10 Best Irish Beers Made in the U.S. You Should Drink This St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day may double as a showcase for one particular Irish beer, but U.S. craft brewers are leaving their own mark on the day.

More than 33.3 million U.S. citizens identify their heritage as Irish. That's not only about 44% of the world's 75 million-strong Irish diaspora, but it's also more than five times the 6.5 million population of Ireland itself. Also, with apologies to Arthur Guinness, his namesake beer has an audience here in the U.S., but not a large one.

Diageo, Guinness's parent company, sold just 2.3 million barrels of beer here in 2014. To put that number in perspective, that's less beer than Magic Hat, Pyramid, Portland and Genesee producer North American Breweries (2.45 million barrels) sold that year and well below the totals of both Pottsville, Pa., brewery D.G. Yuengling and Sons (2.9 million barrels) and Samuel Adams brewer Boston Brewing Company (4.1 million barrels).

There is no “official beer of St. Patrick's Day,” but the nitrogenated dry stout that Guinness popularized makes up less than 1% of the U.S. beer market and is less than a third of the beer drunk in Ireland.

Not surprisingly, Diageo's 1.1% share of the U.S. market by volume was overshadowed by the nearly 22 million barrels that made up craft beer's 11% stake in 2014. While there is a growing number of Irish craft breweries emerging from Guinness's shadow, U.S. brewers have been producing some palatable Irish styles on their own.

While we don't diminish Ireland's legacy breweries and its dozens of craft brewers, chances are much stronger that a U.S. drinker is going to try an Irish style made by a brewery that's within an average ten-mile radius of their home and that's among more than 4,200 in the country today. In fact, the following ten beers are just a small sampling of the Irish styles that U.S. brewers have to offer:

10. Samuel Adams Irish Red

Boston Brewing Company

Boston

Style: Irish Red Ale

5.8% alcohol by volume

Welcome to Intro To Irish Red Ale. While advanced drinkers like to wail about how Samuel Adams Irish Red is too sweet and not hoppy enough, they're absolutely wrong.

See, unlike some of the other Irish reds you're going to see on this list, this one actually plays it by the book. It uses mild English East Kent Goldings and Fuggles hops as a base so it doesn't overwhelm the malt. It also keeps that malt bill down to a pale two row and C-60, a caramel malt that gives this beer its telltale hue. That mildness and sweetness they're tasting? That's what brands like Smithwick's, Kilkenny and Murphy's built their reputations on. That's what Irish ale tastes like, and any attempts to beef up the malt bill, spice up the hops or otherwise make it more extreme are strictly American affectations. Don't blame Sam for actually doing this the right way: Blame those “advanced” palates for being too shellshocked by the fringes of the beer spectrum that they can scarcely detect what makes this style so enjoyable to begin with.

With its headquarters in a town that prides itself on its ties to Irish heritage, Samuel Adams makes an Irish ale for folks who haven't forgotten their roots -- or the fact that they used to celebrate this day with a 30 pack of the cheapest beer on the shelf.

9. Cadillac Mountain Stout

Bar Harbor Brewing Company

Bar Harbor, Maine

Style: Irish Dry Stout

Alcohol by volume: 6.7% ABV

The alcohol content is a bit high to be St. Patrick's Day session stout. It also has too much Americano bitterness to sneak in with the sweet stouts. All that said, it's near perfect.

This Maine brewer has been at it for 26 years and has produced an inspired version of the old Irish dry stout that its next-wave craft beer neighbors just can't replicate. There's a lot going on in this stout, but the big takeaway is that it's a dark, smooth, creamy, enjoyable stout that's kinder to the palate than the overwhelming majority of attempts at this style. It manages to cram in bits of cocoa and coffee without making this a dessert beer and gives this stout the look and feel of its Irish contemporaries without dialing back the flavor.

8. Conway's Irish Ale

Great Lakes Brewing Company

Cleveland

Style: Irish Red Ale

Alcohol by volume: 6.5% ABV

Co-founders Pat and Dan Conway dedicated this one to their grandfather, a police officer, after opening their brewery in 1986. Around that same time, what little there was of the burgeoning U.S. craft scene was starting to catch the attention of larger brewers.

Keep in mind that, in the early 1980s, Coors purchased the rights to George Killian's Irish Red. That beer traced its lineage back to Lett's Brewery in Enniscorthy, Ireland, but hadn't been brewed by it since 1956. Anheuser-Busch InBev later countered with its Red Wolf, Elk Mountain Red and Michelob Amber Bock brands, while other brewers like Genesee followed with Michael Shea's and others. That would make Conway's Irish Ale look like a bit of a relic if it wasn't always more potent than all of the sub-6% ABV beers listed above. It also managed to stick around longer than all but a few of them, which is a testament not only to Great Lakes Brewing, but also to this biscuity caramel concoction.

7. Patio Tools

Cigar City Brewing Company

Tampa, Fla.

Style: Irish Dry Stout

Alcohol by volume: 5% ABV

The former Hillsborough River Dry Irish Stout doesn't even pretend to be part of the regular rotation. It shows up in February, leaves before the end of March and has a great time on St. Patrick's Day in between.

Oh, and it only shows up on nitro taps, which means that either your pub of choice needs another tap for its Guinness or that this is going to be the stout you're dealt for the holiday season. If the latter is the case, you're in luck. Though it finishes without any residual sweetness much like any other stout of its style, it matches that coffee bitterness with a bit of light cocoa and toffee from its roasted barley that makes it surprisingly full-bodied and flavorful. It doesn't stay around long, but Patio Tools leaves an impression that'll make you wish it would extend its stay.

6. Irish Ale

Boulevard Brewing Company

Kansas City, Mo.

