Celebrating Ireland in Virginia

Tickle the Tastebuds - Beers & Breweries

St-Paddys-Mug, Starr HillAmerican beer drinkers can thank the Irish for some of our tippling traditions, including an appreciation for dry stouts, Irish red ales, hard cider and a proper party on St. Patrick’s Day. Though we as Americans are a few years ahead in the craft beer movement, we can still learn from our cousins across the pond.

Charlottesville’s Starr Hill Brewery agrees, collaborating with O’Hara Brewery/Carlow Brewing not just once, but twice. In 2015, Starr Hill brewer Robbie O’Cain visited O’Hara brewmaster Conor Donoghue at this independent, family-owned brewery in Ireland, creating Foreign Affair Session. 

“We went for a red IPA, the idea being to combine an Irish malt red ale style with American hops,” explained O’Cain.

The American-influenced ale was a hit in Ireland.

“The scene in Ireland is very similar to the craft beer scene in Virginia,” Donoghue told me, “except maybe three or four years ago. [About] two percent of the entire market share is craft beer, which is actually a lot of growth over the last few years… It’s a young, really exciting time.”

The two-percent share compares to an 11 percent share that craft beer claims of the total U.S. beer market.

This February, Donoghue traveled to Starr Hill, brewing a classic dry Irish export stout, similar to O’Hara’s Leann Folláin Extra Irish Stout. The high-gravity beer uses crystal and chocolate malts, oats and East Kent Goldings hops. The oats give the stout a full, creamy mouthfeel to complement the dark chocolate notes while the British hops lend a European touch. 

Named Blackthorn, the stout celebrates the changing of seasons, as blooming blackthorns mark the beginning of Irish spring.

Since founder Mark Thompson retired in 2015, Starr Hill has rebranded the business, promoted O’Cain to brewmaster, modified the beer lineup (including 10 new releases this year) and announced a second location in Norfolk.

When I visited O’Cain and Donoghue after the February brew day, O’Cain showed me the brewery’s new centrifuge, like a proud papa posting baby pics on Facebook. He raved not just about the equipment’s ability to remove solids from the beer without removing flavors but also on the system’s efficiency – extracting more flavor more quickly with less wastewater provides a benefit for the brewery’s bottom line and for environmental health.

The Blackthorn release will coincide with Starr Hill’s St. Paddy’s Day celebration, March 19. Sadly, Starr Hill will also hold an Irish wake that day as they retire their classic Dark Starr dry Irish stout.

I asked Donoghue if the Americans have inflated St. Patrick’s Day beyond Irish traditions, but he assured me that the holiday is indeed a big deal in his homeland. March 17 in Ireland sees parades and festivals, feasting to celebrate a one-day break from Lenten abstinence and a day off work – plus deeper meanings, too.

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day 2016, Richmonders can celebrate at one of several festivals and enjoy beers that pay tribute to the Emerald Isle’s styles. Local craft beers around town include Bloodshot Billy Irish Red Ale available at Extra Billy’s Smokehouse Brewery and Barbecue in Midlothian; Rockville Red at Midnight Brewery; Original Gravity’s Irish Goodbye (not a dry stout, but inspired nonetheless). You can also celebrate with a hard cider, including those from Blue Bee Cider (or possibly a debut of Richmond’s new Buskey Cider at the Irish Festival in Church Hill). After all, apples are intertwined in Irish culture and history. An archaeological excavation uncovered the fruit with carbon dating over 5,000 years old, and cidermaking stretches back at least 2,000 years. 

So celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with some Irish-inspired Virginia craft beverages. Just don’t look for any Irish-themed green beer!


Celebrate with beer at these St. Patrick’s Day events

Shamrock the Bottom at 7 Hills Brewing, March 12. 115 S. 15th St., Richmond. (804) 716-8307. Food and drink specials, including 7 Hills’ Irish-inspired 42nd Street dry stout. DJ and dancing after 9 p.m. 11 a.m.-1 a.m. www.7hillsbrewingco.com.

St. Patrick’s Day Party to Benefit St. Baldrick’s Foundation at Center of the Universe Brewing, March 12. 11293 Air Park Rd., Ashland, (804) 368-0299. Party with live music, food trucks and COTU beer. Beer includes limited-release, one-off Irish red ales. The event is a benefit to conquer childhood cancer and includes a silent auction and raffles. 1 p.m. www.cotubrewing.com.

Blarney Blast at 17th Street Farmers Market, March 12. 100 N. 17th St. A fun-filled, family-friendly day of Irish tradition with live music, kids’ activities, local food, beer and cider. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Shamrock Run RVA 2016 at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, March 13. 2408 Ownby Ln., Richmond. (804) 420-2420. The family-friendly event features a 5k run and Lucky Leprechaun Kids’ Race. Food trucks, surprises and activities for kids and adults, including a runner’s costume contest. Packet pick-up begins at 9:30 a.m., kids’ race at 11:15, 5k at 11:30 and more. www.shamrockrunrva.com.

St. Patrick’s Day at Legend Brewing Co., March 17. 321 W. 7th St., Richmond. (804) 232-3446. Virginia’s oldest brewery celebrates the Irish holiday with traditional and not-so-traditional brews, Irish food specials, drink specials and Celtic performances by Pugsy Mohone. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. www.legendbrewing.com.

St. Paddy’s Day at Starr Hill Brewery, March 19. 5391 Three Notched Rd., Crozet. Local chefs use locally source pork products to create classic Irish fare. Beer, live music and contests. Starr Hill will also hold an Irish wake for the classic Dark Starr, their dry Irish stout. www.starrhill.com.

The Irish Festival in Church Hill, March 19-20. 25th & E. Broad Street in Church Hill, Richmond. (804) 356-1093. Richmond’s classic St. Patrick’s Day festival includes entertainment, family fun, Irish vendors and food, and adult beverages. Proceeds benefit a variety of neighborhood causes. $5. www.churchhillirishfestival.com.


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