Bartender pouring beer from tap

Ireland is usually thought of as more of a titan of the whiskey industry, but Irish beer has long been a worldwide heavyweight well deserving of more attention. The United States, England, and many other countries have undergone a craft beer revolution over the past few decades, and Ireland is no exception. Firstly, the world of Irish beer goes far beyond the super dark stouts that have become synonymous with it. Brewing culture in Ireland is very much rooted in tradition, but there are many different beer styles from Emerald Isle. As of 2018, there are more than 75 craft breweries operating in Ireland, each contributing to Irish beer becoming more diversified and eclectic.

There are certain styles of beer that Ireland does best. The bountiful resources of unique water sources, barleys, and malts all contribute to simplistically crafted brews that have been made the same way for centuries. Here is your guide to finding the best Irish beer for you. All of them — whether St. Patrick’s Day is around the corner or you’re just in the mood — will help you get into the Irish spirit.

9. Beamish

Two Beamish Irish Stout pints

Beamish and Crawford is an Irish beer brand located in County Cork, a part of Ireland that has come to be known as a stout capital. This one was born in 1792 when Richard Beamish and Richard Crawford established their brewery in Cork City. They have been brewing this beer and this beer only ever since.

While there are other Irish stouts that are obviously more well-known, Beamish has been around for centuries now, and this brand does hold a valuable and storied place in the world of Irish beer. At the pinnacle of Beamish and Crawford’s success, around the late 1800s, the brewery was producing over 100,000 barrels of its stout every single year. Today, Beamish remains a staple in Cork City and continues to be poured in pubs throughout the rest of the country.

Beamish is your typical Irish stout. It is full-bodied, dark, and creamy with notes of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and a distinct richness throughout. Beamish is nitrogenated, so it has that beautiful, anticipatory cascading effect when it is poured.

Despite its thick, creamy head and rich and dense flavor, Beamish remains an easily crushable beer at just 4.1% ABV. Beamish and Crawford distributes it abroad, so be sure to keep an eye out for it the next time you are at your local beer shop.

8. Harp

Two pints of Harp Lager

Sometimes, a straightforward, uncomplicated beer is all that’s desired. Harp is the Irish beer that serves this fundamental purpose. Harp Lager was first brewed at the former Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk, County Louth, per The Independent. In 1955, however, Smithwick’s and Kilkenny acquired the brewery, which was purchased by Guinness in 1959. The brewery was then relaunched as the Harp Lager Brewery, after which the beer saw immense success in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. Eventually, demand grew so large that the original brewery was unable to meet it, and the production of Harp was moved to St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, per Beverage Distributors.

Nowadays, Harp is not nearly as popular in Ireland as it used to be. While it remains a pub staple in Northern Ireland, Harp has become widely known and enjoyed abroad, especially in Canada and the United States. In fact, the Harp Lager you enjoy in North America is actually brewed in New Brunswick, Canada at the Moosehead Brewery.

Regardless of where it was made or is made now, Harp has always been a run-of-the-mill pale lager that can satisfy the craving for a crisp, cold beer (or several) during a night out. Its crisp, light body, subtle malt, low-hop bitterness, and alcohol content of 5% make for a lager that will always hit the spot and never weigh you down.

7. Smithwick’s

Three pints of dark Smithwick's

Widely available and popular in the U.S., Smithwick’s has brewed beer in County Kilkenny since its establishment in the 1700s but did so in secret because of the laws prohibiting Catholics from owning property. It was not until 1827 that John’s son, Edmund, was able to rename his family’s beer before expanding the brand into one of the most popular ales in Ireland. Today, Smithwick’s beers are brewed at the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin.

Finding Smithwick’s Red Ale on tap at any Irish pub in America is a near given, but the brand that makes this quintessential Irish red ale actually brews other products as well. The second beer in Smithwick’s lineup is its pale ale. Brewed with Amarillo hops, Smithwick’s Pale Ale is inspired by old-time brewing and is not like the pale ales made in America. Smithwick’s Pale Ale is moderately hopped, malty, bright, and floral. It’s a distinctly Irish take on the beer style.

