In a day in age when beer collaborations are all the rage, a collaboration between a craft brewery and a bar is something that is pretty unique. However, Northgate’s Irish Red Ale, Red Headed Piper, is something special and delicious that can only be found at Northgate Brewing’s taproom in Northeast Minneapolis and Merlins Rest in South Minneapolis.
The story of how Red Headed Piper came to be is a testament to both the quality of Northgate’s beer and Merlins Rest’s passion for showcasing great British style ales made locally. As the story goes, Lee and Tracie of Merlins Rest were Northgate’s first account when they put Wall’s End on tap. Wall’s End, a sessionable English Style Brown Ale, sold incredibly well and Merlins approached Northgate about the possibility of Northgate brewing a special beer for them to have on tap. Merlins got to choose the style and the name of the beer and Tuck Carruthers, the head brewer at Northgate, began to formulate a recipe. What Tuck came up with is the perfect marriage between flavor and sessionability.
I first tried Red Headed Piper one night at Merlins when I was there for trivia on a Sunday night. I will say, without too much shame, that back in the day, I drank enough Killian’s Irish Red to turn me into a Leprechaun. Killian’s was one of my gateway beers. Since then, my palate has evolved and I have been looking for better and more flavorful Irish Red Ales to enjoy. If you have been to trivia at Merlins before, you know that the questions are tough and you need to have your wits about you. That being the case, I saw that the Red Headed Piper was 4.5% ABV and so I made that my selection. When the beer arrived, my first sip was akin to running into an old friend that you haven’t seen for a long time. Since the Killian’s days, I have had a tough time finding an Irish Red Ale that I really liked. Well, I guess my search is over because the flavors present in this beer are everything that I love about Irish Red Ales and I am hooked. Several of my friends were also enjoying pints of Red Headed Piper and could not believe how much flavor was in a beer that was so light in ABV. The server explained that Red Headed Piper is brewed exclusively for Merlins, but is also available in the taproom at Northgate. I walked out of Merlins that night with my sides aching from laughter, my brain hurting from trivia and my palate intrigued by this amazing new beer I discovered.
Not even a week later, I was at the Northgate taproom imbibing the Red Headed Piper and really trying my best to savor and dissect the flavors and aromas of the beer. The Red Headed Piper is 4.5% ABV and has 25 IBUs. The color of the beer is a rich, dark copper color. The aroma has hints of roasted malt and is incredibly enticing. The flavor of this beer is what impresses me greatly. The richness of the malt character is complex. There are caramel, biscuit and toasted malt flavors that compliment each other. The malt flavor is balanced nicely by a perfect amount of bitterness from the roasted malt and while keeping the biscuity nature of Maris Otter malt. This beer’s harmonious flavor profile really is a testament to Tuck, who clearly understands the necessary nuances of brewing a great beer. This sessionable beer is smooth and perfect for sitting down with some friends to share some laughs.
While this beer is only available at two locations at present, they are both great locations to relax and have a pint. I strongly urge that you round up a few folks and head out to Merlins Rest for a pint, I am partial to Sunday night trivia because I am a glutton for intellectual punishment. If you want to experience a great taproom with a pub vibe, then get over to Northgate for some pints. Either way, by trying the Red Headed Piper you will honestly be impressed how Northgate can pack so much flavor and depth into a sessionable ale. Prost!