Monthly Archives: October 2010

Deathmatch 10/21: Scottish 80/- vs. Irish Red

This is a tale of two beer styles. Born on different islands in the east Atlantic, the two share enough similarities to be grouped in the same category in the BJCP Style Guidelines, yet are two different birds. In one corner (to keep the metaphor rolling), O’Hara’s Irish Red; in the other, the Scottish 80/- (shilling): Fearless Scottish Ale. . . wait, who the Fraoch%&$ is that???

Fearless is a brewpub located southeast of Portland in Estacada. Their beer list, surprisingly, has only one IPA. They claim to use magic derived from the Clackamas River in their brews, so I’m not sure we can trust these guys. This is a new arrival at the Bier Stein, so I figured I’d give it a try. When I got home, I saw the O’Hara’s sitting on the top shelf of the fridge and knew there was about to be a serious throwdown. It is game day, after all.

After digging in the garden, preparing beds for shallots, leeks, and a jerry-rig winter hoop house, I decided to quit and judge some beers. LET’S. ROCK. Get your game face on, ’cause Bob Costas doesn’t like blank stares.

I started out with the Fearless. It comes in a pint can for around $3. I’m not afraid of cans, and neither should you be. The Scottish pours a crystal clear amber color with a large, off-white, fizzy head that sticks around longer than you’d think– this ain’t no malt soda. Nor is it a Pacific Northwest version of a Scottish ale. Malty, bready, toasty aromas greet my nose like being stabbed by one of the horns on the Fearless logo’s Scottish clansman’s headgear. Its rich melanoidin, caramelly goodness is accented with a Bob Ross brushstroke of earthy peat– enough to let you know it’s there without shouting “you’re sniffing dirt!” Hop aroma is way backstage, lending a tinge of fruitiness to the team (every team should have some). Much like the aroma, the flavor packs a fullness without being too sweet for its style; this is impressive given the brewery’s specs: 1.018 final gravity, which would leave any IPA with a cloying, saccharine feeling in your mouth. This may be too much for a hop-head, but I appreciate this beer for two things: its balance and its balls. I’ll back that up: malty beers have a bad rep in these parts, what with the region growing most of the world’s hop supply and all, but a beer like this that showcases different malt characteristics than your typical lager is nothing to snort at. Also, I love breweries that do more than hop-bombs in all fashions; hoppy lagers, hoppy Belgians, hoppy sours, quadruple hoppy IPAs are in every DariMart. A good old-fashioned Scottish Export 80/- is nearly impossible to find outside of its motherland. It takes some balls to brew it so close to the hoppy hub of Portland. It takes even more to can it, a process that many beer lovers are still loathe to accept. Fearless’ beer did not taste like a can! It was great, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to check out a fresh example of the style.

Now. O’Hara’s Irish Red. Just below the Scottish 80/- on the BJCP thing you find Irish Red. How could this be? It’s not even from the same country! Now when some of us hear Irish Red, we think of Killians Irish Red, the college-level Irish red. That is, cheap and cold– too cold to appreciate. O’Hara’s is a bit more refined, and does not appear to be owned by a large conglomerate. It is, in fact, a prime example of the style. And it comes in a bottle, which may have given it an unfair advantage in this deathmatch except that it did not come in a pint-sized bottle. 11.2 oz, folks. Really? Yes.

The O’Hara’s doesn’t pour quite red. But frankly, I don’t give a damn. Red is hard to achieve, and light brown with hints of ruby will do just fine for the discerning eye. Toffee and toast, sweet cream butter and a kernel of corn greet the nose cleanly and without gusto, much like a good light lager: refined, yet unobtrusive. But these are wine words. This beer, this style, is kind of boring. It’s not bad. It’s actually quite pleasant. On the malty side, slightly toasty with moderate bitterness, this is a beer I could drink all day without batting an eye or waking up pre-dawn with the cranial sponginess of a late-evening Flanders red binge. No, this beer is clean an easy, like a good… moving on.

