This week in beer we go back to Cleveland, Ohio, for a look at one of the nation’s pioneering craft beer companies and its seasonal offering — Great Lakes Brewing’s Conway’s Irish Ale.
Although the Irish Red Ale is not as ubiquitous as it once was, like many of the more subtle styles that historically excited the beer world, there are still some nice ones brewed on this side of the Atlantic ... and dare I say better than some of the mass-produced liquid from abroad. And, despite the dearth of availability, there is still a significant demand for the style, even if it seems to peak for a short period in March.
According to Great Lakes Brewing, the Irish Red Ale was first popularized by the G.H. Lett Brewery of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland.
This smooth ale with light biscuity aroma and medium body tends to showcase subtly sweet malt notes of caramel and toffee while exhibiting low bitterness and low alcohol.
You should not have much trouble finding yourself a Smithwick’s, or Kilkenny at your local beer store, but in the absence of some of Ireland’s smaller, tastier craft beer offerings — which are probably unlikely to be found at said store — Great Lake’s Conway’s is certainly among your best options this season.
Conway’s Ale is a tribute to the two owners’ grandfather — the beer label shows clips of his actual immigration papers from 1903 when he came over from Ireland — whose police beat was once in the neighborhood that their brewery now stands in.
It is also a tribute to Ohio’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Cleveland.
At 6.1 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and just 25 International Bitterness Units (IBUs) this malt-forward, near session ale, is a welcome addition to the seasonal beer scene.
Brewed with Harrington 2-Row and Crystal 77 malts, plus Northern Brewer, Mt Hood and Williamette hops this beer presents toasty biscuit and caramel malt flavors. It also will pair nicely with the hearty stews and corned beef of the season as malt cuts through the thickness of such delicious but fatty dishes.
While Conway’s Irish Ale might not technically be a session ale — most guidelines putting a session beer at 5 percent ABV or less — in a beer landscape currently dominated by strong, hoppy beers that typically hover at 7.5 percent ABV or more, this Irish Red will keep your festivities a bit more in check ... but in the most refreshingly, malty way.
This week’s recommendation: Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Ale, an Irish Red Ale with malt-forward flavors of biscuit and caramel. 6.1 percent ABV. Cleveland, Ohio.
-- Colin Hubbell is co-owner of the Green Onion Pub and The Beer Hub in South Utica, New York.