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Irish Red Ales have become more popular in the United States than in their home country, where stouts and porters reign supreme. But the style didn't gain traction in the US until the mid-80s, when Coors bought the brand name Killian's Irish Red and began marketing it in the States. Of course, craft brewers have taken the style a long way since then, so you shouldn't judge the category by those "fond" memories of drinking Killian's on a porch in college when the thought of Natural Light made you sick (was it just me?)
Today's Irish Red Ales can be amber or dark red, with a light malt aroma, medium-rich body, and flavors of roasted barley and caramel. Hops additions are traditionally light-handed in these brews, offering just enough to complement the carmel sweetness from the malt bill, though of course some hop-loving brewers play with amplifying the hop flavors. Creating a balanced Irish Red is a true test for brewers: mistakes have little room to hide. These ales would be a great addition to any St. Patty's Day party—just don't try to add green food coloring.
Boulevard Irish Ale
This Kansas City, Missouri-made ale pours a beautiful dark red with a thick off-white head. Unlike many Irish reds on the market, Boulevard chose to bottle condition this brew, allowing for pleasing carbonation and further flavor maturation from bottling date to time of consumption. The scent is mellow, with hints of biscuity malt and floral hops. This beer is incredibly balanced, starting sweet with caramel malt and a light bitterness from another wave of floral hops. The true beauty of this beer is how unified its flavors are, even though six pale and roasted malts and five hop varieties that have to play nice. The finish is dry with lingering pale malt flavors. A truly well-made red ale worth seeking out.
Lone Tree Acres O' Green Irish Red
Lone Tree Brewing Company in Lone Tree, Colorado just began bottling their core lineup of beers a few months back and we're pleased that this was one of them. Dark amber and medium-bodied Acres O' Green offers an aroma rich in caramel, cereal grains, and a subtle peaty smokiness. The flavor swirls with coffee and toffee, with hints of spicy yeast and earthy hops. Though this beer finishes a little sweet, we quickly polished off the bomber of this 6.0% ABV ale.
Casco Bay Riptide Red
We'd heard great things about this Maine-brewed Irish Red, and were excited to give this beer a try. It pours a stunning dark red with a thick, tight white head. The aroma was a bit more pronounced than the other beers we sampled, all roasted grain and citrusy hops. The beer is malt forward with lots of caramel and toffee and a light earthy bitterness. The hops showed their face again in the finish, as each sip of Riptide concludes with a dry hoppiness. After trying Riptide Red Ale, it's easy to see why this is Casco Bay's flagship beer!
Of course, there are many other great examples of the style, including Three Floyds Brian Boru, Great Lakes Conway's Irish Ale, Alpine McIlhenney's Irish Red, and Goose Island Kilgubbin Red Ale. Do you have a favorite you'll be drinking this weekend? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author: Sean Buchan covers the Denver craft beer scene for Denver off the Wagon in addition to doing freelance photography for Colorado breweries. You can also view his beer photography on his blog, Beertographer, here.
Samples were provided for review consideration from Boulevard Brewing Company and Casco Bay Brewing Company.