Toast to the Emerald Isle with one of these Irish brews.

By Sarah Tracey
February 08, 2021
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No one wants to drink green beer (and for good reason), so other than the obvious option of Guinness, Ireland's most famous beer export, which beers are best to toast with on St. Patrick's Day? And are there certain brews that pair best depending on your dinner of choice, from corned beef and cabbage to shepherd's pie and other Irish and Irish-American favorites? Read on for our expert beer pairings for meaty dishes and even a "stout" dessert.

quick brined corned beef and vegetables served on green plate
Credit: Thomas Loof

Corned Beef and Cabbage Pairs Well with Irish Lager

Perhaps the most well-known St. Patrick's Day dish in the U.S., this meal consists of cured beef brisket (called "corned" beef because the salt crystals used for curing were as large as corn kernels!) served alongside tender braised cabbage leaves. One fun piece of trivia is that even though corned beef and cabbage is synonymous with stateside St. Patricks' Day celebrations, the dish isn't historically famous in Ireland. Irish-American immigrants in New York in the 19th century discovered this delicious meat, and now it's a tasty way Americans celebrate the Emerald Isle.

A dish so succulent, rich, and savory pairs beautifully with a crisp and light Irish lager. Lagers are made with bottom-fermenting yeasts that clump together in the tank, creating a delicate, refreshing, and clean beer. Because brisket is a naturally fatty cut of meat, a smooth and refreshing lager is a great way to cleanse your palate in between bites. Some delicious Irish Lagers to try include Harp Lager (from $6.99, drizly.com) and Hop House 13 Lager (from $4.09, drizly.com).

Try Shepherd's Pie with Irish Red Ale

The ultimate comfort food, Shepherd's Pie features ground meat, onions, garlic, herbs, and vegetables in a rich gravy topped with mashed potato crust and baked till golden brown. One thing to note for the purists: Traditional Irish shepherd's pie features lamb while the beef version made in England is called cottage pie. Today, however, many people use the terms interchangeably. No matter what you call it, the thought of this cozy dish brings to mind hunkering down in front of a fireplace at an old-style pub with an Irish red ale in hand.

Created in 1710 by the Smithwick brewery in Kilkenny, red ales got a rich red color thanks to roasted barley, which gave the beer a toasty flavor in addition to that deep red hue. This beer style was very smooth and more drinkable than the English ales popular at the time, which were highly bitter. This beer opens with a rich caramel or toffee flavor followed by a pleasantly roasted finish. Since Shepherd's Pie is rich and comforting, a red ale's smooth intensity is a perfect complement. Many American breweries make an Irish red ale-style beer that they release around St. Patrick's Day, but if you want to go authentically Irish, try Smithwick's Irish Red Ale (from $8.79, drizly.com) or Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale (from $12.99, neighbourhoodliquorcom).

Irish Lamb Stew Pairs Well with Brown Ale

One of the most iconic Irish dishes, Irish Lamb Stew, features tender chunks of braised lamb shoulder, cooked down with potatoes, stock, and carrots into a flavorful, hearty meal. Many recipes call for an addition of wine; however, you can make a satisfying version with dark beer.

While you have that bottle open for cooking, why not also use it to sip with your finished dish? This will create a natural harmony between the food and the beverage pairing. Brown ales are ideal for this. Medium-bodied, with nutty notes of coffee and spices, they have a pleasant sweetness in (think burnt caramel) with a faintly bitter finish. Great examples of Irish brown ales to look out for are Rye River Brewing Garnet and Carlingford Brewing Company Irish Brown Ale.

Irish Cheddar Pairs Well with IPA

Cheese and wine may take the spotlight in terms of pairings but cheese and beer can be even more satisfying! Ireland is famous for its dairy industry for a reason; their butter, creams, and cheeses are unparalleled in flavor and quality. Irish cheddar is among the most sought-after cheeses in the world. Since Ireland has one of the longest grass growing seasons on the planet, its cows can graze for more days each year. And because Irish grass is full of beta-carotene, the cheddar produced is extra colorful and flavorful.

IPA beers—short for India Pale Ale—are tart and refreshing, with sharp phenolic aromas like pine with a dry and bitter finish, due to the number of hops added to the brew. Rich, umami-packed cheeses are balanced nicely by the sharpness of IPA. Look for Irish IPAs such as McGargles' Daragh's Grapefruit Session IPA and The Crafty Brewing Company Irish IPA.

Chocolate Stout Cake Pairs Well with Stout

For a St. Patrick's Day dessert, consider baking up rich, decadent chocolate cake—with the addition of that most famous Irish beer: stout! Our Chocolate Stout Cupcakes are an ideal option. Stout's roasted, malty, and rich profile naturally has some chocolate and espresso notes, which can add depth and complexity to chocolate baked goods.

Comforting and creamy to sip, stout beer has a medium body and smooth texture, with flavors that can even evoke figs, spiced cake, and molasses. Stouts are deep and intense. The traditional Irish dry stout was created in 1759 by Arthur Guinness, who had taken out a 9,000-year lease on the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin (yes, 9,000 years!). Although he had no brewing experience, he figured a wise business investment would be to capitalize on the success of the London (another dark ale style) and hired an expert brewer to make his own version. Stouts are now known to have lower alcohol than porters and a drier finish. Guinness, the original, is still the world's most famous Irish stout but if you'd like to branch out, there are other great examples, including O'Hara's Irish Stout (from $7.99, drizly.com), Murphy's Irish Stout (from $4.99, drizly.com), and Beamish Irish Stout (from $8.04, drizly.com).

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