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St. Patrick’s Day (not-so) Irish Ale

It is St. Patrick’s Day – that day where folks wear green, pinch you if you don’t, work on their fake Irish accents and drink green beer.  While originally the holiday was meant as a feast day to celebrate the story of grace coming to Ireland through St. Patrick, it is most widely known as a time to pack the bars, eat cabbage and celebrate Irish culture.

As far as beer drinkers go, it is usually a showcase of Guinness and green lagers.  Since I find the concept of green beer about as repulsive as dying rivers green (it happens in Chicago, and is frankly, unnerving), I was wondering what to review for this happy day when I spied a green label at the Co-op that also had that delightful little carrot emblem that notifies you of something “local.”  Upon closer inspection, it was a 22 oz. bottle of an Irish Red Ale from Rubicon Brewery in Sacramento.

If you’ve never been to Rubicon, it sits in Midtown and looks like any other restaurant until you get inside and see the big kettles through the glass windows towards the back.  It’s not a huge joint, and not a huge brewery, so when the Co-op says local, they mean it.  Sierra Nevada is rather local as well, but they are shipping beer everywhere – probably to Ireland for all I know.  Rubicon, I’ll wager, isn’t making the trip that far, but is found around here.  If you can’t make it to their tap room, you’ll find a few bottles in local markets with the Co-op having the best Rubicon selection.

The Irish Red Ale was an obvious choice for today, and quite frankly, I was excited to review something other than Killian’s Red or Guinness – I do just hate to be too cliche’.  According to the legend, St. Patrick, in trying to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the Irish people, happened upon a shamrock and began utilizing its three leaves as an illustration.  In trying to explain this beer, I found myself wishing there was a shamrock somewhere that could help, because it is a tad confusing.

It pours a gorgeous amber color, and so naturally, one expects a certain maltiness from what follows.  But the nose is fruity and full of citrus, so you know this isn’t a traditional Red, and certainly not your typical Irish Red.  The taste confirms your suspicions.  The nose of the beer caught me off guard, and when I took that first sip, sure enough, I was as confused as a person getting pinched for not wearing green.  The brewers at Rubicon have committed themselves to something here, and it isn’t really an Irish Red.  The hops are full all the way through.  It doesn’t showcase its 7.5% alcohol either – dramatically higher than a typical Irish Red.

Rubicon describes this as a cult favorite at their taproom.  If you are looking for a traditional Irish Red, this beer will feel like a betrayal of the type along the lines of Julius Caesar and his doom on the Ides of March.  It is as if the brewers at Rubicon looked at their recipe for an Irish Red and said to themselves, “I’ll bet St. Patrick liked way more hops than this calls for.  Let’s put more in, for him, of course.”

The result is unexpected – disappointing if you were really hoping for a traditional Irish Red, or a pleasant surprise if you like more hops than what is considered traditional for the style.  Personally, I enjoyed it more than I was expecting to for whatever reason.  It was apparently fresh, so kudos to the Co-op for keeping it stocked well.

While I doubt St. Patrick would appreciate people pinching one another for not wearing green today, I’m also not sure how he would have felt about this beer.  It is unexpected, and not entirely correctly labeled, but interesting nonetheless.  If someone pinches you today for not wearing green, first, do as St. Patrick taught and forgive them.  Then, invite them over for some Irish Red from Rubicon and discuss the merits of this beer.  At the very least you can agree that it is prettier and more natural looking than a lager dyed green.  And maybe, after discussing the shamrock, you can even agree that though confusing, this beer is a fine addition to your new St. Patrick’s Day repertoire.


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