Let’s get this out-of-the-way up front. I do not like the very vast majority red ales I’ve tried. I don’t know why I keep trying them when I know they’ll let me down. Red ale is the single dullest beer style there has ever been bar none. To be clear — Red Ale is as dull as stale piss-filled dishwater. That’s just my humble opinion for what it’s worth (precisely nothing because opinions are worthless). So why did a 4% red ale get my attention & did I enjoy it?
Sullivan’s brewing from first glance at its branding is ultra twee. It’s not evocative. It’s not exciting. In fact, past me would have said it’s bland, characterless, ill-conceived, boring AF & far too retro for even the most ardent pro-retro hipster. (NOTE: if you’re from Sullivan’s Brewing reading this – please read on, trust me I’m not beating the ever-loving heck out of you Mortal Kombat style). And, you won’t find it in a can. Or in a bottle. Well, okay – you could in a growler which is how I experienced it first at this year’s AllTech Craft Brews & Food Fair.
This is where I break out of my usual blistering frankness people have come to (in)famously know me for. I shall use a phrase I hope you’re all seated, buckled in & holding on for dear life for to read:
Never judge a beer by its branding before you've tasted it.
I know. I wrote that. You just read it. The world is ending. We’re doomed. Actually, it’s not. You’re safe to come out of (or stay in if you so wish) your pillow fort with your smart phone lighting it & your bottle of cough medicine. I learned my lesson with this the very VERY hard way many years ago when someone first put Kinsale Pale Ale in front of me in its original packaging.
I instantly dismissed it as ‘pathetic’. I was then told in short order to ‘put my motherf*&kin money where my fat mouth was’ if I was so sure it was bad. I stuck twenty lid on the table, & was instantly a score down. It was utterly beautiful. I fell in love with it. I to this day LOVE that beer. And no, Sam Black didn’t pay/bribe/threaten me to say that. I love his Kinsale Pale Ale.
I am usually the first to say that when you’re putting beer on shelves in retail, if the branding isn’t as good as the beer inside (or vice versa), you’re sunk before you’ve started. Newcomers to craft beer will buy with their eyes. Self-professed-beer-wankpheasants like myself will pick up a bottle, have a gander, possibly whip out the iPhone (or Samsung Galaxy if you’re one of those hipsters who loves having their phones set your parts on fire – #SorryNotSorry) & insta-google-tweet check about a beer brand we’ve not heard of, or perhaps just stick it in the basket to take to the till under the ‘why-the-heck-not-devil-may-care‘ mood.
Yes, this is going somewhere. I promise. Sullivans if I saw it on a pump clip in a pub in the past I’d not bother my arse ordering or even asking to try. That dear reader is where I believe a massive error would be made. Not trying their Maltings Red Ale if its on tap would be borderline ignorance. It’s easy to also dismiss it’s 4% ABV. But again, that would be ignorance.
This beer pours a ruby red that would make Dorothy’s slippers seem dull & boring. I’ve seen alot of red ales. Their ‘ruby’ colour is dull, un-enticing & equally matches the dullness of any possible whiff of enjoyment they could promise even with the most decadent & outrageous branding, salacious marketing & anti-establishment rebellion rabble. The ruby hue on this beer is simply absolutely fucking glorious.
The head is a perfect white head I’d want on a red ale if I imagined a perfect one in my mind. The carbonation on it is spirited without being akin to TK red lemonade. Again, one of my biggest issues with so many red ales is they are either woefully under or stupidly over carbonated & as a result any enjoyment is neutered immediately.
The first taste is smooth. And I mean smooth. I’m talking Ron Burgundy smooth. Without sounding like a love-sick teenager about it, it is a wonderful malty experience that isn’t chewy, or overloaded on caramel notes. It’s dare I say, refreshing.
The body on the beer is beyond what you’d expect from a 4% ABV beer. The bitterness of it is enjoyable, and has a smooth ride that given my usual proclivity for death-defying hop rides, I found to be insanely pleasant. And again, refreshing. And I mean 1980’s childhood red-lemonade-in-a-glass-bottle-with-a-bottlecap-you-got-in-pubs-as-a-kid-with-your-pub-crisps refreshing (I think I broke a hyphenation law or seven there – apologies for language purists if you’ve started gouging out your own eyes).
In short, IF you see this on tap. For the love of god, get a pint of it. It’s so worth trying. It’s truly enjoyable, & goes a long way to addressing the stereotypical ‘red-ales-are-shit’ typecast.