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.
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.
At one time, the advertising motto for Guinness was “Guinness is Good for You!” That wasn’t just 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:
Irish Stout Cheese Dip
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar
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 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.
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.
Irish Stout Cake
2 cups Irish stout
2 1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/3 cups sour cream
4 cups powdered sugar
4 tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter three 8” round cake pans. In a large saucepan, simmer two cups of stout and two cups of butter over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Allow to cool. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. In another large bowl, beat together eggs and sour cream. Beat the stout-chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until thoroughly combined. Beat in the flour mixture and fold the batter until completely combined. Divide the batter equally among the prepared pans and bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of cakes comes out clean. Transfer cakes to a rack and cool for 10 minutes. While cakes are cooling, 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 some of the glaze over one layer of cooled cake, stack a second layer on top of the first and drizzle more glaze. Add the third layer and cover the entire cake with glaze. Allow the glaze to harden before serving.