It's a style that is quintessentially ours, yet is recently evolved from a foreign progenitor. It has been a mainstay of dumbed-down Irish macrobeer for decades, yet has seen a revival at the hands of newer craft breweries. Just what is the story with Irish Red Ale?
Late last year, a small group of us gathered in the Dublin pub with the best selection of reds, plus one British keg bitter, to find out via blind tasting if the microbreweries really are doing a better job, and if the Irish Sea really does mark the boundary of the style.
The post-mortem of the first Kit/Extract/All-Grain blind comparison decided that the brewer's proficiency with the various methods was affecting the outcome. It was therefore decided that for round 2 there would be three different brewers working to roughly the same recipe, each with a track record of successfully producing good beer via a particular brewing method. The result would be three beers in the same style made under optimum conditions with only the respective merits of their method of production to set them apart, thereby allowing the method itself to be judged, not merely the beer.
Since there was an old Brupaks Black Moor Stout kit to hand, stout was the chosen style for the test. The presumed poor condition of the unmade kit would serve to highlight one of the issues faced by kit beers: low turnover of stock and resulting oxidised off-flavours. As the kit expert, IrishPartyAle agreed to make this up, to an OG of 1.043. I made a similarly simple dry stout using dry malt extract, OG 1.043, and sbillings produced an all-grain version at 1.041.
The names IV, V and VI were assigned at random, and the tasting panel assembled on 28th July to try the beers blind.
But, as I said, all did not go according to plan.
Experiment: To compare the flavour profiles generated from different brewing methods
The premise for this experiment is to investigate the link between how beers rate in flavour when produced in three different methods
a) Kit beer, where hopped liquid extract is fermented (brewing by numbers)
b) Extract beer, where Dried Malt Extract (DME) is boiled with hops and then fermented (brewing with the training wheels on)
c) All-Grain beer, where malt is extracted from grain, before being boiled with hops and fermented ("proper" brewing).
Which method of making beer produces the highest rated beer in a blind taste test?
TheBeerNut scuttles past me whispering 'cops' and I'm 16 again, hanging round with my mates in a world where having a beer is an adventure. I was just about to open the first bottle for an al fresco taste test when the guy who minds the park came in to close for the evening. I hastily closed up the bag and scurried off. Why were a bunch of adults being chased around the parks of Dublin? I should probably explain the original post that started this all.
Flushed with success from our first meeting in Connaught we spent some time talking to the nice people in The Oslo about a tour of the brewing operation and a chance to meet the brewer. It wasn’t long before they put us in contact with John Smits their brewer and we settled on a date. Initial expectations were for a group of about 10 to 12 and we thought that would be on the optimistic side. However, with a little help from our friends at Home Brew West, the numbers soon swelled to over 20 and we began to panic. A quick call to John dispelled all fears as we hatched a plan for a number of smaller tours to help with the numbers.