Beer: Irish Red Brewery: Fate Brewing Co. Style: Irish Red Ale ABV: 5.4 percent
Having just attended a gathering of beer industry leaders who discussed the merits of drinking local and supporting a brewery's core brands, I am (for this week, anyway) pumped on flagships. These are the beers that you don't have to wait in line six hours to try, that are always available, as comforting and reassuring as hot cocoa on a cold night. These are the beers that keep a brewery in business and allow the guys in boots to experiment with barrels and Brettanomyces and bee pollen.
For Fate Brewing Co. owner Steve McFate and head brewer Adam Scheichel, the one-offs and variants are a big part of their success. Since Fate opened last November, the brewery's been burning up the leadership boards on beer rating sites with concoctions like the dank, grapefruity Double IPA, unique Coconut Oatmeal IPA and milk stout variants that include a Candy Bar Milk Stout (brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla bean, sea salt, and honey-roasted peanuts) and Mexican Hot Chocolate Milk Stout (brewed with cinnamon, cocoa nibs, and vanilla).
But these beers come and go quickly. All of Fate's brews are crafted on-site in seven-barrel batches (the equivalent of 14 kegs), and the specialty stuff is even more limited - usually just a sixth-barrel (5 gallons) goes on draft at a time. They sell out so quickly you basically have to be driving past Fate at the moment they're tapped to get some.
But as fate would have it, Fate would have a killer flagship: the Irish Red. Brought to life by McFate while he was making beer for the Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery in Ridgeway, Colo., this beer won a bronze medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, when it was still known as Colorado Boy Irish Ale.
It's easy to see why: The brew is, as the ancient Irish would say, blasta (delicious). Tawny copper in color with a slight haze, the brew gives up hues of burnt orange at its edges below a thin, wispy head of sandy tan. A quick swirl sends sweet stuff to the nose first: caramel, sweet cherry, apple. Milk chocolate and toasted bread make up the aroma's back end.
The flavor is roasty for the style, edging almost into brown ale territory -- but I think that's what I like most about it. The tangy caramelized sugar and baked apple sweetness standard in the style balances deftly the notes that make this brew outstanding: walnuts, milk chocolate, lightly roasted coffee beans. With a medium body, the brew moves swiftly down the hatch, peppering the tongue with mild carbonation and a good amount of fizz, while toasted cocoa lingers after the swallow.
Of course, I'll be back to visit Fate the next time I hear they've put on something crazy (a double oatmeal IPA is currently bubbling away and will likely be tapped later this month). But even if I miss out, it's nice to know the Irish Red will be there, a flavorful flagship I'd happily board again.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.