When most people think of the St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish or Ireland, chances are they are picturing Guinness … Riverdance … corned beef and cabbage … shamrocks. Although these are all terrific aspects of Irish culture, there is still one very important thing missing!
Irish Red Ale – one of the most over-looked beers in the craft beer world. Even on St. Patrick’s Day, when it is readily available at most pubs and craft beer bars or breweries, most people still tend to lean towards the Irish Stouts being offered.
Now, don’t get me wrong, stouts are by far one of my favorite styles of beer; however, Irish Red Ales, with their malty caramel notes, hints of toffee and smooth, moderately-hopped body are delicious! These ales have a firm root in Gaelic history and although they don’t get much hype, they have been brewed, consumed and appreciated for centuries.
Irish Red Ales have been alluded to in poems dated back to the 9th century. There are stories of ancient kings feasting all day and consuming old ales, with a reddish color, until they fall asleep. Smithwick’s (commonly seen on tap at most Irish pubs) has been brewed since the early 18th century, near Kilkenny, in Ireland.
These Red Ales are reddish or amber in color with a solid, malty sweetness and hints of roasted grain. They are not typically hoppy beers, but sometimes a slight hop bitterness can be perceived, depending on the brewery. Overall, Irish Red Ales are smooth drinking beers that don’t usually rise above 6%. They are the perfect drink when celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (which tends to last much longer than is ever really necessary).
Having worked in Irish pubs for more than six years, I became accustomed to the Irish culture. The food, drink and people, in general, are heart-warming and pleasant. There is something special about the feeling you get when you walk into an Irish pub, with its dimmed lights and traditional folk music playing softly in the background, sit at the bar and get to enjoy a pint of Irish Red Ale and a corned beef sandwich or Cottage Pie.
What’s more is this beer-style is so perfect with many varieties of food, not just Irish fare. Due to its slight sweetness and low hop bitterness, you can pair this style with barbecue, any grilled meats — burgers, chicken, or seafood.
Spicy foods, such as Thai, Indian or Chinese will also pair nicely with Irish Red Ales. The spicy qualities are moderated by the sweet malt and roasted grain of the beer.
And on St. Patrick’s Day, while you are donning your green attire and indulging in the traditional Irish fare of corned beef and cabbage — be sure to order an Irish Red Ale. The caramel sweetness will do wonders paired with the saltiness of the corned beef.
I noted Smithwick’s earlier, which originated at one of the oldest established breweries in Ireland. This Irish Red Ale can be found at most Irish pubs. So if you choose to brave the enthusiastic crowds at a traditional pub this St. Patty’s Day, be sure to give this brew a try!
If you decide to spend your day at a local brewery, ask to see if they’ve brewed an Irish Red. Chances are pretty high for this holiday’s festivities and these are by far my favorite versions of the old Irish Red Ale. Craft beer that is made in-house hasn’t been preserved and is enjoyed by its brewer — is the best kind!
If you decide to stay home, celebrate with a smaller crowd, then check your local beer depot for these breweries’ Red Ales: Great Lakes Brewing Co. “Conway’s Irish Ale” or Harpoon Brewery’s Celtic Ale. Again, this is one of those styles that it often over looked and usually brewed for the winter months, so it may be more difficult to find a wide variety of the Irish Red Ales.
However you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and with whichever style of Irish Red, be sure to pair it with delicious food and good company. Enjoy the festivities and show your appreciation of Irish culture, one tasty Red Ale at a time! Slàinte!
Debbie Duke is a Product Group Manager at LRP Publications. In addition, she has extensive experience in researching and sharing knowledge of all beer varieties, their origins and their adaptations over centuries and across continents. Her familiarity with wine comes from past experiences managing wine bars and compiling wine lists, Old World and New. Contact