Every Wednesday in The Man Who Invented Beer, Adam Cowden walks you through the finer points of craft beer, with some history thrown in for good measure.
Saint Patrick’s Day isn’t for another two weeks (or a week and a half by the time you read this), but I got a little excited and jumped the gun this week. Excited by the colorful, patriotic labeling and the prospect of an Irish stout that my taste buds had not yet known, I picked up a six-pack of Brooklyn Irish Dry Stout and decided to make Friday a date night with my Netflix account.
What’s the story?
Brooklyn Brewery is one of the older still-thriving craft breweries in America. Founded in 1987 by Steve Hindy and Tom Potter, the idea for Brooklyn Brewery was incepted into Hindy’s mind during his six years as an AP correspondent in Islamic countries, where he was introduced to homebrewing by foreign diplomats eager for a taste of home (alcoholic beverages being forbidden in these countries). From humble beginnings brewing just one variety of lager in Utica, NY, these guys have managed to become the largest exporter of American craft beer. They are now exporting to over 17 different countries and have most recently set their sights on the wine-and-cheese loving French. The road to success was not paved with gold, however; Brooklyn Brewery got its start at a time when craft brewing was all but common and Brooklyn was still…well, Brooklyn. According to their website, “Crime in New York City was rampant in those years, and Hindy and Potter faced burglars, armed robbers and mob-connected characters who wanted a piece of the brewery.” If Discovery Channel had been around back then, you can bet that Steve and Tom would have starred in a show called, “Beer Wars: The Battle For Brooklyn.”
As for the beer itself, on the bottle’s neck-collar label, there’s a short paragraph describing Brooklyn’s philosophy behind the brewing of their Irish Dry Stout. Aside from some nonsense about being “brisk enough to pair with oysters, but bold enough to handle a burger,” this blurb makes an interesting claim: “In Ireland, stouts were originally brewed to be “session beers” that were light enough to stick with for a long evening, but flavorful enough to be fun to drink.” I don’t know whether to call it mistaken or straight disingenuous, but either way this statement is patently untrue. Stout is a beer style descended from porter, but back in the 19th century “stout” was used to refer to ale that was strong, robust, and kept for longer than other ales. Shortly after he opened his brewery at St. James’ Gate, Dublin in 1759, Arthur Guinness’ focus shifted largely to the brewing of porter. In 1820, Guinness changed the name of their “XX Porter” to “Extra Stout Porter,” and when they later dropped the “porter” the practice of referring to strong porters using roasted malt as “stouts” was born. Porter, with a typical ABV of 7% or more, was already a stout ale, but original Irish stouts such as Guinness were even stouter. In 1840, Guinness Extra Stout was brewed at a higher gravity than than today’s Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (which, at 7.5% ABV, is the strongest beer currently offered by Guinness). It was this, perhaps, that sowed the seeds of the modern stereotype of the Irish as raging drunkards.
Regardless, Brooklyn Brewing stays true to the spirit of the modern Irish stout by keeping things light; nowadays, Irish stouts such as Guinness, Beamish and Murphy’s are actually among the lightest non-light beers you can drink (in both caloric and alcohol content). If you’re going to try to play the “true to our roots” card, though, you better at least make sure to do your reading.
Why should I drink it?
Josh Jackson of Paste Magazine writes, “Every craft brewer in America owes a thank you to Brooklyn’s brewmaster Garrett Oliver, who helped raise the profile of a fledgling industry—and make people think of beer in the way they might think of wine.” Oliver, the author of several books on the subject of beer including The Brewmaster’s Table and The Oxford Companion to Beer, has served as a judge in beer competitions for over 20 years and has hosted an innumerable number of lectures and tasting events. The Brewmaster’s Table is a sort of master guide to beer and food pairings, and though I have not read it, it has a reputation as an authoritative, scholarly, and exhaustive survey of the subject. He also apparently goes to lengths to argue that beer is far more versatile and exciting than wine, a point on which I could not agree more. The Oxford Companion to Beer is Oliver’s most recent undertaking, and is an even more exhaustive tome covering beer and the full scope of its history, variety, and science. Basically, it’s like this column…on Power Thirst, and he’s like me…if I were the brewmaster of a major craft brewery who had written a 960-page scholarly reference book.
Both Brooklyn Brewery and Garrett Oliver have helped turn American craft brewing into what it is today, so if you at all fancy yourself a craft beer fan, give these guys a thank you by picking up some of their brew. Why pick the Irish Dry Stout over other offerings? Well, first of all, the label looks pretty cool. It’s got tiny shamrocks and the orange, white, and green color scheme that is tailor-made to attract male 20-somethings who are aggressively proud of their 5% Irish ethnicity. Considering the logo for Brooklyn Brewery itself was designed by Milton Glaser, the guy who designed the “I Love NYC” logo, I’m not surprised that all of their beers look pretty cool lined up on the shelf. As the label says, this is a session beer, and was created with multiple pints in mind. You can safely have a decent number without getting drunk, full or sleepy, and this makes it a pretty solid choice for BYOB dinners or occasions.
What does it taste like?
Not all that similar to an Irish stout. This is not to say that it is a bad beer in and of itself; thin, watery, and very sweet, Brooklyn Irish Dry Stout tastes pretty similar to Yazoo Dos Perros (the beer I reviewed last week), and several other Mexican-style dark ales for that matter. Like these beers, it’s fizzy, sweet, and tastes and looks similar to Coca-Cola. It just doesn’t really taste like an Irish stout. Brooklyn has clearly tried to distinguish itself from modern Irish stouts like Guinness in favor of marketing the beer as a traditional, original recipe that has since been lost to history. The problem with this is that it doesn’t taste like either an original or a modern Irish stout. Far too light and mild to be a traditional “extra stout porter” (if you are at all curious as to what this tastes like, try a Guinness Foreign Extra Stout), it’s also lacking the creaminess and lactic bitterness that you would expect from a modern Irish stout. I feel as though I probably would have enjoyed the beer a lot more if it had been labeled differently; Irish stouts happen to be my favorite beer style, and I had gotten my hopes up for something different. That being said, it’s a pretty solid, very sweet and malty dark ale that to my palate tastes almost like a slightly darker roasted Newcastle Brown Ale.
Should I try it?
Depends. Definitely know what you’re getting into, because as I’ve mentioned, this isn’t the best example of a “Dry Irish Stout.” If you’re just looking for a good, easy-to-drink beer, on the other hand, this light stout could be a good choice.