This coming Friday is St. Paddy’s Day, a day that’s somehow become synonymous with green beer and glittery shamrocks, for better or worse. Now, while some of us can roll with it and get into the spirit of things (everybody’s Irish for a day, right?), we at Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® want to share some tips on how to brew two excellent Irish beer styles: dry Irish stout and Irish red ale.
First, you need to start your research. Now you might think I’m being tongue in cheek about this (and maybe I am a little bit), but determining the style of beer you want to brew is important. If you like one beer in particular, you’ll want to look into the ingredients it was brewed with—many breweries will hint at the malts and hops used if they don’t outright list them, and that’ll give you some information to start with when you’re preparing your recipe. We’ve compiled a list of stouts and red ales to try to get you started!
All right. Now that you’ve decided on the beer you want to brew and have likely narrowed the types of flavors you want to nail down, let’s break down the two styles. Before you fire up your strike water kettle, bone up on these highlights from Make Your Best Dry Irish Stout and Make Your Best Irish Red Ale by Josh Weikert. We’ve included a few recipes to get you started, too!
Dry Irish Stout
Dry stout is a “small” beer with a big, roasty punch. It should be very low in alcohol and light in body, while at the same time accentuating the coffee and chocolate flavors you’ll derive from the dark malts in the grist. What really makes this beer, though, is roasted barley. Like all the beers in the stout family, it just wouldn’t be complete without it.
For a solid base you’ll want to start with a 3:1 ratio of Maris Otter to flaked barley, shooting for a gravity of about 1.036. You’ll want 1 pound (454 g) (per 5 gallons/19 l of target volume) of roasted barley. At the same time, add 4 ounces (113 g) of acidulated malt to the mash, which will add a nice little tart zip to the finished beer and help keep your mash pH in check.
I use a 50/50 blend of Fuggle and Glacier in a 40-minute hops addition with sufficient weight to yield 30 IBUs. The 40-minute addition makes it relatively easy to get the requisite IBUs without needing a ton of hops matter and at the same time preserves a touch of the flavors.
I use my good old Wyeast 1007 (German Ale) yeast here. Wyeast 1007 is also less likely to produce diacetyl than its Irish cousins. It’s your call, of course, but I’d recommend going with the German over the Irish, despite the stylistic national mismatch.
You want to maximize attenuation here, so make sure that your mash is no higher than 152°F (67°C). At the same time, this is a beer that I ferment a bit faster than the others—although I begin at 65°F (19°C), I ramp up 2°F (1°C) per day for 3 days, and then hold. This will be a pretty fast fermentation, since there’s not much to consume, and primary fermentation will likely be complete within 72 hours. If you’re not serving this beer on beer gas (a nitrogen blend), limit the carbonation level to about 1.5 volumes of CO2 to mimic the “pub draught” quality of nitrogenated versions. You might also find that the flaked barley added a bit of protein haze, so this beer is a good candidate for gelatin fining (or you can just, you know, wait).
Irish Stout Recipes
Irish Red Ale
Irish Red shares a lot of terrain with its cousins, Scottish ales, across the Irish Sea: both are malt-oriented, both are easy-drinking, both are low-alcohol and low-bittering, and both feature some solid (but not overwhelming) caramel notes. Irish Red, though, flirts with the higher end of all these characteristics, and as a result the key feature is balance. We want to ensure that all the flavors (base malt, caramel, roast, bitterness, and even alcohol) are felt, but not pushing to the fore.
There are two key elements to my recipe, but the rest you can play with a bit. In many ways it’s a straight-up British Isles grist: a good Maris Otter base to whatever OG you like (I go to about 5.5 percent potential ABV, though anything from 4.5–6 percent is fine). Then use about 5 percent of that weight in equal parts light and dark crystal malt (I like Fawcett 45L and Crystal 120). Choose any hops variety to achieve about 23 IBUs in a 60-minute addition. Tinker away.
However, there are two aspects that you don’t want to mess with when working with this style.
First, a vital component of this beer is its level of perceived sweetness. Some of this we’ll deal with in the “Process” section below, but there’s an important recipe element, which is the use of chocolate malt to add some color and a touch of drying roast. That said, here’s the thing: you don’t actually want the beer to taste roasty, you just want it to feel roasty. I address this, first and foremost, by going very low on the chocolate Lovibond range, but even pale chocolate malts seem to generate those chocolate/coffee flavors I don’t want. The answer I found was an addition of about 4 percent chocolate rye malt.
Second, I go with Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale/White Labs WLP004 Irish Ale yeast. It imparts a roundness to the malt flavor.
How you use that yeast is also important. You want to treat this beer more like a hybrid than an ale. I like to start fermentation at 63°F (17°C) for the first four or five days, and then raise the temperature to 68°F (20°C) to finish out, ending with a diacetyl rest just above that. This will also promote full attenuation and help avoid a heavy or sweet flavor profile, both of which would be unsuitable for this style.
I also find that undershooting on carbonation helps showcase the softness of the malts, so I carbonate to only about 1.9 volumes of CO2. Too much carbonation might impart a too-great impression of bitterness and/or roast and undermine all your hard work to this point!
Irish Red Ale Recipes
We know many of you will be firing up the kettles this weekend, and are excited to see what you’re making! Be sure to share your brew day photos in the comments, even if they’re not Irish beers (we won’t judge…unless your beer is green).
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