A Review of the Best Beers for St. Patrick’s Day


St. Patrick’s Day means many things to many people. For emigrants of the Emerald Isle, it is an opportunity to connect with the classical traditions of their homeland, such as wearing green plastic bowler hats and enjoying a Shamrock Shake.

lucky charmsI’ll be havin’ some whisky on me Lucky Charms, jes like m’pappy usedta make, begorrah!

For some it’s an opportunity to justify the drunkenness that needed no such justification in the many blotto weeks leading up to it. For me, it’s a marathon of heavily salted meats, cold beer, blaring House of Pain albums, drunken outbursts toward anyone who denigrates “The Boondock Saints” and the solemn promise of my wife to not give me the stinkeye for any of it.

Nothing about these celebrations commemorate St. Patrick, but then not much is definitively known about him. He is credited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland, which is an odd thing to focus on considering he was several hundred feet tall and capable of carrying entire churches:

st patrickIt is not known why the artist chose to exclude Babe the Blue Ox from this work

I submit there is something far more worthy of commemoration on March 17th. It’s a tremendous story of cunning, vision and pure win that all the Irish can cherish. Once you overlook it having nothing to do with St. Patrick whatsoever, it really is the only logical choice.

In 1759 Arthur Guinness took ownership of a vacant brewery, which was already outfitted with two malthouses, a mill and four acres which provided direct access to waterflow from the Wicklow Mountains. His down payment for this venture was £100, which when corrected for inflation would have to equal at least £112 in today’s currency (I’m not really a math guy). That’s a pretty good deal considering Guinness went on to become the best-selling alcoholic drink in Ireland (no small feat among a people whose national past-time is alcoholism), but that’s not the genius part. He also signed a lease that left his rent flat at £45 per year for 9,000 YEARS.

Let that sink in. Guinness & Co. makes about £2 billion annually, which means rent eats up 0.0000000225% of their profits. If that doesn’t canonize Arthur Guinness as the patron saint of beer, he’s at least earned a title of similar repute:


As part of this retooled celebration, I’ll review Guinness done three ways.

Guinness Draught Stout (4.2% ABV)

draughtThis bottle made waves a few years back by being outfitted with something Guinness calls a “rocket-widget.“ Supposedly the turbulence it introduces allows you to simulate a draught flavor straight out of the bottle. Since I can’t comment on the science, I’ll just mention that it looks like an albino dog peen to me.

widgetMiracle of beer science or ghostly, winged suppository? You decide.

There are few prettier beers on this market to pour. Guinness makes hay of this by touting the six step process on their website for the “proper” method of doing so. But even those hefty instructions are incomplete because they miss the all-too-crucial step of trying to doodle something lewd in the head:

headJust tell the recipient it was going to be a shamrock until you ran out of beer

This pours an undeniably luxurious, dense taupe head on the completely opaque black brew. However, it’s apparent that most of the brewing budget went into FX for the pour because it has no real aroma to speak of. At best it’s mineraled and reminiscent of tobacco with a faint hint of chocolate.

There was a flavor in Guinness that eluded me for years, which was surprising given how prominent it is. For lack of a better word, there’s a “tang” to it. Then one day it hit me – it tastes like sucking on a penny. Don’t ask me how I figured it out. Let’s just say on my journey to becoming a professional taster, I’ve licked a lot of things and have lots of regrets to go with it.

tongueI don’t care what beer university you go to, don’t fall for the “blind tasting ritual.”

Guinness has a moderate fullness, but the big flavor components beyond the tang aren’t terribly complex. There’s a charcoal bitterness and some roasted flavors.

I don’t think any of you can truly appreciate how much jeopardy I’ve put myself in by talking shit on Guinness. My old hooligan associates, at least 70% of which can read, would love to beat me senseless for this heresy. We drank this stuff by the gallon and for good reason – Guinness is an institution, possibly the template against which all dry stouts are compared. But I’ve had too many great beers since those days to mistake familiarity for superiority

Grade: B-

Guinness Black Lager (4.5% ABV)

black lagerThis is a relatively new entry into the Guinness product line. Frankly, it’s interesting to see anything new come out of a brewery so known for one beer. I’m not sure where their reticence to release new products comes from, but it’s probably akin to the double-edged nature of being a one-hit-wonder band. They may pack concert halls into perpetuity, but every attempt to debut new material will be met with angry clamoring for the fan favorite.


The Guinness Black Lager is a warm, summery yellow. Its fizzy tan head summons small armies of fuschia Cookie Monsters, all taunting me for botching that game-winning catch back in 2nd grade little league. If the beer just appears more of a “black” color to you, clearly your shrooms haven’t kicked in yet.

As with many stouts, this one hosts a mild burnt toast smell and some light maltiness to the nose. However, when venturing for the first sip it is important to not allow the deep color and roasted aroma to beguile you into thinking you’re drinking something bigger than a lager. With that framework in mind, you can really appreciate what this has to offer.

The burnt aromas translate into a more roasted flavor with hints of charcoal. However, the body and flavor overall are very light and refreshing. A mild grassy hop flavor transitions in from the bitter of the charcoal and makes the experience crisp. The carbonation makes it a tad prickly, but it’s tolerable. There’s not a lot of depth beyond that, but I don’t think it needs it.

I’ve had better black lagers, but this is decent. It’s perfect for someone trying to stick with the Irish beers for the holiday but looking to avoid the bloat of the larger beers.

Grade: B-

Guinness Extra Stout (6% ABV)

extra stoutThough you might not anticipate it in a bottle without a rocket widget, be sure to pour the Guinness Extra Stout (GES) with caution. The head will shotgun out of your glass like you summoned the Kraken.

The GES is a slightly blacker black than the previous black beer. Unlike the smooth veneer of velvety head the standard stout produces, this head pours with the consistency of a slurpee. However, just like both of its predecessors, there’s not much to talk about in the nose. It’s just a soft, sweet roasted malt with maybe a hint of molasses.

The carbon flavors in this are more over the top than the previous lot. It has a moderately full body, with a slightly more syrupy texture than the others. The flavor is more nuanced, with notes of coffee and roasted malts, but what really resonates is the burnt bitterness. Its finish has a bit more staying power than previous entries.

This is sturdy and most certainly stout, but definitely forsakes some of the easy drinking of its companions for bigger, darker flavors. Approach with caution.

Grade: B