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.