Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

March 8, 2007

Beer Diary:

Get Your Irish On With Midwest Craft Beer, But Hold The Beads

A side-by-side comparison of two Irish ales to enjoy this St. Patrick?s Day.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
I hate St. Patrick’s Day.

I’m sure that sounds like blasphemy coming from a hardcore Celt like me, but I have another name for Ireland’s high holiday: Amateur Night. I’d love to celebrate St. Pat’s by having a couple of nice craft brews in a quiet neighborhood bar, but that’s become an unfortunate impossibility these days. Because on St. Patrick’s day, said bar is now filled with drunken dickheads wearing green paper hats and beads.

(OK, so I get the hat thing—you’re supposed to look like a leprechaun, how hifuckinglarious—but what’s with the beads? What the hell do they have to do with Ireland? If you know, please drop me a line, I really need this explained to me.)

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes. Amateurs. The thing that ticks me off the most about St. Patrick’s day is the aforementioned dickheads stumbling around drinking shit beer. To steal a quote from acquaintance and fellow Irish-American Pid Purdy, St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t offend me as an Irishman. It offends me as a drinker. Here these people are, slurring and screaming like idiots, some of whom actually have Irish-sounding names, drinking beer that has less color than the average person’s urine. Maybe that’s why they put green food coloring in it. And there’s no reason to drink that swill—unless you’re an idiot, of course—because nearly every bar in the Midwest carries Guinness. Wanna get your Irish on? That’s about as Irish as it gets.

That being said, I will admit I am not a Guinness fanatic. I like it just fine, but as beers go I find it too dry and a little watery. And, besides, if you’re spending your St. Pat’s here in the Midwest, you’re going to want to drink some locally brewed craft beers, hopefully ones with an Irish cant to them. Two tasty brews that you’re likely to come across are Goose Island’s Kilgubbin Red Ale and Great Lakes’ Conway’s Irish Ale. I highly recommend both of them, and if you want to get a first-hand experience on how two beers can be very different but still belong to the same style, drink them side by side, like I did.

That style I’m talking about is, of course, the Irish ale. These are basically alt beers, with a strong emphasis on maltiness rather than the hop. They tend to be red in color, for reasons apparently lost to the passage of time. Each country develops it’s own style of malting, and Ireland’s, for whatever reason, tended toward redder beers. They’re usually brewed with some roasted malts to give them a little more body and to combat the assault of sweetness. They’ll have a soft, sometimes almost buttery mouthfeel. And they are very, very easy to drink.

The Goose
Goose Island’s Irish ale poured a beautiful ruby color, but with virtually no head. Malty sweetness and roasted barley shared a domination of the nose, with a tiny little hop note buried underneath. True to style, it had a wonderfully soft palate, medium-bodied, bolstered by the firm presence of coffee-like roast malts. According to Goose Island, the Kilgubbin is brewed with a touch of rye, but I have to admit I couldn’t detect it, and would never have guessed it was there if I hadn’t been told. I was caught a bit off guard by how good this beer was, and with its relatively low ABV (4.5%), you should feel free to sit down and drink a few of these while you enjoy the rugby match.

Conway’s Way
Great Lake’s entry poured a little bit lighter than the Kilgubbin, with a thin head that dispersed after only a few seconds. The aroma was one of malt, but not nearly as powerful as the Goose’s, with a hint of fruity esters in the nose. Interesting. The mouthfeel was as soft and smooth as silk, but, again, at the forefront of the sip I detected some rather strong estery flavors. The bottle’s copy talked about the beer’s “notable toasty flavor,” but the roasted malts were decidedly muted. You could, however, detect just a shot of the Conway’s wopping 6.5% ABV, but it didn’t make this tasty beer any harder to drink. The strong presence of esters in the nose and taste was definitely different, but it worked surprisingly well, making this a smooth, wonderfully drinkable beer.

You should give both of these beers a try if you come across them while celebrating St. Pat’s, or any other time, for that matter. Tasting them side-by-side, I was fascinated by how different they were while still falling well within their style guidelines. The Kilgubbin skillfully displayed the style’s toasty, coffee-like notes and powerful malty sweetness, while the Conway’s boasted that silky-smooth, buttery mouthfeel. Throwing esters into your flavor profile can be a risky venture given their volatility, but Great Lakes pulls it off superbly here, and hats off to them.

So go ahead, drink up with these two great beers this March 17th. Watch out for that Great Lakes edition, though, since it’s so smooth you won’t see that relatively high alcohol volume coming until it’s too late. Then again, true Irishmen adore their hangovers like one of their own children. But promise me, no matter how drunk you get, please … don’t wear them damn beads.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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