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Unfashionable red ales are a real treat

Wednesday, 22nd January, 2020 4:39pm

Let’s talk red ales – I have loved them since the first time I tried a deep dark red in the depths of the English countryside many moons ago. Since then, I have tried many versions and I am always surprised how different the flavour profiles can be. Red ale seems to have been around in Ireland since the early ages, as a poem from the 8th century mentions red ale:

Ale is drunk around Loch Cuain
It is drunk out of deep horns
In Magh Inis by the Ultonians
Where laughter rises to loud exultation
The Saxon ale of bitterness
Is drunk with pleasure about Inber in Rig
About the land of the Cruithni about Gergin
Red ales, like wine, are freely drink

Based on the poem, one could assume that red ales are an Irish invention and not to be confused with amber ales which use American hops. Beer expert Judy Wilkins says American hops results in a more bitter profile than Irish red ale.

On my recent visit to Berlin, Mr T and I went to an Irish pub that I used to visit quite a lot when I lived there and saw that they had Murphy’s red ale on tap.

I was intrigued and ordered a pint – having in mind the beautiful rich red ales Rebel Red of Franciscan Well and Redemption of Rising Sons Brewery.

Oh, I was so disappointed – first the lack of life in the beer, there was nothing, flat as a pancake. And the flavour wasn’t mind-blowing either. You would wonder why anyone would bother creating the beer.

I then thought, okay, Guinness doesn’t travel well, maybe the same can be said for Murphy’s. So when I visited the bar in the Midleton Park Hotel a few days ago and saw that they had the same red ale on tap, I asked the barman for a taster… and was as disappointed as before - still a lifeless and soulless beer. The barman told me that it was selling well and I really wonder why. Anyway, red ale is made by using specially roasted malts, giving the finished beer a slightly sweeter flavour with some even displaying delicate butterscotch notes.

I prefer red ales to lagers as it gives me more excitement with deeper and complex profiles but not every red ale is the same.

Just take two Cork-made red ales, Redemption by Rising Sons Brewery and Rebel Red by Franciscan Well – both are amazing and deserve all the awards they have scooped up over the years but commercially made ones like Murphy’s Red or Smithwickss leave you a bit defeated.

One of the local pubs in Blarney offers Smithwicks and due to the lack of craft beers in that particular pub, I sometimes order Smithwicks and if you add a generous shot of raspberry cordial to it, doesn’t taste half bad.

The wonderful craft red ales don’t need any help to create flavours, they are made with love and care. For some reason, red ales are not as fashionable as IPAs or lagers are and I wonder if that is due to people only trying the commercially made version and based on the low flavour profile returned to lagers.

Here’s to getting a red ale rebellion going – next time you go to a pub, check if they have a craft red ale. Give it a try and let me know what you thought!

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