This One Might Hurt Ya, Billyball

This one is stolen, in its entirety, from Joe Sixpack (with our apologies). We couldn’t resist layin’ one on our good friend Bill, after the public display of affection for Guinness at Uncle Ben’s last weekend. Even after spending three straight days bitching at him incessantly about American Idol and his love for the ubiquitous Irish beverage. Sorry, fella, we blame President Busch and his Golden Anniversary. Yeah, pretty sure that’s what made us so angry and left us in need of Tums.

WHAT’S A NICE Irish boy with a name like Brian O’Reilly doing with a dark, smooth Irish lass who doesn’t go by the name of Guinness?
I know it sounds like blasphemy on the day before a sacred drinking holiday, but the lad has turned his back on St. James’s Gate and in the process has given Philly a fine local replacement for the world’s most famous stout. O’Reilly is the brewer at Chester County’s Sly Fox brewery and he unabashedly calls his O’Reilly’s Stout.

Slowly, his distinctive tap handle with its ghoulish, bloodied hand is beginning to replace the familiar harp logo around town. More than two dozen joints now pour Royersford’s finest instead of Guinness. Craft beers come and go, but this development is no small deal from several respects. First, Guinness is marketed as a “must-have” brand, especially in Irish pubs.
Bar owners know they can serve Miller instead of Bud, Smithwick’s instead of Harp. But not pour Guinness? Impossible! Second, Guinness drinkers are religiously committed to their brand. One local bar owner compared it to Harley-Davidson, whose adherents not only won’t ride anything else, they’ve got the tattoos to prove it. Third, Guinness is served on special nitrogen taps that give the stout its trademark creaminess.

Since few bars have more than one nitro tap, a newcomer must prove itself before it even gets put on the menu – not an easy task. Evidence of the uphill battle is in the absence of any notable contenders. No other local brewery has tried to distribute an Irish stout. None of the large craft brewers – Rogue, Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn or Pyramid – bottles one.
Boston Beer, which makes about 30 different styles, doesn’t have an Irish Stout.
Even Anheuser-Busch, with all its marketing muscle, has never made a dent with its Bare Knuckle Stout.

So how to explain the success of O’Reilly’s Stout?
He credits William Reed, of Northern Liberties’ Standard Tap, with giving the stout its first break a couple of years ago. It got a second boost last year when Beamish, an Irish-made alternative to Guinness, temporarily halted exports to America. Chris Mullins, of McGillin’s Old Ale House, in Center City (who boycotts Guinness because of its business practices) quickly turned to O’Reilly’s. “I’m delighted with O’Reilly’s,” Mullins said. “People still come in and ask for Guinness because Guinness is ubiquitous. But once we explain the story behind O’Reilly’s, they almost always switch. We sell a ton of it now.” Mullins says he’ll go through six to 10 kegs of O’Reilly’s this weekend. Take a look around, and you’ll find the O’Reilly’s tap handle nudging Guinness aside at some of the best beer bars in town: Johnny Brenda’s, the Khyber, South Philly Tap Room, the Race Street Café. At the trendy Amada tapas restaurant in Old City, O’Reilly’s Irish Stout holds its own among everything from Corona to Spanish sangria.
Said O’Reilly: “Every bar that puts it on, it just makes it that much easier for us to tell other bars, ‘See, you don’t need to serve Guinness.’ I don’t know of a single bar that started serving us that has gone back to Guinness.”

It’s gotten so popular, Sly Fox is considering canning the stout with one of those nifty widgets that help create the brew’s signature foamy head. There’s one other thing that has to be said about O’Reilly’s Stout: it just might taste better than the original. For my money, it’s creamier, with a deeply satisfying, roasted character. It sucks down like a beer milkshake. Coming from Royersford, it’s certainly fresher than anything from Ireland (or Canada or wherever America’s Guinness is brewed these days). Maybe this is what Guinness tastes like in Dublin. But that’s just my taste. Last spring, the beer freaks at the Drafting Room in Exton came up with a similar finding when they ran a month-long taste test between the two. O’Reilly’s won hands down, and Guinness hasn’t been seen there since. This St. Patrick’s Day, why don’t you try the same? Find a joint (Kildare’s on Headhouse Square, for example) where both are served and get the bartender to pour them, side by side. Then give them both an honest taste. Don’t worry, it’s not blasphemy.

About Irish Stout
Just because it’s dark doesn’t mean it’s heavy and high in alcohol. Irish stout, also known as dry stout, is quite light in body, thanks to the use of flaked barley in its recipe. The dark color comes from roasted barley. Serving it with nitrogen gas produces smaller bubbles than carbon dioxide, making it feel smoother in your mouth. The finish is quite dry, so you’ll want a second glass.

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~ by bojangles on March 23, 2007.

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