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Two Irish Stouts, two different flavors

W. Kenneth Medley II • Mar 18, 2019 at 11:10 AM

Beer is pretty simple. Hops, barley, yeast and water; voila, beer.

Now, change the barley to a different grain; change the beer. Add a little of this, a dash of that, water from a different source; change the beer.

The big question one may have standing in the store, looking at a Guinness Book of World Records size selection of beer is — what the heck is the difference?

Well, there is a difference, that is assured. One will have to sample for oneself to determine the ultimate difference. What follows a short take on an old favorite and the modern catalyst of craft beer two decades ago in the old country.

The first beer to discuss is the old favorite. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, there is but one obvious choice, Guinness Draught (Queen’s English for draft) Stout. Some may immediately stop reading there. Stouts are not their thing, but please feel implored to continue reading.

Guinness is unlike any beer one will have. There are many that come close but do not have quite the same mouth-feel and aroma or there is always just something missing. Maybe it is the fact that Guinness is older than the U.S.

The color is almost black. Holding it up the light reveals a deep, with a capital D, mahogany red. There is a caramel-colored creamy head when poured properly.

If one cannot buy a draft at their preferred watering hole buy a can to take home. There is a “nitrogen widget” in the can.

After popping the top, let it sit for at least 60 seconds. Angle the can and glass at a 45-degree angle and pour slowly. There should only be up to one half inch of head on the beer.

Watch the caramel bubble created by the nitrogen cascade to the bottom of the glass. It is a unique and really cool-looking effect.

The aroma consists of alcohol, cream, hops and toffee. The beer clocks a 4.3 percent alcohol by volume. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy, with tiny little bubbles that tickle the tongue.

The flavor is complex, rich and bold with earthy malt tones. This could come from the water source in Ireland. There is a stale coffee with alcohol after taste — drink water after consuming. Overconsuming will likely intensify this taste.

Overall one cannot really say more about this 200-plus-year-old recipe. Guinness accurately assembled the ingredients to make a beer that has lasted through wars, famine and natural disasters. It is arguably the standard of Irish Stouts, often imitated but never duplicated.

Next up is O’Hara’s Irish Stout. According to the box, the beer sparked new life into Ireland’s craft beer scene in 1996. Four years later the stout won Champion trophy and gold medal as the draught winner at the Brewing Industry International Awards. The brewing remains family-owned and -operated today.

The brewery says their team is “set on the path to revert Ireland’s brewing landscape back to flavoursome beers.” The packaging sports a brewer’s note that reads, “Using five malt and wheat varieties, this diverse combination is brought to life in the mashing and boiling process, where a number of select old-style hop varieties are added to create this truly complete Irish Stout.”

That is great, but is it a good beer? How does it taste to compared to a Guinness?

There is definitely a different smell to the beer. Strong notes of licorice are immediately noted. There is almost a molasses aroma to the stout.

The color is similar to Guinness. There is a browner appearance and more apparent mahogany. O’Hara’s Irish Stout is not as dark as the former beer discussed.

The mouthfeel is very different. First thing one notices is the larger bubbles. They also do not stand on the tongue as long.

The beer is smooth, but there is greater space between the bubbles, resulting in a flat feel.

The flavor is what one will expect from a stout. There is licorice here instead of the toffee/caramel taste in the Guinness. There is also a lack of alcohol flavor in O’Hara’s. That is a good thing for some. The beer clocks a ABV equal to its older cousin.

Overall it is great beer, and it is easy to see why it won gold. The stout is definitely different than the Guinness but still very much Irish Stout. Different does not mean bad, and that is true here, too.

It is a lighter-feeling beer to Guinness. The beer will pair well with Cajun chicken, grilled meats, fruits or vegetables. The smokey flavor of the grill accentuate the flavors of the beers.

Stouts pair well with chocolate and chocolate-covered fruits such as strawberries, blueberries and the like. One should not binge drink, and the best part about these two select beverages is they are more sipping beverages. The creaminess of the Guinness makes one want to extend the moment.

The O’Hara’s is quicker to drink but better to sit with. The flavor diversity is exposed over extended time. This stout will pair well with teriyaki, too. The complexities of the more bitter hop flavor will contrast nicely with the tang of teriyaki.

Choosing either, if one is a stout fan, will not disappoint. If one has never had a stout, roll the dice and pick one. Try them both and judge for oneself.

Some accuse stouts of being an acquired taste. I would argue, maybe, but try a sour and get back to me.

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