Time is nigh for Irish beer


It's the time of year to think green - and to sip Guinness or Harp, or even Murphy's or Beamish.

St. Patrick's Day allows us all to be a little bit Irish and, best of all, to enjoy a chance to celebrate good beer.

Americans tend to flock toward mass-produced brands, standardized for consistency and designed to please as many people as possible.

So it's easy to forget that beer can have intricate flavors and enough body to let you know you're encountering something more substantial than a watery brew. Sip a draft Guinness and you'll know what I mean.

With its large contingent of Irish Americans - and, of course, its Irish-rock-star mayor - Baltimore is one of the better places to join the crowds celebrating St. Patrick's Day.

It won't be hard to find a bar offering Guinness on tap and Irish music, but many of these will not serve green beer. If you need to see green, just wear it.

My best Irish sources, folks who lovingly refer to a draft Guinness as "vitamin G," have several suggestions for good places to sip. Their favorites are J. Patrick's Irish Pub in South Baltimore and James Joyce Irish Pub & Restaurant on President Street. And there's always Mick O'Shea's Irish Pub on Charles Street, An Poitin Stil on York Road in Timonium and Sean Bolan's in Federal Hill, along with several others to choose from.

Irish bars will be serving a lot of Irish beer, mostly Guinness and Harp, although the Coors-produced Killian's Red is also popular on St. Patrick's Day, according to local bartenders.

If you'd like to be adventurous, you can mix brews for some interesting blends. Harp Lager and Guinness Stout combine to make a Half and Half. For a Black Velvet, mix Guinness and champagne. For a Black and Tan, if you can excuse the name, mix Guinness and Bass Ale.

But if you've never experienced a Guinness all on its own, this is a good time to sip one - and learn firsthand why some claim it's a meal in itself.

In that vein, my friend Catherine O'Neill Grace passes along her favorite Guinness story, fresh from County Cork, where her American-born parents retired a couple of decades ago.

"When my father was in Bon Secours Hospital in Cork recovering from his hip-replacement surgery, a big foamy glass of Guinness arrived with his daily lunch tray. 'For its strengthening qualities,' the nurse said. Dad duly drank it, and did indeed recover quickly enough to dance at his 80th birthday party!"

Vitamin G indeed.

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