Style: Irish Red Ale

Alcohol by volume: 5.8% ABV

Yet another Irish ale that disappears almost immediately after Saint Patrick's Day, but this winter seasonal has way too much merit during the cold months to just party and leave.

Loaded with dark, caramel and chocolate malts, this full-bodied beer has the flavor of a toasted caramel cookie with just a wee bit of Magnum hop bite on the finish. Though limboing under 6% ABV, this beer's fresh-baked malt backbone makes it feel like more of a winter warmer than it is, while its toffee flavor makes it an excellent complement to the last of the season's heavy soups and stews.

5. Schlafly Irish-Style Extra Stout

Saint Louis Brewing Company

St. Louis, Mo.

Style: Irish Dry Stout

Alcohol by volume: 8% ABV

Do not take the “extra” portion of that name lightly.

This is not a “couple pints and a chat” stout. The foreign-style stout is by definition far more potent and way more rich than a traditional dry stout. It isn't quite the quart of high-test oil that a Russian Imperial Stout is, but the roasted barley and dark crystal malt give the yeast a lot to work with and result in higher alcohol content. It also means that you get a dense chocolate, fig and molasses flavor and warmth that comes with all of that extra heat. If 4% ABV stouts are all-day St. Patrick's session beers, this is your nightcap.

4. McIlhenny's Irish Red

Alpine Beer Company

San Diego

Style: Irish Red Ale

Alcohol by volume: 6% ABV

When Alpine was purchased by its San Diego neighbor Green Flash in 2014, the first question on beer geeks' tongues was “What happens to [Alpine's IPA] Duet?” A better question might have involved this beer.

Alpine's entire existence is owed to the San Diego craft beer community, and nowhere is that more evident than in this beer. Back in 1999, owner and brewmaster Pat McIlhenny began brewing this beer under contract at San Diego's AleSmith brewery. Based on its success, and that of Mandarin Nectar and Pure Hoppiness, McIlhenny was able to open his own Alpine brewery in 2002.

A whole lot of hoppier, more citrusy beers followed, but Alpine's roots are based in the caramel and chocolate notes of this biscuity, malty beast. However, it's the touch of rye and that ensuing rye-bread bite that give this ale the edge over its more traditional competition. While it's been nice to see Alpine expand both its brewpub and distribution footprint under Green Flash's watch, it's also great to see the beer that started it all still in the lineup.



3. Black Cat Stout

Portsmouth Brewery

Portsmouth, N.H.

Style: Irish Dry Stout

Alcohol by volume: 5.5% ABV

Four years after former brewmaster Tod Mott left to found Tributary Brewing in Kittery, Maine, we'll admit we're still baffled that Portsmouth's powerhouse Kate The Great Russian Imperial Stout left with him.

While it was his recipe and he came to the brewery with it and left with it, we're hard-pressed to think of another instance in which a beer that got people to line up four hours in wintry weather just for a taste of it suddenly vanished with the brewmaster who first made it. There was no public animosity over it, and Portsmouth still retains the rights to the name and labeling, but you're really just going to let your Dark Lord Day, your Hunaphu's Day or your Pliny The Younger day just walk out the door?

Well, Black Cat didn't go with him, so Portsmouth can at least be grateful for that. While it isn't exactly a top-secret deviation from the standard Irish Dry Stout, Black Cat uses a nice combination of Black, Caramel and Chocolate malts with roasted and flaked barley to perfectly balance its coffee bitterness and toffee richness. This is just about the most well-proportioned Irish stout a U.S. brewer makes, and it's worth enjoying on a gloomy March day on Portmouth's perch just a few blocks from the Old Harbour on the Piscataqua River. Two brewers after Mott's departure, this remains one of the jewels of the Portsmouth lineup.

2. Wide Open Red Ale

Aviator Brewing Company

Fuquay Varina, N.C.

Style: Irish Red Ale

Alcohol by volume: 6.1% ABV

Maybe it's the airbrushed hot rod artwork, the 12-ounce cans or the distinct piney presence of Cascade hops, but there's very little traditionally Irish about this red ale.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing. The U.S. has access to an enormous supply of some of the most flavorful hops on the planet. Why bind yourself to low-alpha Europeans hops simply because someone in Ireland did so a few hundred years ago? Quite frankly, an Irish red ale lends itself pretty well to some hop kick. If a brewery like Aviator can do that and make it casual enough to enjoy with some barbecued pub grub as a band plays in the taphouse, that might be as close to the Irish brewers' original intentions as a U.S.-brewed Irish red gets.

1. Plastic Paddy

Cider Riot!

Portland, Ore.

Style: Irish cider

Alcohol by volume: 6% ABV

This is not a joke on any level.

There is a sound debate to be had over just how the term “Plastic Paddy” has been used and abused in Britain to denigrate second-generation Irish. There's another worthwhile debate to be had over whether brewers' sudden affection for cider is actually good for cider.

Cider Riot! isn't here for any of that. Located almost 5,000 miles from the U.K. and completely unaffiliated with beer brewers, Cider Riot! produces this cider in plastic two-liter bottles around this time each year. Just don't let the cola-appropriate packaging fool you. Cider Riot! founder and cidermaker Abram Goldman-Armstrong drank similar two-liter bottles of cider while studying in Ireland at University College Cork. However, since the U.S. apples he has to work with in the Pacific Northwest lack the same character as European cider apples, he throws some Barry’s Gold Blend tea from County Cork in with Mount Hood apples to get the same dry finish.

While Goldman-Armstrong is also an accomplished brewer -- Widmer Brothers brews his Green and Gold Kolsch as part of its partnership with Major League Soccer's Portland Timbers -- it's clear the cider is in his blood. His two-liters are a perfect tribute to a big part of Irish pub and take-away culture that's often overlooked here in the states.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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