Thursday, February 17, 2022

Of Nitro Stout

Ever since my first legal beer, stouts have had a special place in my heart. That first legal beer was Guinness, on draught, in the lounge bar of the Dark Island Hotel back home in Benbecula. Pretty soon I discovered a taste for Murphy's too, and Beamish, and we mustn't forget the long gone Gillespie's either.

When I went to Ireland in 2008 I was keen to try O'Hara's Stout, Porterhouse's stouts, and of course Guinness in its home country. In Czechia, I even developed a vague fondness for Staropramen's Kelt Stout, Primátor's wonderful Stout, or "coffee beer" as a bar owner insisted on calling it as myself, Evan Rail, Pivní Filosof, and Rob finished off the keg, and then there was Kocour Stout. One of my first beery loves in the US was Starr Hill's simply magnificent, and still their most award winning beer despite having been only an occasional brew for several years now, Dark Starr Stout. Three Notch'd do a good oatmeal stout called Oats McGoats that I wish was bottled or canned, and there is always Left Hand's gorgeous milk stout.

Yep, stouts are one of my favourite beer styles, so when I saw a pack of O'Hara's Nitro Stout whilst doing the shopping last weekend, a tasting hoved into view and I ended up with this selection.

3 brewed in Ireland, one in Scotland, and I think you have a pretty good representative sampling of the major nitro stouts that hover around the 4% abv mark. I toyed with the idea of doing the tasting blind, but at the end of the day, it was a Sunday afternoon and Mrs V was a wee bit under the weather after a heavy cider session the day before, so I figured to just let her lie on the couch, and no worry too much about whether I can tell my Guinness from my Murphy's. Naturally, I started right there.

Guinness Draught
  • Sight - very dark brown, red at the edge, creamy ivory foam.
  • Smell - roasty, slightly grainy, smelt like pubs of my youth
  • Taste - some caramel, burnt sugar, bit of roasted coffee
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
It's Guinness, what are you expecting, a Patmosian revelation? Perhaps I should have let it come up in temperature a wee bit, I had all these straight from the fridge, but I was left wishing I had a bottle of the far superior Guinness Foreign Extra Stout to chuck in and fill it out a bit.

  • Sight - black with garnet at the edge, creamy tan head
  • Smell - toast, coffee, and a touch of cocoa
  • Taste - roast to the fore, backed up with some coffee and milk chocolate, bit of a hop bite in the finish
  • Sweet - 2.5/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
It never fails to impress me just how different Murphy's is from Guinness, and having these back to back just highlights the fuller body and smoother mouthfeel of the former. You still get the roasty coffee notes, but the additional sweetness of Murphy's use of chocolate malt makes it just that bit moreish.

  • Sight - black, black, black, light tan creamy head
  • Smell - mostly coffee, some heady boozy notes that I wasn't expecting
  • Taste - take a spoon of Cadbury's drinking chocolate, drop it in your coffee
  • Sweet - 2/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
I remember my first ever O'Hara's at the Bull and Castle in Dublin. It was likewise served from a nitro tap, though I then had it bottled and loved it. Until last weekend I had primarily had it bottled. In this format though it has a nice medium full body, silky mouthfeel, and a balance that makes it a lovely pint. I think I need to buy some non-nitro to do a side by side comparison.

Belhaven Black
  • Sight - dark brown, red highlights, off white, creamy head
  • Smell - some roastiness, some toasted, and a subtle chocolate note
  • Taste - up front malty sweetness, chocolate and toffee, not wildly roasty
  • Sweet - 3/5
  • Bitter - 2/5
Another beer I haven't had for a while, and I think it might have to become a more regular visitor to the beer fridge. The video above shows a method of pouring a nitro beer that I learned out from a YouTube video, and it works perfectly every time. Similar in some ways to Murphy's, with perhaps a fuller sweetness and more luxuriant body.

In many ways, the tasting confirmed by expectations, that I prefer Murphy's over Guinness, at least in nitro can form, and that O'Hara's is still a storming beer that I can happily drink plenty of. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the Belhaven Black as much as I did, but I was happily surprised. As for an order of preference, it's probably:
  1. O'Hara's
  2. Belhaven Black
  3. Murphy's
  4. Guinness
That is, most assuredly, not to say that Guinness is a crap stout, rather that I prefer the sweeter notes that the other three have, but I am more than happy to drink any one of them, and pretty often do.


  1. I've an idea that Belhaven Black nitro isn't sold in the UK. Leastways, I've never seen it.

    1. Cans are on the Greene King shop. It doesn’t say nitro on the UK can, but it does say “draught” which usually means the same thing.

  2. Wexford Irish Style Crème Ale Nitro? It's one of the worst beers I've ever had.

  3. Bottled O'Hara's Stout was in the case of the 24 Beers of Advent which I bought at an Aldi store here in Chicago, IL. back in December 2021.
    You may want to look for it again at Aldi.

  4. I never had Bellhaven or Beamish but I have had Guinness, Murphy's, O'Hara's and Porterhouse Oyster Stout. I love the first two, Guinness is widely available. O'Hara's and PHOS are better. Used to get O'Hara's on tap at Farrell's in Fayetteville, Arkansas 12 years ago. Had to go to NYC to drink Porterhouse @ Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan. Fortunately for me my brother in laws apartment is next door to Fraunces Tavern.

    1. I went to the Fraunces Tavern when I was at a conference in Manhattan and it was love at first sight. Ordering a "pint of plain" might just rank as one of my beer highlights in life.


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