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Beer Reviews

Ard Ri

Upland Brewing Company
Bloomington, IN
USA
http://www.uplandbeer.com/

Style: American Strong Ale
ABV: 9.25%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)


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It’s one thing to procrastinate; it’s another to completely ignore a fine brew …

I hate to say it, but Nigel is guilty of internal beer snobbery. This is an affliction that can affect any Beer Dork, in which certain styles, brewers, or brews are elevated to a comfort level, always seeming to get chosen, while others get overlooked. This can be a micro-phenomenon, one that happens within one’s own beer cellar or fridge. And, to be honest, it’s just flat-out unfair to those overlooked.

That would be the case with Upland’s Ard Ri Imperial Red Ale. Wanting to explore more of Upland last spring, Nigel purchased a six-pack of Ard Ri. It received a seemingly ideal corner location in my storage area, but alas, the corner is not as ideal as once thought. Call it Nigel’s beer purgatory, as any brew relegated to the corner seems to linger forever (just ask my O’so Night Train porter, which is going on a year, and Boulevard’s Single Wide IPA, which is two months and counting). So, on a night in which the snow is flying and the BCS National Championship is on TV, Nigel saw no better time to finally give Ard Ri its proper due.

Ard Ri translates to “high king” in Gaelic. The package actually says The Ard Ri, making it “THE high king,” which is an impressive boast. Upland labels Ard Ri an “imperial red ale,” likely a traditional Irish red ale with all the components taken up a notch or two or ten. As a seasonal ale that comes out around St. Patrick’s Day, Upland may have hit a home run with a rare, unique style and a brew with amped ABV (around 9 percent) just before the drunkest day of the year. Not that the Irish like getting drunk … I’m sure it’s just a coincidence.

From the crack of the bottle cap to the very end, Ard Ri is distinct. However, one thing becomes quickly apparent: this is an American barley wine or strong ale. Call it an imperial red ale, imperial Irish ale, imperial ale for potato lovers … it makes no difference. This is has all the characteristics I’ve come to expect from a barley wine or strong ale, the latter of which I chose to categorize it under.

Ard Ri pours a cloudy, coppery hue with a nominal head of about a half inch that dissolves fairly quickly, leaving a slight creamy lace throughout and some stickiness on the sides of the glass. The translucency comes from major amounts of sediment, as Ard Ri appears to be thick without much carbonation. A decent looking brew in the glass, though not much red in the color for what’s billed as an “imperial red ale.”

The aroma is where you really begin to sense that this isn’t your typical Irish ale, imperial or otherwise. While there is a noticeable earthiness, a biscuity aroma with a touch of peat that is common in Irish ales, there’s far too much sugary malt and alcohol for that style. Irish ales aren’t meant to be overly potent, and rarely are they described as sugary; on the contrary they tend to be on the dry side. Here the sugars dominate, mainly caramel, molasses, and, with the alcohol mixed in, a touch of rum. Believe it or not, there’s even a strong hint of hops. A pleasant aroma, in my opinion, but one that is again reminiscent of an American strong ale.

The flavor backs the aroma, with sugary malt dominating. It’s tongue-curlingly sweet at times, with a thickness that is shocking to anyone expecting an Irish ale. Huge notes of caramel, toffee, and molasses hit the tongue immediately, and are tempered as the beer warms by the warming zing of alcohol. Another unusual characteristic if this were to be considered an Irish ale: a noticeable light fruity zing, both apple and citrus. I couldn’t believe when I read this checked in at 77 IBUs , but the noticeable bite of hops manages to penetrate the thick, sugary malt at times, giving Ard Ri another unique twist. There is a solid earthy profile; some bready malt, a touch of smoked peat, hints of grass … but it’s buried in the background. This has so much in common with American versions of the powerful barley wine or strong ale that I can’t see any way to call it anything but one of those. Full bodied, with a strong bite that is often rough on the palate, particularly as the beer warms, Ard Ri is not a St. Patty’s Day chuggin’ beer; on the contrary, be careful with this behemoth.

While I feel guilty for ignoring Ard Ri for so long, I was nevertheless left feeling a bit empty, as well as a bit confused. It’s not an Irish ale of any sort; it’s an American strong ale. It’s not a spring session brew; it’s a powerful sippin’ beer. Though it may not come as advertised, Ard Ri is still a solid brew. I’m rating it three mugs for the simple fact that there’s too much inconsistency overall, and not enough qualities to make it anything other than slightly above average. Give it a shot should you see it in the coming weeks, but remember to expect the unexpected.

Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on January 21, 2010.
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