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Irish Stouts Vs. American Stouts: A Head-To-Head St. Patrick’s Day Blind Tasting

There’s no beer more synonymous with St. Patrick’s Day than Guinness. And rightfully so, the dry Irish stout is a fantastic beer and an icon on the world stage. But there are more dry Irish stouts out there besides the pride of Dublin.

While not all stouts are created equal, most have a very robust flavor profile similar to that of Guinness. Flavors like dark chocolate, coffee beans, and darkly roasted barley combine to make up the throughline of the style. It’s bold and sometimes very creamy, malty, and only slightly hoppy.

But is Guinness the best Irish stout available? To figure that out, I decided to do a blind taste test. Rather than just comparing Guinness stout to other Irish stouts, I decided to add in four American-made dry stouts as well.

Today’s Lineup:

  • O’Hara’s Irish Stout (IE)
  • Guinness Irish Stout (IE)
  • Beamish Irish Stout (IE)
  • Murphy’s Irish Stout (IE)
  • North Coast Old No. 38 Stout (CA)
  • Pure Project Milagro (CA)
  • Sun King Ring of Dingle (IN)
  • Breckenridge Nitro Dry Irish Stout (CO)

It’s stout time!

The Rankings:

8) Breckenridge Nitro Dry Irish Stout — Taste 3

Breckenridge Nitro Dry Irish Stout
Breckenridge

ABV: 4.8%

Average Price: $10 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

The Beer:

This popular beer from Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery is made to mimic the classic flavors of traditional dry Irish stouts. The brewers attempt to achieve this with roasted Irish barley malts and various other classic ingredients. It’s known for its creamy, rich, and bittersweet flavor.

Taste #3
Christopher Osburn

Original Tasting Notes:

On the nose, I found hints of freshly brewed coffee and some toasted malts, but that was about it. The palate had a little more going on with notes of bitter chocolate, more coffee, and some toasty malts. Overall, the flavor was thinner than I’d expect, but not a terrible beer by any account.

Bottom Line:

I expected a little more from Breckenridge knowing the popularity of this beer. It wasn’t a bad beer, it was just a little thin in the flavor department for my liking, especially for a stout.

7) Murphy’s Irish Stout — Taste 4

Murphy’s Irish Stout
Murphy’s

ABV: 4%

Average Price: $7 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

The Beer:

Established in 1856, Murphy’s Irish Stout is a mainstay in the American Irish beer market. Brewed using simple and traditional ingredients, it’s known for its combination of creamy, smooth mouthfeel, and sweet, chocolate, and coffee flavors with very little bitterness.

Taste #4
Christopher Osburn

Original Tasting Notes:

The nose is surprisingly light with some chocolate and coffee. I really had to reach to find another note. Sipping it added to my flavor confusion as the palate was lacking as well. There were classic flavors like coffee beans, dark chocolate, and some caramel malts, but really not much else.

Bottom Line:

While creamy and with the basic dry stout flavors drinkers expect, I found Murphy’s to be fairly watery and lacking that punch of flavor I hoped for.

6) Guinness Irish Stout — Taste 6

Guinness Irish Stout
Guinness

ABV: 4.2%

Average Price: $8 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

The Beer:

There are no stouts more famous than Guinness. First brewed in 1759, this worldwide favorite that’s available in more than 120 countries is known for its dry, slightly bitter, traditional coffee and dark chocolate flavor with its well-known creamy mouthfeel.

Taste #6
Christopher Osburn

Original Tasting Notes:

The nose has coffee, chocolate, and some yeasty, malty aromas and not much else. Diving in for a sip, I found a creamy mouthfeel that was a bit diluted with faint dark chocolate and slight espresso bean flavors. Overall, the flavor was rather mild, and it lacked the bitterness I’d expect from a dry stout.

Bottom Line:

I expected a much better showing from Guinness. I didn’t expect it to fall too low on this ranking. It just shows that there are a ton of great dry stouts on the market, from Ireland and the U.S..

5) Pure Project Milagro — Taste 5

Murphy’s Irish Stout
Murphy

ABV: 5.3%

Average Price: $17 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

The Beer:

Anytime you’re making a blind taste test, it’s always good to throw in a wild card from time to time. This time it’s Pure Project Milagro. This 5.3 percent ABV dry stout was brewed with organic roasted Costa Rican coffee and organic Tahitian vanilla beans. The result is a coffee, chocolate, and vanilla-centric beer that needs to be tasted to be believed.

