If you like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a frothy pint of Guinness (or Murphy’s, Beamish, or some other Irish stout), you’re not alone. Each St. Patrick’s Day, worldwide consumption of Guinness swells from its normal daily average of 5.5 million pints to 13 million pints. That’s a lot of beer! (And a lot of people wisely taking a pass on watery American beers dyed with green food coloring).
The term “stout” once simply referred to the strength of a given beer. Beers with high alcohol content, regardless of their color and body, were stout, and beers with low alcohol content were not. The success of Guinness, which is the most beloved beer in Ireland, and the most popular dark beer in the world, changed that. Now, the term stout is used generically to refer to any dark beer with a smooth body and a heavy, creamy head.
Why Is Stout So Dark?
Stout’s dark color comes from roasting the ingredients — malt and/or barley — before fermentation. It’s smooth body and characteristic head come from tiny bubbles of nitrogen pumped through it when it is poured. Most beers are carbonated, which makes them fizzy and gives them a head of large bubbles that eventually dissipate. Stout beers are dispensed with a greater proportion of nitrogen than carbon dioxide. Nitrogen passes through the beer more quickly, leaving behind very few bubbles and a thick foamy head that sticks around for a while.
Stout—Good For You?
At one time, the advertising motto for Guinness was “Guinness is Good for You!” That wasn’t just a slogan, either. There is legitimate scientific evidence that stout beers can improve health. A research team in Wisconsin found that a pint of dark beer a day could slow the build-up of plaque in arteries and reduce the risk of blood clots, leading to a healthier heart. While any alcoholic beverage, in moderation, has the same benefits, dark beers and red wines also contain antioxidants, making them more beneficial than lighter beers, wines, or hard liquor.
Stout also has a very distinctive flavor, which makes it a great addition to recipes ranging from hearty beef stews to decadent desserts. Here are a few stout-based recipes to help you make “the friendliest day of the year” a little friendlier:
Guinness Irish Cheddar Dip
2 cups sharp Irish cheddar, shredded
1/4 small red onion, chopped
2 scallions, sliced
2 teaspoons brown mustard
1 teaspoon horseradish (from a jar)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Guinness Irish stout
Place the sharp cheddar, onion, scallions, mustard, horseradish, rosemary, and salt in a food processor and combine. Add the sour cream and stout and blend until smooth. Serve with crackers, pretzels, or your favorite chips.
Irish Stout Beef Stew
2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 cups Irish stout
2 cups chopped carrot
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Pour one tablespoon olive oil over the beef cubes and toss until coated. In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt and pepper. Dredge the beef in the flour mixture until completely coated. Heat the remaining oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and add the beef. Brown on all sides of the beef, then add onions and garlic. Dilute the tomato paste with a small amount of water to dilute, just enough to make it slightly runny, pour into the pan, and stir to blend. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for five minutes. Pour 1/2 cup of stout into the pan and bring it to a boil, carefully scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to prevent the meat and vegetables from sticking. Pour in the rest of the beer, carrots, and thyme. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.
Chocolate Irish Stout Cake
Rich and decadent, this cake is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The dark beer gives this cake an intense flavor that’s not too sweet. Serve it up any time you feel like celebrating.
1 cup Irish stout
1/2 cup salted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 large eggs
2/3 cups sour cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9″ springform pan and line the bottom with a disc of parchment paper cut to size.
In a large saucepan, simmer the stout and butter over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and sugar and whisk until smooth. Allow to cool.
In a large bowl, sift together flour and baking soda. In another large bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, and sour cream, then and add to the cooled stout mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined. Add the flour mixture and fold the batter until completely combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack. Then remove the cake from pan and transfer to a serving platter or cake plate. Frost and serve.
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add confectioners’ sugar and cream; beat until smooth (be careful not to over-beat). Frost the top of the cake. Refrigerate leftovers.
You can go with a simple glaze instead of frosting: Melt 1/4 cup of butter in a saucepan. Sift two cups of powdered sugar into a medium-size bowl and add the melted butter to the powdered sugar. Add 2 tablespoons of milk. Beat until smooth and creamy, adding more milk if necessary.
Drizzle the glaze over cake and allow to harden before serving.
Jaime McLeod is a longtime journalist who has written for a wide variety of newspapers, magazines, and websites, including MTV.com. She enjoys the outdoors, growing and eating organic food, and is interested in all aspects of natural wellness.