Is it okay to like red ale again?

Another round: The beer nuts might look down on red ale, but it has much to offer

I was part of several generations of Irish men for whom a pint of Smithwick’s was their first real introduction to alcohol. It wasn’t dry and burnt like stout, or bitter and acidic like lager. It was soft and gentle with easy rounded flavours. You could actually drink and enjoy it. With time, most graduated to Guinness, Murphy’s or Beamish, depending on your geographical location, or moved over to lager, which seemed more modern, foreign and exotic, and rarely returned again to red ale.

If you headed to the US or France for the summer, locals mentioned Killian’s Irish Red, which, although originally brewed by the Lett family in Enniscorthy, was now produced by Coors in the US and Pelforth in France. Nobody in Ireland had ever heard of it.

“Go on, try it. It is nice!” the guy in the shop said to me. And it was. I bought a bottle of Porterhouse Red Irish Ale and enjoyed it lightly chilled on a sunny evening. It didn’t have the hoppy bite of an IPA, nor the dry toasted flavours of a stout, offering instead a light fruitiness, a malty sweetness and light caramel on the finish. The red apparently comes from the addition of a small amount of barley. Brewers add varying amounts and varieties of hop to dial up or down the bitterness.

I suspect most beer nuts look down on red ale, although many craft brewers produce one. O’Hara’s has a pleasant version, the Wicklow Wolf Sorachi Irish Red is a little hoppier than most, and Lidl offers one from the Craft Brewing Company. Smithwick’s, now owned by Diageo, has been revived, and now sells a pale ale and blond ale alongside the original red. You can also visit the Smithwick’s Experience in Kilkenny.