Smithwick’s first began brewing its red ale with an approach similar to the popular English Pale Ale. The Irish red, however, places more of an emphasis on the malt than it does on the hops. This beer is medium-bodied, crisp, and refreshing but does not sacrifice anything in the flavor department. The distinct kilned malt and roasted barley make for a depth of flavor notes and aromas pushed along by subtle hop bitterness.

6. Murphy’s

Can of Murphy's Stout

There are plenty of Irish stouts, and behind the clear leader of the category, Guinness, Murphy’s is soundly second in line. It may not be as well-known or successful, but there are stout drinkers that prefer it, and, while unpopular, this preference can be justified.

According to Vinepair, Murphy’s was founded by James J. Murphy in 1856 in County Cork, where it still brews its stout to this day. Murphy was something of a hero to Cork, not only establishing a mighty fine brewery but also saving its economy by aiding its banks during a crisis. Despite the already firm grasp Guinness had on the world of stouts, Murphy’s did gain some well-earned and valuable recognition, winning gold at the Brewers and Allied Trades Exhibition in Dublin in 1892 and 1895.

Obviously, Guinness has grown into a worldwide behemoth of a beer brand, reaching every corner of the globe with multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and operating breweries on three continents. Regardless, Murphy’s humbly lives on. Its lack of popularity almost makes it more desirable. It lives on basically by word-of-mouth, its taste and character being everything it needs to sustain.

This stout remains everything you want an Irish stout to be. It’s nitrogenated, creamy, full-bodied, with a bounty of roasted flavor. While you may be hard-pressed to find Murphy on tap in a bar, cans of the stout are more available than you might think, and picking up a four-pack is a must if you like Irish stouts.

5. O’Hara’s

O'Hara's Irish Red Ale pint

O’Haras is one of the younger beer brands on this list, established in 1996 with the opening of the Carlow Brewing Company in County Carlow. Carlow Brewing Company began as a brewery dedicated to traditional-style Celtic ales in the wake of a craft beer boom. Since then, O’Hara’s has remained true to its Irish beers in addition to producing more modern beer styles.

The current catalog of beers under the O’Hara’s brand includes its signature Irish red ale, Irish stout, and Irish pale ale, as well as many other beers inspired by the current craft beer boom in Ireland. These include a double, session, and tropical IPA, and even a barrel-aged series, to name a few. O’Hara’s has brewed countless beer styles over the years and has become one of the most essential craft breweries in the Irish industry.

Unfortunately, most of O’Hara’s beers do not make it across the pond, and finding them in the U.S. can be quite difficult. The most commonly found beer in the O’Hara’s lineup is its red ale, a more malt-forward one, comparable to German-style bock beer. This comes from the addition of caramel malts to the mash, which is balanced out by drier crystal malts. The small number of hops in this beer makes for a richer, denser red ale that is a hearty, robust, and unique take on the distinctly Irish style.

4. Sullivan’s

Sullivan's Brewing Company Irish Gold

Sullivan’s is another Irish beer brand that calls Kilkenny home and has done so for over three hundred years. The brewery was opened in 1702 and is said to be one of the very first large-scale breweries in Ireland. Up until then, breweries could only operate on smaller scales, which resulted in inconsistent beers, according to the brand. Sullivan’s, however, claims to have achieved consistency with its large-scale production.

Since then, Sullivans has been one of the most prominent breweries in Ireland, remaining in Kilkenny to this day. Unfortunately, in the early 1900s, Sullivan’s closed for what seemed like forever. In 2016, however, descendants of the original Sullivan family teamed up with the Smithwick family to resurrect this great and storied brewery and reignite the brewing scene in Kilkenny.

Today, Sullivan’s brews three different beers, Sullivan’s Black Marble Stout, Malting’s Red Ale, and Irish Gold. Due to Sullivan’s only just getting back on its feet, the large-scale production that was once its bread and butter has yet to return. Instead, every Sullivan’s beer is said to be hand-crafted by local brewers in small batches using locally sourced ingredients, which could actually better.

