Happy St. Patrick’s Day one and all. This week’s Craft Beer Friday is all about Ireland. We’re going to explore some of the best seafood around the island and the fantastic craft beers coming out of the country right now.
Quick note, while you’ll be able to find these beers outside of Ireland, some of them are on the rarer side. That means you have to do a little digging and exploring to find them. Imagine yourself as a craft beer Indiana Jones looking for the elixir of the gods and you’ll do fine.
FISH & CHIPS — PALE ALE
You can’t go to Ireland without hitting up the chipper. The greasy food bomb is a must. Fresh haddock, plaice, or cod is beer battered and deep fried then thrown on top of very thick cut fries with a heavy application of salt. It’s basic. It’s delicious.
The point with this pairing is to balance the heaviness of the fish and chips with a fairly light and innocuous beer. Galway Hooker Irish Pale Ale is an American Pale Ale (APA) incidentally — so expect a balance of malt and hop. The 4.4 percent ABV makes is easily drinkable without giving you too much of a buzz. There are light floral and lemony citrus notes to the beer that balance well if you’ve spritzed your fish with a little lemon or vinegar.
SALMON — GERMAN PILSNER
Salmon is a versatile fish. You can poach it, roast it, grill it, fry it — dealer’s choice really. What remains constant are the rich flavors and fatty textures.
To balance out that the savory fattiness of salmon something light and crisp is best applied. Puck Pilsner from Jack Cody’s Brewery hits that mark. It’s a German style Pilsner — which should always be well-hopped with a very rich earthiness. This one comes in at 4.5 percent ABV. It’s light, a little floral, and offers a crisp counterpoint to the salmon.
SMOKED FISH — SMOKED IRISH STOUT
Smoke, sugar, salt — these are the three constants of cold or warm smoked fish. From there the variables begin with spice and herb variations, but let’s keep this one simple. Whether it’s smoked halibut, trout, or eel, the holy trinity of smoke, sugar, and salt remains.
To make a stout you need to roast your malts first. This brings out all those coffee and cacao notes and gives the drink a black color. Smoking means that you make sure that the roast of the malts is very… smoky. Ejector Seat Turf Smoked Stout (4.5 percent ABV) from Clever Man hits those notes hard. There’s a subtle hop with smoke, sweet, and bitter that pairs well with all that smoke in the fish.
OYSTERS — EXTRA IRISH STOUT
Whether you poach, fry, or serve raw, oysters are briny morsels of ocean-forward delight. There’s a smoothness to the meat that is in opposition to the sharpness of the brine and umami. You need to amp that smoothness up with a stout.
An extra Irish stout is the classic version that Beamish, Murphy’s, and Guinness are the standard-bearers of. A little craft brewery in Carlow called O’Hara’s is making a play for the big boys with Leann Folláin — which translates to wholesome stout. The wholesomeness comes in a hefty 6 percent ABV.
This is a big beer with a light hop, well-balanced bitterness and malt, strong hits of coffee, and subtle hints of cacao. It’s the perfect bridge to oyster town.
SEAFOOD CHOWDER — BLONDE ALE
The blending of bacon, onion, potatoes, dairy, and seafood brings the land and sea together in heart-warming ways. Is there anything better than coming in the from the rain to a nice pipping hot bowl of seafood chowder and a perfect pint waiting for you? No, there isn’t.
Blonde ales are malt forward. So don’t expect over-hopping here. Locavore Blonde from Wicklow Wolf is a on a seasonal rotation. They use Irish Malt and a rotating selection of a few hops they happen to have grown that year. It’s hopped late in the boil, so there are only light hop notes offering a very subtle citrus edge.
FISH CAKE — COPPER ALE/BITTER
A great fishcake needs to be brimming with good, fresh seafood yet still light and fluffy. It’s pretty hard to pull off. But when you get a great one it’s revelatory. Even if the cakes are on the lighter side, it’s still a heavy-ish dish. So a lighter beer with a hefty taste is where it’s at.
The Hurler from Four Provinces hits that sweet spot. It’s technically an English Bitter, but they call theirs a Copper Ale (you can’t really blame the Irish for shedding ‘English’ from anything). The Hurler is a good middle ground on hop bitterness with strong caramel sweetness to balance. It’s a very drinkable beer with a low ABV of 4.3 percent, pairing nicely with a filling fish cake.
PRAWNS — HEFEWEIZEN
A good old-fashioned prawn boil is always a good time or maybe some scampi or even a fresh and spicy prawn cocktail. They all do the trick when you want something a little bit on the lighter side, but still very fulfilling. There’s something about prawns that feels very al fresco. And the best beer for drinking outside is a Hefe.
Fulcrum from Clearsky Brewing is a top notch Hefeweizen. The wheat grains and yeasts make for a supremely malty drink that works wonders with the smooth sea brine of the prawn. Fulcrum’s sourness, light fruit, easy yeast, and middle of the road 5 percent ABV makes this one a nice beer by itself — and a great beer to drink with a plate of prawns on a sunny day.
MUSSELS — AMBER ALE
Imagine a pot of mussels cooked in a little broth, maybe some white wine and garlic, add in some green onion or dill — oh, yes, that’s the sweet spot of delicious fresh food from the sea. With those briny little morsels you need a beer that shines.
Amber ales, or Red Ales, are a catch all term for any ale that’s dark or reddish in color. We’re looking at beers with balanced malt and hops that are very easy to drink. Devil’s Backbone from Kinnegar nails it. It’s has an easy hop bitterness that doesn’t overwhelm with a slight spiciness and subtle fruit edge and the ever-so-subtle hint of chocolate. Perfect to wash down all those mussels.
CAVIAR AND BLINY — IMPERIAL STOUT
Caviar and bliny is the mountaintop of seafood dishes. The deeply salty and lusciousness of fish eggs pop in your mouth delivering the ocean with every bite. You need something big for those big experiences.
An Imperial Stout is a big hitting beer, full stop. It was brewed to be that way for Russian Tsars after all — who ate their fair share of caviar. Two Hundred Fathoms from Galway Bay Brewer is super rare. The imperial stout clocks in at a hefty 10 percent ABV. It’s barrel aged in old Teeling small batch Rum barrels. This amps up heavy notes of vanilla, cacao, nut, oak, charcoal — making it one of the more complex beers out there. They only release 2,000 bottles per brew. So get on that Indiana Jones fedora and get ready for an adventure tracking this one down.
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Throwback to the awesome day I had with @waynegills95 outside @hollandsofbray before the offy closed. It was nothing short or magical, suckling on glasses of two hundred fathoms 2016 edition of Teeling aged imperial stout by @galway_bay_brewery We paired these with Nub maduro cigars – sweet, dark and rich stogies. Lets do this again soon Wayno #goodtimes #teeling #galwaybaybrewery #twohundredfathoms #2016 #imperialstout #cigar #beerpairing #jamiesbeertalk