Brew Biz: Werts and All

Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay and Music City Homebrewers, who has been interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast for over 10 years.

Written by Ken Carman

Topic: Getting My Irish Up So I Can Drink My Irish Down

I was kind of upset. I wanted to like beer. Everyone wanted me to like it. I tried to like it. Then I found out there was beer that I liked, just most bars in my part of the country: maybe most of the country, wouldn’t carry it. I got my Irish up, I guess you might say, and I sought out only places that carried what I liked. I finally found what I wanted, and by “getting my Irish up,” I started by drinking my Irish down.

The year was 1974. I just found out I might like beer. All that time as a teen seeking what was forbidden was wasted on what, to my taste, was crap: Schlitz, Rheingold, Budweiser, Pabst, Miller, Ballantine… the last was a bit unique: an ale. But that was Cream Ale: an attempt to make ale more lager like. Anyone who has read enough to know my tastes must realize I was in beer Hell, and didn’t even know it. Slowly I was introduced to a few Bocks and Heinekin. I only liked the dark. Surprised?

A lot of hops in beer? Good luck back then. I swear most brewers threw in a leaf or two per batch only to say they added hops. Ironically the version of Billy Beer F.X. Matt brewed started my turn to the hop-side of brewing. I’ve heard the other versions of Billy Beer were pretty much hopless. This version was just hoppy enough to make me realize I might like extra hoppy beers too.

But since this is being published on St. P Day, let’s stick with the kind of beer that’s more Irish in nature and doesn’t look about the same coming out as it does going in. And let’s go back to the early 70s again. I know, not my fav decade either…

My wife, then my girlfriend, visited me where I was going to college. We drove north to Montreal with her sister and her sister’s fiance. I swear, I’m a magnet when it comes to exotic experiences, especially beer-related. There was this upstairs pub called Finegans. Or was it “Finnegans?” I went on the web and found what looks like the very same place. I have since been told it’s not the same pub and I can’t find my long ago haunt anywhere on the web.

Sniff. Sniff. This brief edit to Brew Biz was added on St. Pat’s. Guess I’ll have to go have a cry in my Murphy’s, my Guinness, my Beamish, my Old 38, my Black Fly, my… wait, I’m not sad anymore. Time to get up on the table and dance with the leprechauns!

Back to 1974…

I walked up to the bar and asked if they had any dark beer. The bartender looked at me as if I had just asked for a Scwimesquat. “I don’t know what that is but I have Stout,” with an Irish brogue.

I bought one: it was Guinness Extra. I think at first taste I cringed. I finished and ordered another. By the third I was, not quite literally, dancing on the tables with the Irishmen. The leprechauns came later, after I spent years putting gold in their pots at the end of an ever flowing beer-based rainbow.

Ever since then I’ve had a taste for Stouts, especially the Extras and the Exports… not as much Sweet, or Oatmeal Stout. Don’t get me started on Imperial or I’ll never start. Well, I would, but I wouldn’t finish writing this now, would I?

Oh, and I love Irish pubs, even the deliberately campy ones like McGuires in Pensacola and Destin. The only ones I loath are the Irish in name only bars. There’s one in Pensacola Beach, Florida. My wife and I walked there one night hoping to find less camp and more serious Irish, though I admit we both love McGuires which qualifies and heavy tongue in cheek Irish. What we found was Bud, Miller and little to nothing Irish except the name and the claim.

I hope they’ve improved, but these are two patrons who will never come back.

If you want serious Irish we stopped by Flanagans in New Orleans a few years ago. Nice decor. We had an Irish Lamb Stew, if I remember right: pricey but good. But just a bit too serious, in our opinion.

In Nashville we had a great Irish restaurant on lower Broadway called Seanachies. A little pricey but when you walked in the bar area was a replica of an Irish farmhouse interior and turn the corner they duplicated Leeson Street down to the shops where you could eat if you wished. Brick walkways, iron wrought lanterns, the place would have been a pleasure to sit and eat if the food sucked. But the food was very good.

One night the owner went out to his car and he was murdered for no apparent reason. End of a great place. Now the best we have is McNamaras. Not bad. Not bad at all. Just not Seanachies. And they pour a decent Guinness.

You wouldn’t believe how much of a difference that made. Once I was in Amherst, MA at a fair brewpub and the Guinness lady showed up. Guinness takes their pours so seriously they have folks they send to teach the best method. While she looks like she’d never touched a drop, I must admit it made a diff.

But I already knew this. I found out in Ellicotville, NY. I had gone to Ellicotville Brewing one day after performing locally and a couple invited me to a nearby Irish pub. No big shakes. We got talking about Irish places and they told me about a place where this guy poured “a perfect Guinness.”

I really should have gone home at that point but I couldn’t resisted. It was just across the main drag, on the other side of the same road. The bartender was from Ireland and he really did pour one Hell of a Guinness. It’s not a matter of looks. It really does make a difference to the taste. And here’s the ironic part: he hated Guinness. A Smithwick fan if I remember right, basically the Irish version of light American beer only ale. Not bad. Good, but I’d rather have a Guinness or a Murphys. Irish Red Ales are a little harder to come by, and to be honest I’m a Stout fan. Smithwick’s is OK. But I prefer the more American-ized, often hoppy-ier, versions. A nice viscous texture is appreciated too. But that’s me and that is less Irish.

This is supposed to be about Irish beer, and Stout has become so Irish, image-wise, I wouldn’t be surprised if on St. Patty’s an Irishman’s blood runs black when they cut themselves after tripping on all the leprechauns running amuck on the 14th.

If so, can I at least have a few sips before you all put those Band-Aids on?

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Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to review, discuss and comment on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various homebrew, judging and organizations related to beer. Essentially, all things “beer.”

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Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions
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