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Irish Beer 101

St. Patrick's Day and Irish beer go together.

But there are lots of choices out there.

So on "The Early Show" on the day Thursday, Food & Wine magazine Executive Wine Editor Ray Isle shared info on fine Irish brews to help you pick the perfect pint for the holiday!

There are, he observed, two main types of beers: lagers and ales. Lagers are lighter and crisper; ales tend to be darker and richer.

St. Patrick's Day recipes
Photos: Green for a day

He brought two lagers to the set: Harp, which is sort of the classic Irish lager, and Rogue Brewery Kells Irish Style Lager. These are great all-purpose beers. Lagers are made at cooler temperatures with yeasts that settle on the bottom of the tank -- the cold makes them do that. Harp is from Ireland; it was created by the folks at Guinness in 1960, but the bottles you'll find in the U.S. are actually brewed under contract in Canada. Rogue's Kells Irish-style lager is from a great craft brewery in Ireland.

Ray served them in a lager glass. Lager glasses are tall and tapered, which is handy if you want a nice head on your beer.

Ray had two ales on hand, as well: Smithwick's Irish Ale and Sam Adams Irish Red. Ales are different from lagers because they're brewed at warmer temperatures, and the yeast sits at the top of the tank. This makes for a richer style. Smithwick's (pronounced Smit-icks) is from Kilkenny, in Ireland. It's what's called a red ale, which is a traditional Irish style -- a little bit of roasted barley when they're making it gives it a sort of reddish color and a caramel note to the flavor. The Sam Adams Irish Red is made in exactly the same style, but it's from Sam Adams in Boston and is a little more earthy.

They're served in pint glasses. That's the classic serving size in a pub in Ireland (and England, for that matter). So it's really tradition, serving ales out of pint glasses. The main thing they are, is really durable, which is important if you happen to own a pub.

Then, there are stouts, like Guinness, which we had on the show, or Murphy's, are a type of ale made with really darkly roasted barley, which gives them a luscious, smoky rich character. Guinness is undoubtedly the best-known Irish beer in the world, the classic "meal in a glass." It's caramelly, smoky, malty, really distinctive. Murphy's is another great Irish stout, also from Ireland -- the barley's even more darkly roasted, and I always think Murphy's has an almost espresso/coffee kind of character to it. One interesting point: Though it tastes really rich, Guinness is actually pretty low in calories -- lower than skim milk!

As for serving them: You could use a Guinness glass -- a pint glass that is thinner at the bottom and bulges at the top. There's not so much a beer-tasting reason for them being this shape; it's more practical-the bulge means they stack well, are easy to hold onto, and don't stick together when they're stacked.

Ray also made a specialty cocktail, a riff on a drink from Coppa Restaurant in Boston. They use yellow and green chartreuse, but I thought, for St. Patrick's Day, we'd just stick with green, and zap it with a little green food coloring, too. Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur made by monks in France. Coppa calls its drink the "Coney Island Strongman," but I thought we ought to call this the "Irish Strongman"!

The recipe:

1.5 oz green chartreuse 2 oz lemon juice 7 oz lager