Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Stout stuff

If you spend a little time in the whimsical world of Patrick Taylor’s An Irish Country Doctor, and you enjoy a good beer now and then, as I do, you can’t help wondering about the Celtic brew favored by the imposing, big-hearted Dr. Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly. Despite his gruff exterior, Dr. O’Reilly is a jolly pub mate who quaffs Guiness stout at the nearby pub with demonstrable pleasure. If in the company of his wacky Labrador, Arthur Guinness—named for his favorite potable—O’Reilly is sure to order a bowl of Smithwick’s for the cosseted pooch.

So with images of rural Northern Ireland in mind, one weekend not long ago I stopped in at our local beer and soda distributor to see if I could buy and try some this taste of Ireland. I expected that they would stock Guiness, which is popular in the New York area. But the store had not only Guiness but Smithwick’s, and Harp beer, too, not mentioned in the novel but a famous Irish brand.

To my considerable enjoyment—and surprise—I liked each one. I remember tasting stout years ago, just after college, and thought it was certainly full bodied. But I also thought it tasted a little bit like carbonated coffee. Well, palates change, I guess. Or more rightly, they mature. And I can recommend this stout without hesitation to anyone with a taste for the sterner stuff.

By the way, it’s called stout because it is a “strong” beer. It is dark in color and is made from roasted barley. Smithwick’s, the “red” ale, and Harp, a lager beer, both are honey colored and smooth in taste. A little more expensive than domestic beer, they are fun for special occasions, for a party or picnic, say, especially if you’re celebrating a connection to or an appreciation of the Emerald Isle.


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