Let’s be honest, Guinness is the Irish beer that reigns supreme in most of our minds. That’s fair, it’s an absolute juggernaut in the beer world. But there’s so much more beer to drink on the Emerald Isle than just stout (not that we’re saying it’s a bad thing if you only want to drink stout). There’s a burgeoning microbeer scene that’s bringing brewing back to the villages. There’s a well of untapped local beers that have been around the better part of a century and are only now making it to American shores. There are reds and ales and lagers galore.
What we’re saying is that there’s more to Irish beer than just Dublin’s Guinness. But also that Guinness is awesome. (We know, we know, it’s a revolutionary stance.)
With all the new options flooding into the American beer market, it gets tough to differentiate and make an informed decision. That’s why we went over to Ranker to find out what the people think are the best Irish beers. And, sure, Guinness took a few slots for their wide offerings. But, ho-boy, was there an upset in the top spot — something sure to raise some hackles among the acolytes of the black stuff.
Let’s dig in.
10. Murphy’s Irish Red
Murphy’s is to Cork what Guinness is to Dublin and their Irish Red is a pretty straightforward ale. It’s all about the malts here, with an echo of hops somewhere in the backend, but not really that important to the overall taste. This is a middle of the road crowdpleaser. It’s easy to drink and the low(ish) ABV of five percent means you can drink it all day long.
9. Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale
This is where Irish beer genealogy gets a little muddy. Kilkenny used to be brewed as Smithwick’s in Kilkenny at the St. Francis Abbey and Kilkenny was once an alternative name for a stronger version of Smithwick’s. About five years ago Kilkenny was bought by Guinness and production was moved to Dublin along with Smitchwick’s. So… it’s confusing to say the least.
Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale (an Irish red ale design) stands out since it’s usually served nitro’d, giving it a creamy texture similar to a draught Guinness or Boddingtons pour. It’s a tasty beer that leans heavily towards the sweetness of the malts. If you can get this one off the tap, it’s got a nice, easy texture to it. It’s a perfectly suitable session beer with a low 4.3 percent ABV.
8. Smithwick’s Pale Ale
Smithwick’s Pale Ale is an English style pale that leans heavily into caramel malts and has a distinct floral hoppiness on the backend that makes for a tasty sipping tipple (say that 10 times fast). Again, the low ABV of 4.5 percent means that you’ll be able to drink this one for a while before the alcohol kicks in.
7. Guinness Special Export Stout
This might be one of the most interesting Guinness products on the market. This is a stout that Guinness makes especially for the Belgian market, which has now gained popularity the world over for being a bit like Moloko Guinness Plus.
This version of Guinness packs an eight percent ABV wallop which is much, much higher than the classic version. It’s a chocolatey, roasted coffee, and a smokey malted masterpiece of a beer that’ll surprise you at every turn.
6. Guinness Original
Yes, Guinness Original is different than the classic Guinness Draft. We know, we know. There’s a lot of Guinness out there (there are ten versions of Guinness currently on the market in case you’re wondering). Guinness Original is a throwback to the recipe for Guinness from between 1920 and 1970 and it stands out as a mostly bottled and canned higher ABV version of everyone’s favorite stout. The five percent ABV adds a little more alcohol bite to the coffee and cacao.
Generally, this version is not nitro’d, since it’s rarely served off the tap anymore and the bottles and cans do not have widgets (though they do exist in some markets). Expect a standard stout pour that has a bite instead of creaminess.
(This is also the one you want to use if you’re cooking with Guinness by the way)
5. Kilkenny Irish Red
Kilkenny Irish Red hits a lot of the same marks as Smithwick’s and Murphy’s version of the style. It’s got a sweet bread maltiness to it that’s then followed by distant hops, which makes for a perfectly drinkable beer. The session beer level 4.3 percent ABV helps make this one a great choice for any St. Patrick’s Day.
4. Harp Lager
As tastes in Ireland started to shift away from stouts and ales back in the 1960s, Guinness took note and converted their brewery at Dundalk (a town halfway between Dublin and Belfast) into a lager brewery. Harp has since become a standard of the Irish beer scene with an easy drinking balance of malts and hops that doesn’t overpower the drink. It’s a five percent beer that’s probably the easiest to drink on this whole list.
3. Murphy’s Irish Stout
Okay, this is where things get very interesting in the ol’ rankings. First, your love of Murphy’s Stout or Guinness Stout is largely dependent on your allegiance to Cork or Dublin. The beers are very similar on the surface. They’re both creamy stouts at the end end of the day.
But, if you’ll allow us, Murphy’s got robbed.
Murphy’s has a smokey roasted malt, coffee edge, and pure creaminess that lets it stand with the best stouts. But there’s a hint of dark chocolate bitterness here that goes very deep in making this one stand out from the crowd. Or, maybe, we just have a softer spot for Cork City. The four percent ABV really seals the deal as it puts this beer squarely into session beer territory.
2. Guinness Draught
What can we say about Guinness? It’s the world’s most recognizable stout (by far). It’s also a damn near perfect beer. There’s a cleanness to Guinness’ roasted malts and hoppy backend. The coffee, chocolate, and milky creaminess shine through without any single component overwhelming the other.
We know we just bandied on about Murphy’s wonderfulness and are now calling Guinness the perfect beer. But where Guinness plays it safe, Murphy’s takes a little risk and that gets extra points from us.
1. Smithwick’s Irish Ale
Smithwick’s Irish Ale pops up at number one? Over Guinness or Murphy’s? Get outta here!
Okay, okay. Smithwick’s Irish Ale is a red ale with a sweet malt forward flavor and a nice hop balance to it. It’s a decent red ale that’s easy to drink. The 4.5 percent ABV is low enough for a nice, long day worth drinking on.
Is it the best? We have to let the voters of Ranker speak, but in our opinion: probably not.