Examples of Irish Red Ale
Spearhead Brewing Co. in the old Loyalist town of Kingston, Ontario is a standard-bearer for all that is best in craft brewing. Its CEO Josh Hayter, whom I have met, is as committed as they come. Heading their brewing team is Czech-trained veteran Tomas Schmidt, styled Brewmaster while Jacob Schmidt is the Head Brewer.
That they love hops, as evidently Josh and the team, is made clear in their recent Amber of the North, an Irish red type. The terms “Amber” and “British red ale” appear on the label and really this could be a British pale ale or English bitter style too.
The Cashmere hop provides an insistent skein of bitterness on a malty caramelized base. You can read more about Cashmere at Yakima Chief in this link, but as used by Spearhead there is no evident citric or tropical effect, no grapefruit either despite the Cascade lineage.
I suspect the Cashmere was used here more for bitterness than aroma or flavour, which would accentuate the steely alpha note. The effect therefore is as in many British beers where an emphatic but neutral bitter plays off a malty base.
Numerous malts are used, so is roasted barley, perhaps a trademark of “Irish red” if trademark there be. Malty sweetness abounds but the hops have more of a say as the beer goes down.
The beer drinks cold to perfection, vs. some actual Irish and British ale that benefit from a warmer serving temperature due to a lower hop rate. Generally too these offshore beers are lower in gravity, which suits a lower hop profile.
Even most craft fans want beer cold here and fizzy too, which means hops and malt accents need gain so to speak to ensure the right palate impact.
Here is an actual Irish Red Ale, from Carlow Brewing in Carlow, Ireland, a long-established craft brewer in the Emerald Isle:
It too is excellent but its gravity is lower than Spearhead’s and a warmer temperature shows the beer to best advantage. A straight cellar temperature – temperature of a cool room – is good.
O’Hara’s Red has a fairly neutral bitterness like the other beer, so again no strong flavours such as woodsy, geranial or tropical fruit. O’Hara’s uses, see its website, Mt. Hood hops in a late addition to the boil. Mt. Hood is a Washington State hop but its German ancestry (Hallertau) prevents any obvious American character.
The malt base is lightly sweet with caramel notes as the Spearhead has, a hallmark of the Red style. O’Hara’s is somewhat darker but both are in the range for Irish red as understood today.
By contrast to both these, the locus classicus for Irish Red, Smithwick’s Ale from the giant Guinness-Diageo, has a woodsy/flowery note of (probably) English Fuggles, or Fuggles + Golding. I like that taste in the Smithwick’s, and would enjoy a craft example that boosts the effect.
The beeriness in general of Smithwick’s is fairly restrained, but its many fans like it that way, evidently.
A good Irish Red tasting would be, in this order, Smithwick’s, O’Hara’s, and Spearhead. Readers can suggest the music and cheese to go with it.