Red beer comes in two distinct and unrelated styles.
Some immediately picture those cousins of Killian, the copper-red Irish ales with a little barley for color and heft. But people from places where the tacos eat like hamburgers tend to see something different. In Mexico, and in the parts of our own country close enough to soak up some of the rich culture of Mexico, a red beer is a blend of beer and tomato juice. Clamato is red beer, michelada is red beer, and Lompoc's Bloody Mary beer is red beer.
With apologies to the micheladas I've enjoyed floating through Xochimilco and watching lucha libre at Arena México, Lompoc brewmaster Bryan Keilty's creation is the best of the form. The ingredient list reads like a bloody mary bar: lovage, peppercorns, sage, dried chilies and tomatoes.
And—this is key—those are backyard tomatoes from his collaborator's garden.
"They were tomatoes he'd grown and canned," Keilty says. "We put everything into the keg, put the Fool's Golden Ale over top of it, and let it sit for three weeks. It was the easiest thing in the world, really."
Easy as it was, the results were extraordinary: a beer that tasted exactly like a delicious bloody mary, with a fresh, crisp vegetal quality that balanced well against the bready golden. Think of it like a well-seasoned tomato sandwich, from the peak of season.
"It turned out awesome," Keilty says. "You have spice in the back of your throat, but it's not too spicy."
Keilty comes to Portland from Southern California, where he encountered lots of beer-and-tomato blends. This creation was made in collaboration with Seattle chef Brian Scheehser for a brewer's dinner at his restaurant, part of a batch that also included a blackberry thyme beer. It poured in Portland only once, for just two hours, at the brunch that kicks off the Oregon Brewers Festival.
"I'd been working on this project, and once [owner] Jerry [Fechter] found out we had done this project, he said, 'We have to serve that at the OBF brunch,'" Keilty says. "I said, 'That's all we have,' and he said, 'We have to, it's a red beer, and it's brunch.'"
Brunch, it turns out, was the right place for this beer. It went over better there than the brewer's dinner it was made for.
"Most people who attended the dinner had never had a red beer," Keilty says. "They didn't know what to make of it."