Sullivan’s is slowly earning back its acclaim, as it became the very first Irish brewery to win the World Champion Keg Trophy at the International Brewing Awards. Out of the over 1,200 beers competing, Sullivan’s Malting’s Irish Red came out on top, which should be reason enough to get your hands on some.

3. Porterhouse Brewing Company

Porterhouse Brewing Company Plain Porter

Of all of the breweries to come out of the now vibrant Irish craft beer scene, Porterhouse Brewing Company is the most notable. The brewery is actually the second one opened by owners, Liam LaHart and Oliver Hughes, who had their first venture shut down due to a debt collection program passed in the 1980s. However, their love for brewing did not die, and Hughes and LaHart worked to start Porterhouse in 1989 in Wicklow. Porterhouse prided itself on offering beers other than the typical beers found in every pub.

Throughout the years following, the Porterhouse brand expanded to pubs in Dublin and the United Kingdom. Today, Porterhouse beer has gained a following throughout Ireland, Central Europe, and even now in the U.S. with the opening of a pub in New York City. In 2018, Porterhouse opened a brand new brewery in order to keep up with its massive demand.

Now, the lineup of Porterhouse beers is vast. Of course, the classic Irish stout and red ale are at the forefront of the brand, but barrel-aged beers, IPAs, and imperial and pastry stouts are among some of the less common beers in its lineup. While Porterhouse offers a lot, its flagship "Plain Porter" is by far its most renowned beer, winning the award for Best Stout in the World at the Brewing Industry International Awards two separate times. If you love Irish beer, this one is a must-find, as is the brand’s very unique Nitro Red Ale.

2. Kilkenny

Kilkenny Irish Cream Ale pint

This beer is the other half of the Smithwick’s and Kilkenny brand, which came out in the 1980s. When Smithwick’s was planning a launch of its beer in Central Europe, it worried that its unique spelling would be bad for sales abroad. So, the name was changed.

Kilkenny differs from Smithwick’s in a variety of ways, though. The most notable difference is that Kilkenny is an Irish cream ale and is also nitrogenated. Essentially, Kilkenny is a cross between a red ale and a stout. It is made with roasted barley, and a small number of hops, and is very malt-forward. Plus, the nitro-infusion makes for a thick and creamy ale that is rich and decadent. Cans and draught pours of Kilkenny will allow you to take in the cascading effect, which simply adds more to the experience of drinking one.

Just like Smithwick’s, Kilkenny originated from the legendary St. Francis Abbey Brewery and was made there until it closed in 2013. Since then, it has been brewed at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. Kilkenny is not very easy to find in Ireland or in the United States. However, it remains an absolutely delicious beer that gives you a variety of the best beer Ireland has to offer in one pint. It is truly a one-of-a-kind beer and you should definitely take advantage of it if you ever come across it.

1. Guinness

Three pints of Guinness

Guinness has been one of the most popular beers in the world for centuries, dating all the way back to 1759 when Arthur Guinness opened the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin and signed a 9,000-year lease on the property. Guinness grew to become so iconic that when the Irish Free State was established in 1922 following the civil war, the country’s national emblem of a harp had to be turned in the opposite direction in order to avoid trademark violations.

The popularity of Guinness has certainly not dwindled into the modern era, as the stout is more popular today than ever. In fact, an estimated 1.5 billion pints of Guinness are sold annually, which correlates to 10 million pints sold every single day. Everything from the harp to the lovable toucan mascot, to the glassware, to the specific instructions on how a Guinness must be poured, makes Guinness more than a beer. It’s an institution.

Ask any common Guinness drinker and they will tell you what makes a great pint. A well-poured Guinness is an entire drinking experience in and of itself. It’s a spectacle as much as it is an absolutely delicious beer. A proper pint of Guinness really is incomparable to any other beer out there, and its popularity is no gimmick. Guinness’s success is due to its quality, longevity, and consistency as not only one of the best beers made in Ireland but one of the best beers in the entire world.