Citizens, I’ve had pints (many pints, if we’re being honest) of Caffrey’s and Smithwick’s in front of peaty turf fires an empty pint glass’s throw from the north Atlantic, but this is not going to be about peaty turf fires and Caffrey’s and Smithwick’s and throwing pint glasses. Mostly.
I’m part Irish on both sides – mom’s mom’s family and her grandpa came from Cork City, dad’s from Donegal. I own the entire MacGowan-era Pogues discography (including a sweet live bootleg, but excluding the “Poguetry In Motion” EP and Shane’s early work with the Nipple Erectors). But this has nothing to do with Cork, Donegal, or 1980s Celto-punk. Mostly.
Guinness was my gateway beer and a stylistic and qualitative pole star through my early homebrewing years. But this has nothing to do with qualitative pole stars … maybe something to do with gateway beer.
This is the first March in memory that’s found me without a keg of nitrogenated, homebrewed stout to pour. That was not an accident.
This year I’ve been thinking about Caffrey’s, which I miss, and about the historical Enniscorthy Ruby Ale of Co. Wexford, which elided into a little something called Killian’s Irish Red of Co. Frostbrewed – arguably still ruby, but a lager; and of which, once upon a time in my dissipated youth, I also drank pints (just a couple pints, if we’re being honest) but much farther from the Atlantic.
It’s easy to hate on the end result of what used to (presumably – I wasn’t born) be an authentic example of Irish ale, a holdout from the Victorian era that persevered through a war for independence and two world wars before giving up the ghost (or the license to the name, to be less figurative about it).
But … Irish red lager is here, it’s a best-seller, it’s a fixture in the marketplace and a feature of the landscape, it’s a fact of life, it’s not going anywhere. All we can do is just keep brewing.
Sweeney Astray Irish Red Lager
Target OG: 1.051
- 90% Rahr 2-row
- 4% Weyermann Caramunich II
- 4% Flaked Oats
- 2% Roast Barley
- Single infusion at 152F
- Brewer’s Gold (pellet, 6.5% aa) at 60′ to 25 IBU
- Brewer’s Gold (pellet, 6.5% aa) at 10′ to 5 IBU
- chill to 48F, O2 and pitch with Wyeast 2000 Budvar Lager, free rise to 56-57F over 8-9 days
- crop yeast once TG is reached (1.010 for this batch)
- after 18 days, fine and rack to kegs, crash cool to 35 for a couple weeks, and carbonate
I’ll be honest: this is not what I’ve become accustomed to filling Imperial pints with in the first half of the month of March while listening to the caterwauling and feedback of “Streams of Whiskey: Live in Leysin, 1991” (Kicked out of the Pogues! For substance abuse! How does that even work?) and wondering to myself whether I’ve truly grown responsible enough in the intervening years to not throw an empty pint glass at the house of the neighbor lady who feeds the squirrels. It’s not a dry stout, is what I’m trying to say.
And I have grown responsible enough. And the squirrel she calls Fred was giving me the stinkeye, anyway.
I will say that the toughest part about brewing this “style” is, for a lager nerd, being willing to do it all a little wrong. Noble hops and 100% malt? Hell naw.
It’s real pretty in the glass, with that rusty-iron bloodiness you can only get from roast barley. The Budvar yeast left it nice and clear, even coming out of primary. The body is round and malt-forward as it should be, but the flavors are incongruous somehow – roast barley coffeeness with lagery-smooth cleanness? Candy-apple caramel malt with an Oktoberfest profile? – but not unpleasantly so. The hops, though … God save and keep Brewer’s Gold, they show up here like a cloth-capped bumpkin looking for a fight. They’re rough around the edges, ferally fruity and the quality of their bitterness a touch abrasive. That roughness, layered on top of the lingering sulfur from the yeast, combined with the chunky oat-filled body, plus a borderline-sessionable abv% is exactly the touch of burly and old-school I want for … not throwing pint glasses, turning down the music, and going to bed at a reasonable hour so I can get up for work.