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  • Irish Ales Are Smiling

    Another St. Paddy’s Day has passed us by. The local drinking establishments saw the annual surge of drunken revellers dressed as leprechauns, and green beer flowed like water for the entire day.

    Most of us know Saint Patrick’s Day as that one day of the year we wear green, drink to excess, and say things like “Kiss me, I’m Irish”. I was guilty of all of these transgressions in the days of my squandered youth, but have dialled back the debauchery a little bit each year, as the ravages of time make the day after a bender of Irish proportions more difficult to shake off.

    Guinness is without a doubt the most recognizable Irish beer, and is a fine example of an Irish Dry Stout, with a dark finish and aromas of toasted coffee. As a resolute beer snob, I have made the pilgrimage to Dublin to nuzzle the black stuff directly from the brass teats at the centuries-old Guinness brewery, and would recommend the trip to any beer fan.

    Tragically, many beer drinkers have the idea that Irish beer begins and ends with Guinness, so miss out on the fine other brews from the Emerald Isle.

    Made in the same style as Guinness, Murphy’s Irish Stout and Beamish Stout round out the holy trinity of the sterling examples of Irish Stout. Murphy’s is lighter and sweeter, with barely a hint of carbonation, while Beamish has a buttery flavour with a pepper finish.

    Interestingly, Murphy’s was acquired by Heineken in 1983, and Beamish was also acquired by Heineken in 2008. A bit odd that a Dutch brewing company ends up owning two of the oldest breweries in Ireland, but the beer industry does make for strange bedfellows.

    For those in the audience that don’t particularly enjoy Stout, Ireland does produce a few easy-to-drink lagers as well. Harp Lager is probably the best known, and being owned by Guinness probably doesn’t hurt either.

    Harp is a clean and crisp lager, first brewed in the 1960’s when pale lagers started to gain popularity in the UK. It’s an excellent session beer for drinking all evening, and I personally enjoy it with spicy foods.

    While I have consumed many a Guinness over the years, my favourite style of beer from Ireland is Irish Red Ale, which gets its name from the use of a small amount of roasted barley used in the brewing process. To contrast, a dark Stout like Guinness uses almost exclusively roasted barley, which gives Guinness its dark ruby (almost black) color.

    Smithwick’s is a good example of an Irish Red Ale. Unsurprisingly, they are owned by Guinness, so at least some of their popularity can be attributed to the powerful Guinness marketing and distribution channels.

    Lest you think a trip to Ireland is required to sample an Irish Red Ale, we have many Alberta breweries producing the style right here in our home province.

    Perhaps the most popular Irish Red Ale in Alberta is the Red Rage from Tool Shed Brewing in Calgary, who were the first craft brewery in Alberta to open after the provincial government slashed the red tape required to open a brewery back in 2013. Red Rage is named for the ginger-haired co-founder, as a warning for all to beware the wrath of an angry redhead.

    Unlike its namesake, the Red Rage is not prone to angry outbursts or freakish displays of strength, but does pour nicely into your glass with notes of coffee and toasted bread from the caramelized malts.

    Looking to the southern portion of our fair province, Lethbridge-based Theoretically Brewing makes the Ionic Irish Red Ale, a delightful brew with aromas of roasted chestnuts and just a hint of anise, which nicely complement the toasty sweetness from the caramelized malts.

    My favourite local example is the Dead Ahead Irish Red from Caravel Brewing, located just north of the Calgary airport. With hints of honey and caramel balanced by biscuity notes from the toasted barley, this is my go-to Irish Red, and has won more medals than I can count.

    These brews are widely available across Alberta, so pick up a six-pack at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant, or pay a visit to the brewery tap rooms to sample directly from the source.