Craft Beer Corner
O'Dempsey's Big Red Ale
by Cory Byrom
(Editor’s note: Cory Byrom, local craft beer enthusiast and home brewer from Peachtree City, shares his opinions on craft beer from all over the world.)
Red ales are sort of like a neglected little brother in the beer world. Could it be the memory of too many Killian's Reds during college that keeps me from seeking them out as often as I should? That is not outside the realm of possibility. But I'm sure I'm not alone in forgetting about them. Not as heavy as their darker siblings, not as hoppy as their lighter ones, reds often get overlooked, despite their balanced flavor and easy drinkability. When O'Dempsey's launched in 2010, head brewer Randy Dempsey decided to utilize those qualities and forgo the usual flagship pale ale for Big Red Ale, a delicious, full-bodied red that makes me wonder why more breweries aren't regularly cranking them out and why I'm not regularly drinking them.
The beer pours a very dark amber, but when held to the light it's crystal clear. A one-inch, fluffy beige head sits atop, and though it died down pretty quickly in my glass, there was a nice, compact, creamy layer of suds on this one until the last swig. I was reminded of the creamy head on a draft Guinness, actually, which isn't what I expected from a red.
The aroma is sweet and toasty, with a slight fruity hop character buried in there. It's a teaser for the flavor, which starts off with caramel and toasted malt, then follows it up with cherry-like dark fruit notes. The finish is dry, which is important for a sweeter beer meant to be a session brew. Too sweet and I'm ready to give up after a glass or two. But Big Red balances out that sweetness very well, leaving me wanting more. The fruity character really comes out more as the beer warms a little, and the floral hop notes accentuate that well. There's not much in the way of bitterness, thanks to the use of milder hops. If I had to guess, I'd say English Fuggles was the primary hop here, and the result is grassy, fruity aroma and flavor without the strong piney notes found more in American hop varieties.
Balance is perhaps the defining characteristic of a red ale, and Big Red nails it on that front. It's perhaps a tad full-bodied to be a true session beer, and boasting a 6 percent abv might put it a wee bit high for someone looking to take down a pitcher or three during a football game. But the balance of sweet and dry, fruity and toasty, makes this a perfect fall beer, and one that would be perfect alongside a bowl of beef stew or a slice of Thanksgiving turkey. B+
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(Cory Byrom is a stay-at-home dad to three young kids. He likes loud music and strong drinks, and in his spare time he enjoys listening to other people's stories. He hosts a monthly storytelling show in Atlanta called The Iceberg.)