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(“The Luck of the Irish According to John Belushi” can be found on Frequency)

Well, it’s that time again: St. Patrick’s Day. The sons of Ireland are basking in the glow. Though this beer isn’t ready in time, I thought I would mark the occasion by brewing up something in theme all the same.  Most people will celebrate the spread of Christianity throughout Ireland by drinking a stout but I throw caution to the wind and choose an Irish Red.

According to the Oxford Companion to Beer, “Irish Red Ale” is a term rarely heard in Ireland. We, the outsiders, use it to describe a reddish-amber/brown ale that has its roots in Ireland. The malt profile typically has a caramel or toffee-like sweetness that is tempered by a small amount of roast malt providing a dry finish. Hop bitterness is low (17-28 IBU’s) and generally there are no flavor or aroma hops. Ironically, the formerly American-owned Coors were the ones who popularized the name Irish Red Ale in the early 1990s when imports were all the rage and Killian’s Irish Red was one of the top selling specialty beers in the US. The origin of the beer can be found in 1864 County Wexford, Ireland where the Killian family’s Lett’s Brewery produced something originally called “Enniscorthy Ruby Ale.”  In the 1950s, Lett’s closed and the rights to the Killian brand were sold to Pelfourth Brewery in France, who was later bought out by Coors. Shortly thereafter, in 1981, the beer was released as George Killian’s Irish Red Ale. Strangely enough, it’s now marketed as an “authentic” Amber/Irish Lager. Smithwicks is another popular example of the style, though, they refer to their beer simply as “Irish Ale.”

Relatively speaking, there’s not a whole lot out of specific information about the Irish Red as far as ingredients are concerned.  There are example recipes but they’re not all that consistent. For my version, I looked at BeerSmith’s style breakdown, the BJCP guidelines and a handful of half-baked forum posts. After that, I winged it. My main goals are in line with the guidelines: an easy-drinking, clean malty beer with low bitterness (a minimal amount of hop balance).  Malt profile should have notes of toast, toffee, and caramel.  Little to no esters (making fermentation temperature control important).  There should be a slight roastiness contributing to a dry finish. And, of course, the color should be reddish.

Fermentables for 5 gallon batch

  • 7 lbs Marris Otter
  • 3 lbs Munich malt
  • 8 oz. Crystal 80
  • 4.8 oz. Roasted barley

Hops

  • 1.10 oz Fuggle (5.2%) (60 min)

Yeast

  • 1 pkg Irish Ale – White Labs WLP004 with good-sized starter for proper amount of attenuation

Etc.

  • Irish moss tablet (15 min)
  • Yeast nutrient (15 min)

Water: LA to Southeastern Ireland (see edit below)

My OG was 1.053, a couple points down from the target.  Using a swamp cooler, I kept fermentation temperatures between 63-65 degrees.  The last couple days in secondary, I tried to drop it down as much as I could, to around 60 +/-, for any remaining trub to fall out (I have to say, using a hop spider really made for a small amount to begin with, which was handy for a style noted for its clarity). Final gravity reached 1.012, spot on (5.3% ABV).  Ordinarily, I would think the beer wouldn’t be all that dry with that amount but, as others have reviewed with WLP004, the number belies the result – a dry finish is what you get. Yesterday, I bottled the beer with 3.35 oz. of priming sugar for 2.2 atmospheres of carbonation. I think the only mark I missed was color. Going through the tubes, I would’ve probably called it amber; there wasn’t much red to speak of. Maybe it will turn out different in the glass.

I’ll be sure to do a taste test in a couple weeks.

edit: To come up with a water profile, I looked at Martin Brungard’s article in   the November/December 2013 issue of Zymurgy, “Brewing Water Series: Ireland.” He pointed out that “(w)hile hard and alkaline waters are present in many areas of Ireland [as the popular perception goes], the country’s softer and less alkaline waters are the key to its successful brewing history.” County Wexford, the home of the original Ruby Ale (see above) is located along the south eastern coast of Ireland where the ground is mostly made of the relatively inert igneous rock. Little mineralization is added to water flowing over or through it. Los Angeles water is pretty similar to Dublin water, with a higher mineral concentration, so I followed their method of pre-boiling the brewing water to drive off CO2 and cause the calcium carbonate (chalk) to precipitate. The result is not an exact match to the desired profile but is reasonably close for my purposes.

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