Know your Irish beers

You can drink Bud Light the other 364 days of the year, but March 17 was meant for Irish and English brews. For those who think Killian's Red is an import, here's a quickie guide to some of the real flavors of the holiday.

Published March 12, 2008

NEWCASTLE BROWN ALE: The most popular bottled ale in Britain, it is commonly found in many Irish pubs and a growing number of chain restaurants. With a dark brown color, Newcastle has a crisp taste and a nutty aroma. A sweet finish makes this a nice starter beer for those entering the world of dark brews.

HARP LAGER: This lighter import -- brewed by Guinness in Ireland -- has a golden color and rich but not overpowering taste. The "Beer Lover's Rating Guide" says this brew is "for people who have not fully developed their beer taste buds." That's a little harsh; feel free to hold it proudly on St. Patrick's Day.

BASS ALE: An English brew from Britain's largest brewery, it has a reddish, amber color to it. With its medium-body flavor, this brew often is used to make a "black and tan" -- an attractive if not addicting concoction that fills the bottom of a pint glass with the lighter Bass and tops off the top half with pitch-black Guinness.

MURPHY'S IRISH STOUT: Sometimes called "that other Irish State," Murphy's is dark and thick. But the flavor isn't as bitter as Guinness and features a sweeter, almost coffee-like aftertaste.

SMITHWICKS: From the country's oldest brewery, this soft, reddish brew is the best-selling draft ale in Ireland. It only recently crossed the Atlantic into the U.S. market. It's full-flavored but easy to drink. And if you're ordering it in an Irish pub, it's pronounced "smithicks" (without the "w") or "smiddicks" (once you've had a few).

GUINNESS: Perhaps the official beverage of Ireland, this is the traditional brew for St. Patrick's Day. Guinness is a dry stout, featuring a rich, dark color and a thick creamy head. While the Irish and beer aficionados adore this brand, novices may find the strong flavor a bit intimidating.

Sources: Great Beer Guide, Ultimate Beer, Beer Lover's Rating Guide, The World Encyclopedia of Beer.