16 February 2009

Super Californian listed; Osprey ale atrocious

It should be a bad thing that I can walk along the shelves of Redmond's and name the importers and distributors on a beer-by-beer basis. I mean, there ought to be more people in the game than that. Anyway, I had been talking to Jonathan in the pub back here, and had set out to get hold of some of his new listings, as well as an old favourite or two.

Blue Frog's DIPA had really hit the spot when I sampled it a couple of months ago, but it wasn't in stock so I settled on a bottle of Red Frog Ale. Mostly out of curiosity, I have to say. "Red ale" is one of Ireland's core beer styles. As far as I can tell (mostly from Iorwerth, pp.110-111) it's what you get when you adapt English-style bitter for mass-market kegging and made with the minimum of pricey ingredients. You end up with something relatively thin, low in alcohol and brimming with crystal malt sweetness, because, y'know, nobody likes bitter beer. What would one of the world's greatest beer producing regions do with that trainwreck of a style?

Red Frog's body is light, certainly, and there's a crunchy-grainy caramel sweetness to it as well. But there's also hops. Hops of the kick-ass aromatic west coast variety. This is a big-flavoured beer in the way Irish reds aren't -- it reminds me a little of Porterhouse Red, though without the horrid nitro blandification. The taste lingers for ages, filling the palate and nose cavities with all that malt and all those hops. Brilliant stuff.

I hadn't been expecting another Irish-red-a-like quite so soon after, but that's what I thought of Osprey, a pale ale brewed by Wychwood as a Sainsbury's own brand. It pours a deep and hazy red with a smooth foamy head glooping out of the bottle after the beer in a most unattractive way. The aroma is soo-weet: the artificial syrupyness of lurid red ice cream sauce. Texturewise it's quite heavy and sugary, with that strawberry undercurrent in the flavour. In fact, it reminds me a lot of Beamish Red. The texture helps with the simulation. It's odd: now that Beamish Red has been delisted by new owners Heineken and, like their other Irish ale possession Murphy's Red, will be produced at foreign breweries only, I think I'll probably miss it. It was, I guess, the best of a very bad lot as mainstream Irish beer goes and it was always a delight to see the Beamish Red tap in the handful of Dublin pubs which sold it, including the one nearest my front door. But the same basic flavour profile in an English ale leaves me very disappointed.


  1. Is red ale predominantly an Irish style? I don't really know that much about it. The Red Frog sounds damn good!

  2. The only formally-identified non-Irish red ale style I think of is Flemish. And this ain't that.

    Michael Jackson was the first person to identify a style called "Irish red", back in the mid-'70s. Today we have Smithwick's, Macardle's, Kilkenny, PH Red, Rusty, Rebel Red and O'Hara's Red representing the style, with all sorts of Oirish reds made abroad, like Caffrey's and GK Wexford Cream Ale.

  3. Best. Title. Ever.

  4. Laurent Mousson4:17 pm

    Well, Irish Reds could possibly also be seen as an Irish avatar of Scottish 80/-, and vice-versa... ;o)
    [Ducks under the table]

    Yet bland industrial versions (such as Netherlands-brewed Murphys Irish Red in bottled form) mostly tend to taste extremely similar to bland industrial German Altbiers (Hannen, Gatz, Diebels and the like...) : gassy, metallic, sweetish and underhopped.

  5. Yes: I can see the similarity with Scottish keg beers like Tennant's and McEwan's 80/-, though it's many years since I had either. I think taking proper ale and making it cheaply on a large scale is the common denominator.

    I've little doubt but that they do silly things with the basic recipe abroad. Killian's Red, for instance, isn't even an ale.

  6. Porterhouse Red has slipped somewhat. I had my first pint in quite a while the other week and it lacked the richness I recall. It could just be of course, and more than likely is, but I find most red ales very unsatisfying. This Red Frog looks worth a punt, but I suppose it isn't a red ale in the Irish sense at all. It seems to be flavourful beer that just happens to be red.

  7. Yeah, that's about the height of it, and it's definitely worth buying.

    Funny, I revisited PH Red last week and I see what you mean. After being outraged by the hoppiness last year, it seemed to be really quite smooth and bland this time round. What was worse was I had been after Hooker, but they were out, and I picked this as a substitute. It really didn't do the job I needed done at all.

  8. Don't forget Guinness Red!

  9. I didn't, but I don't think it counts as an Irish red as there's nary a trace of crystal malt to be found in it. It's a thin stout made with slightly-less-roasted barley, according to Diageo's own marketing.

    And even though it's made here, it's only sold in Great Britain.

  10. sorry - i knows it been said but great title. Reds are one style i really enjoy but struggle to get a hold of. good work, man.