Harp is a lager style beer whose home brewery is called the Great Northern Brewery and is located in Dundalk, Co. Louth in the Republic of Ireland, which is strategically located about half way between Dublin and Belfast. Harp was first introduced in 1960 as a result of the efforts of a consortium of six different breweries in Ireland and the United Kingdom. During the 1950s, lighter pale lagers from Europe, such as the Dutch Heineken and the Danish Carlsburg had made serious inroads into the markets of Ireland and the UK, nations known for their heavier, darker ales. To answer this challenge, the Dundalk brewery was purchased and a brew-master from Germany, Herman Muenster, was brought in and charged with the task of creating a “continental” style lager using Irish resources. Harp Lager was the result.
Today, there is an element of romance associated with Harp, and that is nearly entirely due to its associations, perceived or real, with the brewing legend Guinness. The fact of the matter is that Harp is less a Guinness product than an acquisition made by Guinness. It is true that Guinness was one of the original six owners that purchased the Great Northern Brewery for the purpose of creating Harp, but it was not involved in the creation of the beer or the management of the brewery. Over the course of time, Guinness did ultimately obtain sole ownership of Harp, and at least in North America, Guinness and Harp were frequently marketed together, leading many to believe that Harp was brewed by Guinness and was actually just a lager version of Guinness. Since the Diageo group purchased Guinness, Guinness and Harp are no longer marketed together, but Harp is still prominently advertised as being “from the brewers of Guinness.”
Recent controversies have arisen regarding Diageo’s marketing strategies regarding Harp. In Ireland and the UK, a completely new logo has been created and conspicuously absent is the Brian Boru harp that had been the symbol of Harp since its inception in 1960. In North America, however, the Boru harp remains, but the beer’s misleading labeling in the US has been a source of some consternation. In the US, Harp Lager is prominently labeled as an imported beer, and while technically this is true, one needs to read the fine print on the reverse side label to learn that it is not imported from Ireland, but Canada. Harp is brewed in three locations, the third being in Manchester.
Which brings us to the beer, itself. Historically, Harp has always promoted its lager as being “sharp.” Some people would characterize this as crispness; I describe this quality as having “bite.” No matter the nomenclature, some have questioned the “sharpness” of today’s Harp. For me, I was satisfied with Harp’s characteristic “bite.” I was also able to get a pleasant looking frothy head on top a nicely golden beer which created some very nice lacing all the way to the bottom of the glass. In regards to the beer’s ingredients, Harp Lager does not have its own website, and the Diageo site is not at all forthcoming. That said, I’m tasting a straightforward full-bodied beer without any adjunct ingredients like rice or corn. Also, there is no hint of fruit, just a straightforward beer. I’m not getting any of the floral quality that one usually gets from Noble hops. In regards to alcohol, Harp sits on the strong side of the scale, measuring 5% (ABV). For a pale lager, Harp has an unusually heavy taste, so it stands in stark contrast to a Bohemian style pale lager, such as Pilsner Urquell.
In regards to food, because of its heavy northern European quality, I would recommend Harp almost exclusively for red meats. A burger, a steak, what have you, maybe some of the meatier American Southwest dishes. I would dissuade anyone from drinking Harp with a pasta, pizza, poultry or fish meal. The beer would simply overwhelm the food.