irish stout mountain fermenterColumns Food & Drink 

A Toast to the Irish Stout! Sláinte!

Catching up with Emily Thomas of Santa Cruz Mountains Brewing

By Greg Roe and Mike Desmidt

March is brimming with reasons to celebrate: Women’s History Month, International Women’s Day, and St. Patrick’s Day! Ireland also celebrates the legend of Saint Brigid the Patron Saint of Beer and Brewing. The stories say she was working at a leper colony, and to everyone’s horror, they had run out of beer. Back then, water sources near towns were often not safe to drink, and the brewing process plus the alcohol in the beer killed off many pathogens, making beer a safer alternative for hydration. Saint Brigid did a little magic and turned some of the dirty bath water there at the colony into sublime, thirst-quenching beer.

And while we’re on the topic of notable women, beer, and brewing, we checked in with local brewster, Emily Thomas, of Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company. Emily grew up in Ben Lomond but attended college in Portland, Oregon, a West Coast brewing hotspot. There she learned the art of homebrewing from a couple of uncles, who deemed such practical skills more important than college. She later worked in San Diego, another craft beer mecca, where she continued to hone her skills. She eventually moved back to Ben Lomond and decided she wanted to open a brewery in the area. However, septic tank issues in the mountains made opening a brewery impossible, so she eventually settled down in an 800 square foot spot on the westside of Santa Cruz off Swift Street. Sixteen years later, the pub is 3500 square feet of sipping pleasure and includes a welcoming outdoor patio.

Emily enjoys changing up her beers with the seasons; dark beers in the winter, light lagers when it’s hot. She says her favorite style is brown ale, because it’s a barometer of a good brewery. “You can’t hide any off flavors in a brown ale,” she says.

On Saint Patrick’s Day she will be down at the Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing Company eating corned beef sandwiches and quaffing a flight of stouts. They will have their Devout Stout, Twisted Sister, and Madame Grey, all on tap for St. Patrick’s Days.

So, with St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, and folks thinking of beer in Ireland, what often comes to mind is the eponymous Guinness Dry Irish Stout. This favorite of cozy pubs the world over is a fairly misunderstood beer. First, many folks lump Irish stout with far more robust American stouts and associate it with descriptors like “strong,” “heavy,” or “thick.” While it does have a slightly more substantial and creamy mouthfeel than your favorite IPA or lager, it is fairly low in alcohol and very refreshing. Traditional Irish stout is usually in the neighborhood of 3.5%-4.5% ABV (alcohol by volume), similar to its English cousin, the sweet stout or milk stout (named so due to the inclusion of lactose – i.e., milk sugar – in the recipe to increase the creaminess of the mouthfeel and add a touch of sweetness). 

The story behind Irish stouts is a great one. In the 18th century, the United Kingdom instituted a new malt tax, which had a huge impact on brewers such as Guinness. However, Guinness had a clever way to avoid this tax by changing their recipe to include a much larger percentage of untaxed unmalted barley, unkilned and roasted types. Guinness dubbed this new concoction, “stout porter.” The modern Guinness recipe has remained fairly faithful to the original innovation. 

The key to brewing a good dry Irish stout is to keep it simple. No caramel malts that would add unnecessary sweetness or American hops that would impart a clashing hop character. All you need is a good English pale malt (70%), flaked unmalted wheat (20%), and finely crushed roasted unmalted barley (10%), with some English old-world hops such as East Kent Goldings for bitterness. A good starting place for proportions are in the percentages following the ingredients above, but here’s another recipe that will yield a wonderful Irish stout.

Dry Irish Stout (5 gallons yield)

8 lbs. English pale malt (such as Golden Promise or Marris Otter)

2.5 lbs. Flaked unmalted barley


2 oz. East Kent Goldings (boil 60 minutes)

Irish Ale Yeast

For brewing instructions, visit Sláinte!

Ben Lomond local, Mike De Smidt has been home brewing for 12 years and is a BJCP Certified Beer Judge. Greg Roe is a Felton local who has been a home brewer for 20 years and is a self proclaimed Fermentation Geek.

Featured photo: Seductive pints of Guinness by Mike De Smidt

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