the month of March, many Central New Yorkers look forward to St. Patrick’s Day related events. Green takes over red, St. Valentine rests until next February and St. Patrick is remembered once again. Like Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday marketed as a day of drink. While we don’t need an excuse to enjoy a pint, the cultural events this month bring people together and we are entertained by the many Irish dance schools, bagpipers and folk musicians. This is a time to celebrate Irish culture whether you’re Irish or not. As they say, everyone is Irish on March 17.
While I’m not advocating heavy drinking on any day of the year, it’s inevitable that people will celebrate the holiday this way. Irish beer is a great choice, be it a green beer or a Guinness. As we enjoy our pints it’s easy to forget or just not care about the origins and history of what we drink. As a beer geek, I always want to know more about what I’m drinking beyond the type and ABV (alcohol by volume).
The origins of Irish beer date back to the 1700s. Until then, the primary source of beer in Ireland came from England and Scotland. Arthur Guinness (1725 — 1803) set up the Saint James Gate Brewery in 1759 in Dublin, and hence the Irish Stout came about. While Guinness is the most popular name in Irish stouts, it’s not the only one to try. Other Irish Stouts with rich histories and flavors are Murphy’s and Beamish (not available anymore in the U.S.). Taste is subjective, so try the available stouts and decide for yourself which one you like better.
When we think of Irish beer, Guinness is probably the first name that comes to mind, and stout the first type. Ireland also produces other beers, so there’s a taste for everyone. Take the Irish red ale for instance. Killians Irish Red, while American, was originally from Ireland, based on an old Irish recipe from 1864. When production of this ale ended in 1956, it was purchased by a brewery in France, and from there was purchased by Coors. Killians is widely distributed in the U.S. and not available in Ireland anymore. Other notable Irish beers are easy to come by in our neck of the woods. One of my very favorites, Kilkenny, a delicious cream ale, was not made available in the U.S. until recently. My obsession with Kilkenny began in 2008 when I went to Europe and wanted to try beers that weren’t available in the U.S. When I returned, I searched high and low for it, but to no avail. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found it on tap right here in Syracuse!
Dedicating this month to Irish beers wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Smithwick’s, another favorite. Named “Ireland’s Oldest Ale,” Smithwick’s is a red ale that is readily available and certainly worth trying if you haven’t already. Although you may think to order one and pronounce it the way it’s spelled — which is natural of course — you’d be wrong. The correct pronunciation is “Smiddicks,” as is pronounced in Ireland. While no one will laugh at you for pronouncing it the way you think it should sound, knowing how to pronounce it is to know more about the beer you drink.
Last, but certainly not least of Irish beers worth mentioning is Harp, a pale Irish lager. Harp was my introduction to Irish beers in my early years of discovering international beers. It continues to be one of my favorites because of the light, smooth taste. If I’m in the mood for something pleasant and not heavy, Harp is my choice.
Ireland is a country of rich cultural history, and Syracuse in particular has its Irish piece of history that lives on in the people, places and atmosphere. While you or I may not have Irish ancestry, it doesn’t really matter. We can all enjoy the month of March (or any time of year for that matter) and appreciate a fine Irish beer. With that said, I leave you with an Irish toast:
“May your glass be ever full,
May the roof over your head be always strong,
And may you be in heaven
Half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”
Originally printed in the March issue of Table Hopping