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St.Patrick's Day Beer

GUINNESS DRAUGHT MURPHY'S IRISH STOUT MURPHY'S IRISH AMBER HARP LAGER WILD IRISH ROGUE ERIN'S ROCK

For some celebrants on St. Patty's Day, quantity has a quality all its own. So, when the local Blarney Stone is packed with amateurs this March 17, we'll thank heaven some great Irish-style brews now come in bottles and cans. Here's a handy six-pack, ranging from authentic Irish stouts to American microbrew versions of old-world classics. Prices may vary, but all six are widely distributed, and any of them will do corned beef and cabbage proud.

Honor the Irish patron saint as Dubliners do with Guinness Draught. This opaque black stout is almost flat in body, making it easy to quaff despite its dry bitterness. The special can used by Guinness contains a small nitrogen capsule, which releases millions of tiny bubbles (much smaller than the gassy, soda-pop-like bubbles created by carbon dioxide) into the beer the moment the container is opened. The effect is an incredibly creamy head and smooth body with no fizz whatsoever the next best thing to a hand-drawn draft at a local pub. For optimum results, chill the can, open, and pour all at once into a pint glass then be patient. The foam takes several minutes to rise to the top. Choose the can over the bottled version, made fizzy in the usual way with carbon dioxide pumped in at the brewery.

Murphy's Irish Stout comes in bottle or can, and both contain those head-boosting capsules. Milder in flavor and less bitter than Guinness, Murphy's would be a great choice for stout-shy Americans. Its extra-creamy head leaves a delicate filigree of bubbles on the side of the glass that gives new meaning to the term "Irish lace."

If, like many Americans, you prefer lighter, hoppy brews over roasty stouts, give Murphy's Irish Amber a try. A medium-bodied ale from Cork, it has a full, malty flavor and light, dry finish.

As brisk as the winds at the Cliffs of Moher, Harp Lager from Dundalk is a golden beer full of bracing hop flavor and a satisfyingly bitter aftertaste. Exported by Guinness from a largely stout-drinking country, its assertiveness may surprise Americans used to softer, milder lagers.

And from the New World? Oregon Brewing Company makes Wild Irish Rogue stout with oatmeal, an old-time additive that ensures a smooth texture and nutty flavor. This Rogue gives a blast of fresh hop aroma along with an intense, bittersweet chocolate flavor and a long, roasty finish. Though the oatmeal doesn't qualify the brew as a health food, a single 22-ounce bottle could be a meal in itself.

Try a traditional Irish beer concoction with Erin's Rock, a mixture of stout and lager from Champion Beverages of Darien, Connecticut. This amber, honeyish brew with just a tinge of stout, is light enough to make a fine match for any St. Pat's meal. Historic touch: The label sports a majestic portrait (by artist Paul Dillon, father to actor Matt) of Brian Boru, legendary chieftain of Ireland. Call it Celtic pride in a bottle


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