Murphy’s Irish Stout
Murphy

Tasting Notes:

The nose is heavy on freshly roasted coffee beans, caramel-like malts, and vanilla essence. The palate continues this trend with a creamy mouthfeel accentuated by sweet malts, bitter chocolate, and a lot more espresso and vanilla bean notes. The finish is dry and slightly bitter.

Bottom Line:

San Diego’s Pure Project is known for its eclectic mix of beer styles. The brewery makes amazing IPAs, but, if you enjoy coffee-driven dry stouts, you’ll love this one like I did.

4) North Coast Old No. 38 Stout — Taste 8

North Coast Old No. 38 Stout
North Coast

ABV: 5.4%

Average Price: $12 for a six-pack

The Beer:

If you’re a fan of rich, indulgent stouts, you’ve probably imbibed North Coast Old Rasputin. But maybe you haven’t tried its dry stout Old No. 38. Named to pay homage to a former California Western Railroad steam engine, it’s known for its roasted malt and coffee flavors.

Taste #8
Christopher Osburn

Original Tasting Notes:

Complex aromas of roasted malts, bitter chocolate, coffee beans, and slight vanilla met my nostrils. Sipping it brought forth slightly smoky notes of yeasty, bready malts, roasted coffee beans, dried fruits, toasted vanilla beans, and all with a gentle, chocolate, bitter finish that lingers.

Bottom Line:

North Coast Old No. 38 is a hidden gem when it comes to dry stouts. It’s a complex, flavorful, dry stout that stands up to any of the well-known, beloved stouts available. It also goes to show how good the stouts are on this list that this one didn’t even break into the top three.

3) Sun King Ring of Dingle — Taste 2

Sun King Ring of Dingle
Sun King

ABV: 4.8%

Average Price: $14 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

The Beer:

Try not to be put off by this beer’s truly bizarre-sounding name. Brewed with two-row, roast, chocolate, and black malts, as well as Warrior and Progress hops, it’s named for a famous network for roads in Ireland.

Taste #2
Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

Like many dry stouts, this beer’s nose is dominated by coffee and chocolate, but there’s also a nice hit of candied nuts and caramel malts. The palate follows suit with a great combination of semi-sweet chocolate, freshly brewed coffee, butterscotch, and toasted vanilla beans. The finish is a dry mix of bitterness and sweetness.

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a craft beer take on the traditional dry stout style, look no further than Sun King Ring of Dingle. It’s a great substitute for some of the more popular beers on this list.

2) Beamish Irish Stout — Taste 7

Beamish Irish Stout
Beamish

ABV: 4.3%

Average Price: $8 for a four-pack of 16-ounce cans

The Beer:

While Guinness is the most popular beer in Ireland and one of the most popular in the world, if you visit Cork, you might find the locals drinking a different beer. Brewed since 1792, Beamish is another great Irish dry stout. Known for its mix of roasted malts, coffee, and bitter chocolate, it deserves more attention than it gets.

Taste #7
Christopher Osburn

Original Tasting Notes:

Aromas of bready malts, sweet caramel, dark chocolate, roasted coffee beans, and a hint of wood are prevalent on the nose. This leads to a palate of roasted barley, toasted vanilla beans, toffee, bitter chocolate, and lingering, pleasing bitterness at the very end that pairs well with the velvety mouthfeel.

Bottom Line:

Beamish isn’t the easier beer to find. You’re more likely to find it on tap than in a can. But if you see it this St. Patrick’s Day (or any day), I implore you to grab a pint or two.

1) O’Hara’s Irish Stout — Taste 1

O’Hara’s Irish Stout
OHaras

ABV: 4.3%

Average Price: $9 for a four-pack

The Beer:

Created in 1999, this beer doesn’t have the long history of Guinness and some of the other beers on this list. But what it lacks in history it makes up for in flavor. This award-winning stout is the brewery’s take on the traditional style with classic ingredients as well as Fuggle hops to add a bitter, floral dimension to the beer.

Taste #1
Christopher Osburn

Original Tasting Notes:

The nose is a symphony of flavors including freshly brewed coffee, black licorice, toasted barley, vanilla beans, and bitter chocolate. Sipping it reveals even more flavor with more toasted malts, caramel candy, toasted vanilla beans, a healthy dose of fresh coffee, and a tangy, floral, spicy, bitter kick from the hops. Overall, it’s a very complex and well-rounded stout.

Bottom Line:

Before this blind taste test, I had no idea who would win. I didn’t expect O’Hara’s to take the crown, but it proved to be the most balanced, complex, and exciting beer on this list. Which I guess is why we do blind tastings in the first place.

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