Picking the right beer to toast to St. Patrick's Day
Millions around the world will celebrate St. Patrick's Day, and many will probably "hoist a few."
Along with parades, wearing green and corned beef and cabbage dinners, people will gather at their favorite pub or tavern. But what should revelers be drinking?
"Lots," suggested Chris Post brewmaster and owner of the Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield. "It's a pretty unique holiday, where a little bit of excess is actually approved or mandatory really."
Post said traditionally the drink would be Guinness or maybe Murphy's or Beamish -- dry Irish stouts -- adding it's the time of year when a lot of people try a darker beer than they are used to drinking.
"It's a really good occasion for people to step outside the norms of what they normally drink, especially if what they generally drink is a beer like Coors Light or Budweiser," Post said. "It's a good time to try not only something like a Guinness, also use the occasion to step outside what they normally have and discover new tastes and try some different beers. There are four of us local breweries, and we've all got stuff that we try to make unique and flavorful."
He suggested starting the St. Patrick's Day festivities with a local interpretation of Guinness or Wandering Star's own interpretation. The brewery offers two dark beers that, like Guinness, are kind of stout on the flavor front without being heavy.
"Guinness is actually a light beer. It's got that reputation for being heavy, although I'm not really certain why. It's actually one of the lightest beers out there, only 4.3 percent, but is obviously very dark in color," Post said.
Post recommended Wandering Star's Mild at Heart, a London Porter, which was chosen as one of Food and Wine magazine's top five beers of 2011, which the brewery offers year-round.
"It's a beer that is almost as dark as Guinness, but instead of having that slightly burned edge to it, which in a stout is provided by roasted barley, it uses what is called chopped-up malt. As a result, it has a lot more kind of caramel and coffee and definitely chocolate flavors to it. It's a Porter, not a stout. It's a really easy drinking beer and a lot darker in color than perhaps people are used to trying."
Wandering Star is also brewing a new beer for St. Patrick's Day, simply called Mac, after Post's grandfather, who was proudly Scots/Irish. He was brought up in Ireland, in a family of Scottish heritage. The beer marries the two -- the dry Irish stout and the classic Guinness style -- but then uses a malt that is a feature of some Scotch whiskeys, specifically from the west of Scotland.
"It has a really unique, slightly smoky taste in the background that is not overpowering by any means," Post explained. "Anyone who has enjoyed a Scotch whiskey from the Island Islay would recognize this kind of slightly smoky peatsy flavor in the background. It's relatively light -- only 4.4 percent -- dark in color, but a really good and refreshing, unique drink to start off your drinking on St. Patrick's Day, when you can still taste anything."
Post also recommended serving the two beers with corned beef and cabbage because they don't have the slightly creamy taste that Guinness has.
"What they're really good at doing is cleansing your palate, especially from the kind of uniqueness of the corned beef and it really will stand up to strong flavors, in particular cabbage, but compliments it as well because you've got those dark flavors of the meat, of the corned beef, and that really marries quite well -- the roasty, toasty flavors in the dark beers," Post said.
Wandering Star has seven to nine beers on the market at any given time. Being a draught brewery, its beers and ales are not found in package stores, only in bars and restaurants across the county.
Post said the brewery has a range of beers that are best tasted at the brewery at 11 Gifford St., off Merrill Road. It is open noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and offers tours and free samples.
"We fill growlers, which is the only way to enjoy our beer in bottles. Come to the brewery and fill jugs. We have jugs here that people come in and fill up and leave with."
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