By Jesse Reynolds
The month of March is a great time of year to brew Irish beers; not just as a part of your annual St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, but also due to their low alcohol and high drinkability as we move out of winter warmer season.
Around the world, no Irish beer is more well-known than the Stout. Guinness in particular has come to dominate the market, though many fine examples exist in Ireland and abroad.
Here in Canada, Stouts are among the more popular offerings of a number of craft breweries. At Toronto’s Granite Brewery (originally of Halifax), Keefe’s Irish Stout has been a mainstay since their second location opened here 27 years ago.
“It’s a style that I will always love,” says Mary Beth Keefe, Brewmaster at Granite and niece/daughter of the brewery’s founders. “It’s always important to me as a brewer to have a lot of flavour and low alcohol.”
The first Irish Stouts were an evolution of London Porter. Originally quite alcoholic and heavy, they were called ‘Stout Porter’ or just ‘Stout’. Over time, tastes changed and the beer continued to evolve, eventually settling to what we know as an Irish Stout today — low-alcohol, medium-high roasty bitterness, semi-dry to dry-finish. Some brewers use nitrogen to carbonate their draught product, giving it a smooth, creamy mouthfeel and a fuller body.
Keefe’s Irish Stout falls within the framework of a traditional recipe with one obvious point of uniqueness. It took home Silver in the Dry Stout category at last year’s Canadian Brewing Awards, so the results speak for themselves.
The malt bill is quite simple, with standard 2-Row accounting for the bulk of it. Roasted Barley is responsible for colour, aromas and flavours of coffee, and a touch of bitter astringency. Toasted or Torrified Wheat is added in low amounts to increase mouthfeel and head retention.
The mash temperature of the recipe will produce a slightly less fermentable wort and result in the beer finishing a little sweeter, to balance out the malt and hop bitterness.
The hop bill is equally simple to the malt, with East Kent Goldings added at the start of the boil for bitterness and toward the end for flavour and aroma.
The yeast choice is where things get interesting. Granite’s house yeast, Ringwood, is a traditional English ale yeast typically used in top-cropped open fermentations. It’s well known as a distinctly flavourful and sometimes temperamental yeast, and should be approached with caution by the homebrewer. If experimentation is your thing, then Ringwood is your yeast. If it’s a sure thing you’re after, a traditional Irish Ale yeast will also produce a very good beer.