Tasting Notes – The Classics: Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing Company

highlandgaeliccansThis week’s Tasting Notes pays respect to a true classic by taking a look at Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing Company (Asheville, North Carolina).

With a steady stream of new beers releasing every day, it is important to revisit the classics at times to recognize the brews that paved the way for the amazing craft beer landscape that we currently enjoy.  That’s where The Classics edition of Tasting Notes comes in, and Mashing In’s first installment in this series is dedicated to Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing Company.

Originally released under the name Celtic Ale in 1994, Gaelic Ale went from being Highland Brewing’s first beer to now having the distinction of being “the top-selling native beer in North Carolina.”  This Amber Ale achieved its fan-favorite status thanks to a rich malt body that has been “exceptionally balanced” with the “complex hop flavor and aroma” created by the additions of Cascade and Willamette hops.  Gaelic Ale is truly an iconic craft beer on the East Coast, and it is high time that we give it the full Tasting Notes treatment!

Tasting Notes for Gaelic Ale from Highland Brewing Company 

Appearance:  Gaelic Ale fills the nonic pint glass as a deep and copper-hued amber liquid.  Held to direct light, the vibrant oranges and rich reds one typically associates with amber present themselves and radiate.  The beer is completely clear and displays a moderate carbonation level streaming within.  The pour produces two fingers of lush, off-white head that shows pretty resilient retention.  The foam fades just a bit to a lasting finger, but this is mostly due to the amount of lace that has broken away to grasp onto the glass during the experience.   I cannot stress enough how beautifully the light plays with this ale’s colors.  Absolutely mesmerizing.

Aroma: As soon as the beer begins to course from the can, a spicy and floral hop character immediately blossoms to fill the air.  Lightly fruity, these hop notes easily shift to accommodate the solid foundation that has been laid with earthy grain and caramel malt characteristics.  This aroma may be clean, straight forward and easily discernible, but it is still big enough in presence to be incredibly impactful.

Taste: Naturally sweet, earthy grains, a touch of nuttiness, and caramel malts are the first notes to greet the tongue.  The qualities of those grains build and act as an easy bridge to the earthy and spicy hops that begin to push forward.  The flavors then settle down and finish with floral and citrusy tones. The flavors fade away completely to perfectly execute this beer’s ultimate plan of luring you in for that next sip.

Mouthfeel: Gaelic Ale sits on the lighter side of medium in body with a medium carbonation presence.  This combination creates an easy drinking experience while still allowing the beer to retain some size.  The ABV is light at 5.5% and poses no threat here whatsoever.  The only aftertaste left behind is just a bit of that floral and citrus hop character.

Final Thoughts:  I think it is a quite common occurrence for beer fans to eventually move away from the lighter ales – such as the Amber Ale, Red Ale, Blonde Ale, etc. – that may have introduced them to craft beer for the styles that are deemed more “complex” or en vogue at the time. This shift can often create a false stigma that those “introductory” or “gateway” styles have nothing to offer once your palate develops.  It is times like these that I am so glad that I took a moment to revisit a beer like Highland Brewing Company’s Gaelic Ale to further solidify my stance that any style – when executed well – has something to offer the beer novice, the educated connoisseur and anyone whole falls in-between.  This beer displays an amazing level of craftsmanship and balance that simply cannot go unnoticed.  The hops display an impressive level of complexity, and play a huge role in balancing this beer’s solid malt backbone to give Gaelic Ale the ability to effortlessly tiptoe that line between sweetness and bitterness.  There is no wonder why this beer has been impressing beer lovers and consistently earning Highland Brewing Company new fans for over two decades.  That’s impressive.  That’s iconic.  That’s what makes a true classic.  Prost!