New in Bottles: Great Divide Hibernation

Today started out with a dream in which I became a detective trying to solve the murder of a woman. After singling out her friends and relatives and always coming up with a solid alibi, I discovered a secret room behind a large staircase in the barn-like garage of her lesbian lover’s house. Something in this room revealed that it was in fact the lover, who had been escorting me around throughout the dream, who had murdered the woman. I managed to secret a glass knife from a nearby table in case of an attack which I soon experienced, overcame, and then woke up. It’s not often I remember completing a dream, much less waking up with a feeling of success, so the day started out alright.

Work at the Stein went smoothly, helping some of the folks coming in for the game (UO/Stanford) find something to oil their vocal cords for the big match (i.e. Ducks fans shouting “tim-BERRRR” as the Cardinals (with their tree mascot) succumb to Phil Knight’s mighty stadium). I love to drink before events like that, but one woman chose, after rejecting Adriaan, a Dutch gruit beer that contains a blend of herbs instead of hops, the Dogfish Head Raison d’Extra, the proportionately doubled uncle of Raison d’Etre. At 18% and $9 per bottle, I wondered what sort of party she was going to. I decided to walk out with two bottles: Chimay White and the winter release (even though it’s barely autumn) from Great Divide, an Old Ale called Hibernation.

This is a pretty young beer; bottle date is 9/2/10. I think the fad of checking the “skunk date” only applies to lighter beer, but this could be a reverse situation: a beer that’s too fresh! Old Ales are, by the books, aged for a while, so perhaps I’m not giving this beer a fair shake by drinking it before winter… but then why don’t they release it when it’s actually winter? Seems Hallmark has set the bar for advance holiday cheer, what with Jubelale and Winterfish already on shelves as well. Anyhow, my impressions:

Aroma: Malty with a red/green apple note (acetaldehyde?) hit right away. After that, there are some light sugary aromas and a pineappley sort of hop aroma that lends a twang. Very little alcohol aroma, no diacetyl or other specific off-flavors.

Appearance: Clear, brownish-red. Eggnog colored fluffy head settles down rather quickly.

Flavor: A fruity, malty mouthful balanced by moderate bitterness. Again, the apple flavor rides along. Very little alcohol heat. Does not have the desserty flavors I want from an Old Ale.

Mouthfeel: Medium body; seems well attenuated for style. Slight cloying on the back of my cheeks, but the bitterness balances the sweetness well. Moderately carbonated.

When judging flights, the first beer is the most aggravating because it’s either good or bad, and that can (but shouldn’t) set the tenor for the rest of the beers. In this case, I’d be excited to try the rest in hopes that my face would turn bright red after tasting one with bunches of dark, caramelized fruit and Portly boozy notes. The Hibernation seems too young; its apples haven’t wilted and dried on the branch in an Indian summer. Interesting: this beer is listed as a commercial example of an Old Ale in the BJCP guidelines, and lies at the upper end of the alcohol content spectrum for the style. The description says it’s aged for three months before bottling. It does go very well with the ginger/rosemary cookies my neighbors gave me in exchange for eggs.

So what now? My personal rating gave it a pretty mediocre score. We have to take into account that I’m not extremely familiar with the Old Ale style, though I’m a fan of what I have had, both commercial and homebrewed varieties. I think I was expecting more of a barleywine. It could also be that there’s dust in the air since I just vacuumed my house, and my nose isn’t “on.” It did go remarkably well with those cookies, and the bottle suggests a pairing with Dutch cow cheese, tenderloin, or (aha!) apple crisp with ginger ice cream. Obviously they know what they’re getting into with this beer, and I’m just being a hater, right?

So try a bottle, have some beef or dessert with it, and see if it’s your thing. Old Ales don’t come around very often, and, as with many British styles that aren’t hoppy-mc-hop-bombs, are overlooked by the general public (again, not a hater, just an observer).