St. Patrick’s Day may be the foremost celebration of Irish culture on the calendar, but the Celtic holiday has long since been Americanized beyond recognition. What once was a family-centric Christian holiday is now, on this side of the Atlantic, a nationwide beer festival.
So, when celebrating an Americanized Irish holiday, it only makes sense to drink Americanized Irish beer. Though Guinness, Harp, Killian’s, and other macro exports from The Emerald Isle are the go-to for celebrants of St. Paddy’s, we found almost a dozen Irish-influenced microbrews that are worth seeking out when celebrating this Irish saint.
When you’re out shopping for beer to fill your Pota Pádraig, try some of these stateside takes on the classics.
Alternatives to Guinness, Beamish Stout, Porterhouse Oyster Stout
Ellensburg, Washington’s Iron Horse is an iconoclastic brewery. They’re not ones to copy/paste a style into their profile just to compete with the Irish beer giants. Quilter’s Irish Death was born of a reverence to the dry Irish stout, and it’s deep, deep black body and deathly sweet taste really separate it from the field of similar brews. The brewery calls it “beer candy,” but you’d be wise to not let your sweet tooth get the best of you. At 7.8% ABV, it’s nearly twice as heavy as a Guinness Draught.
You could practically chew down an O.V.L. Stout from Russian River. It goes down like a loaf of soda bread, but still finishes with a crispness you wouldn’t expect from the style. It’s a far cry from the California brewery’s name-making IPAs and sours, but O.V.L. helps to showcase the extent of the expertise working at Russian River. With a thick, lip-clinging foam and a pitch-dark body, it’s more filling than it’s 4.8% ABV would suggest.
We ranked Moylan’s Dragoons Dry Irish Stout as number two on our list of the 10 best American stouts back in 2014, but this California flagship has been impressing ever since, accumulating an enviable 86 rating on BeerAdvocate. Dragoons is brewed in a strictly traditional style using malt and hops from the U.K., but it doesn’t come out as plain as many stouts from the Isle. Lightly carbonated and abounding with coffee and chocolate flavors, Dragoons packs a lot of flavor in with the history. At 22 ounces a serving, it’s a pint-plus of American ingenuity for your St. Paddy’s celebration.
Another callback from our 10 best American stouts list, Schlafly’s take on the Irish dry stout is generously hopped, rounding out at 45 IBU. And unlike Guinness — which surprisingly ranks at 40 IBUs — Schlafly shows its bitterness in the brew. The tinge of bitterness is accentuated by the espresso undertones, and there’s a hint of dried fruit that carries it along. The increased carbonation makes it a little bit easier to drink than many of the stouts on this list.
If you’ve ever been to St. Paddy’s in Boston, you know it’s the apex of American-style blarney. The raucous parade in South Boston drives tens of thousands to the streets and bars, and Southie destination brewery Harpoon knew they could capitalize on the yearly sensation with an ersatz Guinness. But “ersatz” is an unfair way to characterize Boston Irish Stout. It’s thick, creamy head and rich malt backbone match up to the standards Guinness set, and this brewery exclusive’s warm roastiness adds a warmth the Irish macro can’t combat. Nothing’s better to prompt a stumble down the cobblestones this March 17.
Alternatives to Harp Lager, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale
When it comes to Irish interpretations, Rogue’s St. Rogue Red Ale is definitely their more popular offering, but their spring seasonal, Irish Style Lager (formerly Kells Irish Style Lager) is quickly usurping that title. Its uncharacteristically (for Rogue, anyway) simple formulation makes it a clean, easy drink. The Czech pilsner yeast give it a distinct paleness and gold color that reaches back to the Continent with respect to the roots of American brewing.
As an “early spring seasonal,” Boulevard’s Irish Ale comes off rotation right after St. Paddy’s, so if you’re looking to go bragh with this Kansas City craft ale, you’d better stock up on it ahead of time. This Irish ale nearly qualifies as a red ale with its bronzy body and hoppiness that makes its closest analog Smithwick’s. But unlike Smittick’s, there’s a toasty warmth to the malt character that makes Boulevard feel homey instead of overproduced.
Cream ales, when done right, make for a hearty sláinte. Kilkenny has led the market in this Irish specialty for a long time, but Chicago’s Argus Brewery has taken up the challenge of building a St. Paddy’s competitor in their McCaffery’s Irish Cream Ale — a silky, caramel-forward ale brewed exclusively for Ballydoyle Irish Pub. In Chicago, where they dye the river green for St. Paddy’s, you know you’re bound to find some quality Irish brew, but this pub specialty is worth seeking out when you’re in the Second City.
Alternatives to Killian’s Irish Red, Murphy’s Irish Red, O’Hara’s Irish Red
Hunter S. Thompson knew how to blur his vision, and the Flying Dog Brewery is an homage to his frantic, drunken worldview. Like ol’ Raoul Duke, they’re not afraid to experiment, which is why they brew their red ale with real four-leaf clovers. You can’t taste the luck in the brew — notes of bread and caramel prevail — but superstitious drinkers should turn to Lucky SOB this St. Paddy’s.
Minneapolis charity brewery Finnegans was founded as an homage to the generosity of the Irish people. They’re inspired by the blue-collar ethic of the Irish people, and so they built their hunger-eradicating brand around the Irish Amber — an unassuming craft beer that honors the simplicity of the Irish tradition while incorporating some of the American malt characteristics. It’s an easy six pack to drink alongside some corned beef and cabbage or a shepherd’s pie.
Toppling Goliath has become a giant in the brewing industry for its bold, big beers. The Iowa brewery is something of the Stone of the Midwest with its obliterating hops, but Murph’s Irish Red is a big departure from that profile. It’s a smooth, wispy brew that honors its Celtic heritage. There’s a detectable cultural tradeoff between the Irish roots and the distinctly American malt profile, but as TG puts it, “Who needs a pot o’ gold when you got yerself a pint o’ red?”