THE ONLY SURPRISE in Conway’s Irish Ale is its 6.4% ABV, a full percentage point higher than how it drinks. Everything else is perfectly on par for the ever–dependable Great Lakes: its rich auburn color; satisfyingly medium body with notes of biscuit, touch of cherry, and finish of toasted grain; gently earthy and floral European-style hops; and carefully framed finish. Even the choice to brew an Irish red ale in the first place fits the brewery’s MO—a traditional but rather overlooked European style that most other American breweries would have made either too brazen or boring.
The key is in balancing subtly with substance. For instance, Conway’s aroma seems almost too mild at first, with hops being especially hard to pull out aside from a drop of citric pith. But this is suitable to the style—give it time, a deep nose or three, plus a few extra degrees of warmth and the profile expands into a pleasant spread of warm bread, hints of berry, low bitterness lightly wrapped in caramel, and a brush of minerality swept into the aftertaste by moderate effervescence. The relatively dark caramel malts serve a neat dual purpose, being light enough to round out the midsection (an estimated 3 Plato) while still toasty enough to put a measure of dryness in the finish.
During these winter months one may be tempted to pass over Conway’s in favor of brawnier beers, and admittedly it is no match for a sub-zero polar vortex. But as more American brewers begin to emulate English milds, conventional bitters, and lightly carbonated cask ales, the discretion and soft touch of Great Lakes should earn ever more respect.
Served: 12 oz bottle