Friday, 24 February 2012

Cheshire Valley Irish Red Ale

Disclaimer: Damn blogger for making this appear different in publishing than it is formatted to appear in editing!  That is, it won't accept my changes!  Sorry for the odd breaks, etc - I tried to fix them!

Without boring you with particulars of how I managed to taste this before it has arrived on any taps (to my knowledge) let's just say that Paul Dickey, the brewer behind who IS Cheshire Valley Brewing, is as wonderful a human being as he is a brewer - and he's a damn good brewer!

I have truly enjoyed everything I have tasted from Cheshire Valley: the English Mild and Robust Porter are phenomenal, world-class examples of their respective styles, while the Barley Wine, Unfiltered ESB, and the Scottish Pale Ale I have tried (which nearly round out my tasted samples, regulars, and one-offs) are also all very enjoyable at the minimum and noteworthy for certain.  My notes also tell me I have tried an IPA offering - though I can't recall it nor when/where I had it, so I presumably consumed it at, ahem, a drunken social point where I wasn't taking notes as it simply has a (solid) rating (4 out of 5) in my app with no comments!

Furthermore, it is no secret that I am a big fan of a good Irish Red, so when these factors coincided, I anxiously tasted devoured this beer... and it was damn good, slightly reinterpreted from the standard style norms, but nonetheless delicious.

According to Paul, it has the following characteristics, though I will mention afterwards where my perceptions differ slightly:

Aroma:  A dry roast aroma with some caramel malt notes..
Appearance: Ruby red, white-colored head with good head retention.
Flavour: Moderate caramel malt flavor that finishes with a taste of roasted grain, which lends a characteristic dryness to the finish.  
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is medium-light to medium body. Moderately low carbonation.
Overall Impression: An easy drinking pint with a complex and flavourful roasty character.
Vital Statistics: OG:  12.3  P
IBUs:  21 FG: 2 P
SRM: 15 ABV: 5%

I received the above notes after having tasted it myself, and my thoughts echo/differ as noted here:

It indeed has a dry toasty aroma with a slight caramel malt trace, though I would add that there is also a faint nutty/cereal-malt graininess alongside a very, very faint yeasty breadiness that is expressed in an appropriate malt-dominant fashion.  It is very nice on the nose and these latter traits are much less prevalent than the very appropriate toasty-caramel notes which dominate (and are not, themselves, inappropriate!).  These additional hints I gather may simply be personal (insofar as aromas are so varied and widely linked to memory) and are, assuredly, pleasant and nonetheless style appropriate.

As to this beer's appearance, I'd agree that the head has very good head retention (of a fairly porous, thick, yet creamy-ish head), though to me the body seemed a touch browner and slightly less red than described or expected, but it isn't off by much!  Still one fine-lookin' beer!

The flavour is well described with one key difference that I noted: there seems to be a very, very slight drying piney-ness to the finish that seems faintly hoppy.  I didn't mind it, in fact I enjoyed it as it seemed a unique twist on the style (I often enjoy variation), but it seemed a touch drier than the standard style guidelines would suggest.  Perhaps, as Paul suggests, it is simply the roasted grain providing the finish, but as I was not the only one to note faint hops flavours (including others tasting with me and Chris Schryer), I think there is something to this.  It makes for a remarkable balance often lacking in this sweeter style and this is praiseworthy!  Don't get me wrong here, it is not extreme: hop-heads might not even notice it, as it remains only 21 IBU, and don't mistake me as critiquing here since this adds to the greatness of this beer for me (and did for all but one of the folks I tried it with), but if you're a stickler for the no-hops-flavour-in-the-Irish-Red rules, you might notice this slightly.  On the other hand, if you like some ingenuity to your beers, you might praise this as your favourite Irish Red ever!

My notes on the mouthfeel were basically identical to Paul's: I called it "just below medium bodied," and noted the low-ish carbonation, but also said I'd love to try it on nitro tap for that extra creaminess.  (If it shows up on any nitro taps and you see it on one, please tell me where in the comments!)

Overall, this is indeed a delicious and easy-drinking pint.  It, for me, was quite enjoyable, but was also a touch different from my expectations.  This is something I both admire (for it was still excellent and since it allows for growth in our beer culture) and which at times slightly detracts for me.  How so?  When I try a beer from a style I don't often enjoy, the variation can make me find a greater appreciation, but when I love the style (as I do an Irish Red) I come with expectations - high expectations like those I share for Cheshire Valley beers.  Despite enjoying the variation, this ever-so-slight divergence from expectations oddly both increased and decreased my appreciation at the same time (for different reasons) and it could do either for you. Thus, my pros and cons were for the same factors and negated each other, such that I arrive at a final Grade: A-

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