There are plenty of rituals and traditions associated with St. Patrick's Day: the massive marching parade in New York City, the dyeing of the Chicago River an emerald green in the Windy City, and so forth.
No matter where you are, beer is almost always part of St. Patty's festivities. Ireland has been crafting some of the world's most iconic brews, excelling especially with rich, dark stouts.
But since our Irish beer selection in Manitoba is currently limited to Guinness, Smithwick's, Kilkenny and Harp -- all very good, and all owned by mondo drinks corporation Diageo -- I thought I'd mix it up a bit and try out some new/new-ish brews from across our country and across the pond in anticipation of March 17.
(Aside: Fans of darker beer will be pleased to know Half Pints' hoppy Black Galaxy is released at the brewery today, March 15.)
No matter what you tip back in honour of St. Patrick's Day, just don't be dying it green.
MAGNERS PEAR CIDER (Tipperary, Ireland -- $4.35/500ml can, Liquor Marts and private wine stores)
I figured I'd throw something Irish into the mix in honour of St. Patrick's Day, but this wasn't the best choice. Very pale in colour, this cider is pretty aromatically nondescript, with a light doughy and some candied-pear note. It tastes artificially sweet, which only serves to accentuate the candied-pear flavour. Try their regular apple cider instead. Two stars.
FORT GARRY FRONTIER ORIGINAL PILSNER (Winnipeg -- $2.96/473ml can, Liquor Marts)
Fort Garry changed the recipe on this brew late last year, reverting back to this older formula and packaging the beer in a 2x650ml bottle wooden crate that made a nice gift (although a bit pricey, north of $30). Now in cans and sold individually, the Frontier is one of the best pilsners you'll find in our market. Pale gold and clear in colour with a dense white head, there are mild hops notes on the nose as well as toasted nut, oatmeal and a light creamed-corn note. It manages to balance fresh and crisp with a slightly creamier pilsner texture, offering lemon zest and herbal notes with toasted malt. A bit better from the bottle, but still a fine example of the style. Four stars.
PHILLIPS BOTTLE ROCKET INDIA SESSION ALE (Victoria, B.C. -- $2.69/355ml can, Liquor Marts)
Pale copper in colour and slightly hazy with a white head, the Bottle Rocket delivers on its promise to be "hopsplosive," with plenty of crisp herbal notes as well as a light soapy note to go with the malty, doughy aromas. While light and dry, there's not that decidedly bitter edge that you'll find in North American IPAs, and the citrusy hops notes are delivered with crisp effervescence yet retain some creaminess that makes it refreshing and highly drinkable. Great stuff. Four stars.
BOX STEAM BREWERY DARK & HANDSOME (Wiltshire, England -- $4.66/500ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
Billed as a "smooth, bittersweet old ale," the Dark & Handsome lives up to its billing. Cola-ish in colour, there's some toffee, raisin, mocha and Tootsie Roll on the nose. There's a touch of sweetness to this, yes, smooth ale, with mocha, dark-chocolate and roasted-malt flavours coming through nicely. Three stars.
NICKEL BROOK HEADSTOCK INDIA PALE ALE (Burlington, Ont. -- $3.87/473ml can, Liquor Marts)
This strong ale has a decidedly mellow look, with Woodstock-ish psychedelia on the can. Light copper in colour and hazy, there's a boatload of hops to this IPA -- it's 80 IBUs -- that's anything but mellow, and the seven per cent alcohol certainly doesn't take its foot off the throttle. Big grassy and floral notes as well as a milder malt component. Hops lovers will be pleased by this decent example of an American-style IPA. 3-1/2 stars.
AMSTERDAM BREWING CO. BONESHAKER UNFILTERED INDIA PALE ALE (Toronto -- $3.93/473ml can, Liquor Marts)
Medium copper in colour (decidedly darker than the Headstock), the Boneshaker brings less floral and more caramel with the bright, herbal hops notes on the nose. At 7.1 per cent alcohol it's also a biggie, but brings slightly rounder, less sharp pear and herbal notes than the grassier, more citrus-driven Headstock. Tasting these two together is a really interesting contrast in style variation -- just watch yourself based on the higher alcohol levels. 3-1/2 stars.
THE ORKNEY BREWERY DRAGONHEAD STOUT (Orkney, Scotland -- $6.47/500ml bottle, Liquor Marts)
Deep black in colour with a beige head, the Dragonhead brings roasted malt, toffee, espresso and slightly sweet milk chocolate aromas. There's more crisp effervescence on the full-bodied palate than the creamier (and more popular) Guinness stout, which will appeal to those still wary of richer, darker ales. There's plenty of roasted-malt, mocha and bitter-chocolate flavours that will appeal to both newcomers to the style as well as those that love their stout. 3-1/2