For most people, it’s famously known as Guinness. And it’s the beer of St. Patrick’s Day.
For brewers and beer aficionados, though, it’s the nitro draft version of what is otherwise known as Irish stout or Irish dry stout.
Usually jet black and nearly opaque, with reddish brown highlights and a thick and creamy tan head that persists over a session of sipping, Irish stout is certainly among the most elegant and comforting of beer styles.
The deep color and robust flavors come from roasted malts, which present notes of coffee, dark chocolate and smoke, along with a mild hop bitterness, and a clean, very dry finish. One more thing, it’s remarkably low in alcohol.
Those characteristics are amplified in other ways by the art and science of what Guinness calls the “perfect pint,” as publicans from Dublin to Tokyo take pride in a pouring ritual that delivers the visual “cascading effect” of beer and nitrogen dancing in the glass.
But nitrogen, which doesn’t go into solution like the carbon dioxide in a usual draft pour, has other pleasures, too, mainly in creating complexity, softening flavors, and producing a silky smooth mouth feel.
Though Irish stout has never been very popular among craft beer lovers, several U.S. craft breweries have made notable versions of the style over the years, including Bell’s, Brooklyn, Cigar City, Harpoon and North Coast.
The craft offering that’s surfaced most often in metro Atlanta, lately, is Donnybrook Stout from Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Co.
Available year-round in kegs and served on nitrogen at beers bars, including Brick Store Pub in Decatur, it’s a surprisingly refreshing dark beer with all the attributes of the classic style.
In Atlanta, Eventide, the tiny Grant Park brewery, has been making its Dry Irish Nitro Stout since opening in 2014.
Improbably tasty and true to style, it’s always served on nitrogen in beer bars and at the Eventide taproom, where you can enjoy a fresh pint cascading in your glass.
One of the pioneers of Atlanta craft beer, Crawford Moran, made what is arguably the first and longest lived Irish dry stout ever brewed here.
Initially produced at Moran’s Dogwood Brewing Co., which closed in 2004, Dogwood Stout earned the top rating for an Irish stout at the 2000 World Beer Cup.
Nowadays, Moran brews the same recipe as Dark Star Stout at Five Seasons Brewing’s Northside and Westside locations, where he variously features it on draft on carbon dioxide or nitrogen, and sometimes as a cask ale.
“I love Irish dry stouts for the flavor profile, but there’s also history there,” Moran says. “My grandfather came from Ireland. My dad grew up in an Irish household in the Bronx.
“I have childhood memories of my dad giving me a little sip of beer, if I was good, and it was often a sip of Guinness. So the idea of being good and drinking stout is a connection.”
Later, Moran carried that history and sense memory into his explorations and businesses as a brewer.
“I first started making Irish stout as home brewer,” he says. “It’s such a contrast, and not only in color, that it’s at the other end of the spectrum of gold industrial lager. It opens you up to all the possibilities of what beer is and what it could be.
“It’s dark and roasty. And it’s a full-flavored beer. But it’s not really a heavy bodied beer. If I’m doing a tasting, I always ask people if they like coffee or they like chocolate. They almost always say they do. And I say those are the flavors in Irish stout.”