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Sunday, September 14, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 61.0° F  Partly Cloudy
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Beer Here: Lady Luck Irish Red Ale from Karben4 Brewing
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Credit:Tom Kowalke

There are a couple of ways to go if you're looking for a traditional Irish beer for St. Patrick's Day. There's the dry Irish stout, nearly synonymous with Guinness. Then there's the Irish Red, an ale known for being smooth, malty and pleasant.

"It'll transport you right to Dublin," says Karben4 brewmaster Ryan Koga about Lady Luck, his take on an Irish Red. It was among the first beers introduced by Karben4 when it opened a little over a year ago. While the beer is a good excuse to enjoy a little taste of the Irish over St. Patrick's Day, it's always on tap at the brewery.


What is it? Lady Luck Irish Red Ale from Karben4 Brewing of Madison, Wisconsin.

Style: The Irish Red is known for a deep reddish-amber color. It is traditionally and still commonly brewed as an ale. These beers have moderate caramel malt flavor and sweetness, and can also offer a light roastedness and dryness in the finish. Generally there is little or no hoppy character. The Irish Red should be smooth and medium- to light-bodied, and will commonly range from 4% to 6% ABV.

Background: Ryan Koga believes it's important for Karben4 to have a solid, flavorful, malty beers in its lineup and points to Lady Luck as a personification of his identity as a malt-centric brewer. It's made with at least a dozen different malts -- Koga names "medium caramel, dark crystal, and brown coffee malt, with Irish-grown and Irish-roasted base malt." He describes Lady Luck as being something of "an English malt bomb," and it is indeed a beer with complex flavors.

Lady Luck's hops are straightforward, with U.S.-grown Sterling and the English variety East Kent Goldings. "It's such a different take on the Irish Red style that it speaks to people," says Koga. "They're expecting Killian's, and I'm giving them the furthest thing from that."

Lady Luck begins as an Irish Red, but Koga doesn't like to adhere to strict style definitions. He started thinking about his take on an Irish Red about four years ago.

"When I was dating my now wife, her father really loved red wine, and so I had to learn how to drink it and appreciate it when I would sit and talk with him," says Koga. "After all, I wanted him to like me." During those experiences, Koga found he enjoyed Bordeaux wine. "It spoke to me in a certain way, just like certain beers. There's a magical mixture of textures, aromas, visual cues," he explains.

The hints of dark, sweet wine-like flavors in Lady Luck come from the blending of multiple malts in the beer's recipe. "This is my tip of the hat to Bordeaux wine, and I find that a lot of red wine drinkers really enjoy it, too," says Koga.

Lady Luck finishes at 7.5% ABV. It sells in the brewery's taproom for $5 oer glass and $12 per growler (refill). Lady Luck is offered occasionally on a nitrogen tap line, which dramatically changes its character. When nitrogen, rather than carbon dioxide drives the beer, it softens the texture and brings out more of the smooth caramel and roastedness of malts and even more of the wine-like sweetness. Koga expects to have Lady Luck on a nitrogen tap line in the brewery's taproom for St. Patrick's Day.

As with many of Karben4's standard releases, Lady Luck is highlighted in the brewery's taproom with a painting created by resident artist Tom Kowalke.

Karben4 has been building its customer base over the last year, and is now getting close to producing its first bottled beers. When the brewery opened, it purchased the bottling equipment that had been used by Ale Asylum, which operated in the same space before moving to its new home on the other side of the airport. The bottling machine is nearly operational, and the new beer labels are currently in design and approval stages.

Koga is planning to release four bottled beers for the summer: Lady Luck, Block Party Amber Ale, NightCall Smoked Porter and Fantasy Factory IPA. "If I see bottles on store shelves by Memorial Day weekend, I would be ecstatic -- that's our goal," he says.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: A sweet, floral-like maltiness. Light hint of fruitiness.
  • Appearance: Dark bronze, almost black, with ruby highlights; a thick, bubbly, tan head.
  • Texture: Medium- to full-bodied, round and soft.
  • Taste: Caramel and toffee maltiness, and sweet bready flavors. The fruit tones of grape and plum are layered within all the maltiness.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: Malty with a lingering sweet, dark, winelike fruit finish.

Glassware: Karben4 serves Lady Luck in the English pint. However, when taking home a growler, give a nod to the Irish and enjoy it in a tulip (Guinness) pint glass.

Pairs well with: On the Karben4 menu, Lady Luck is a great match with the muffuletta sandwich made with Polish sausage, ham, olive relish, white cheddar, spinach, tomato, onion and aioli.

Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)

The Consensus: 84 (good) at BeerAdvocate and 79/98 (overall/style) at RateBeer.

The Verdict: Lady Luck is a bold and flavorful Irish Red Ale. There is a lot of rich caramel and sweet roasted toffee that red ale fans will appreciate. However, the hints of grape, raisin and plum in the background make it a special version of the style. With all the malt that goes into this beer, it shouldn't surprise anyone that it's strong. At 7.5% ABV, this doesn't fit the session beer qualities associated with the Irish Red. Rather, there's a warmth that borders on being alcohol-hot. However, it's an element that adds to the wine-like character in the beer's background.

Overall, Lady Luck offers great malty flavor while eliciting the experience of drinking a rich red wine. It's a surprising and satisfying brew.

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