You may notice a new name in the cooler this week, as another Tampa Bay brewery has launched a line of canned beers. The first canning run from Tampa's 81Bay Brewing Co. includes The Sun Viking IPA, Coffee Porter and Reel Slo Irish Red Ale.
Reel Slo, named after a beloved family boat from communication director Briant Mertz's childhood, is a traditional Irish red ale: malt-forward but accessible, with a drinkability that belies an underlying roastiness, a favor characteristic of brewers Jay Jones and Hayley Brown.
With hazy IPAs, massive stouts and lavishly fruited sour ales dominating the craft scene, it's easy to forget how important red and amber ales were in the early days of craft beer. These rich and balanced brews were the perfect counterpoint to bland, flavorless macro lagers; every small brewery had a house red or amber ale that it was proud of.
Reel Slo is a continuation of this tradition: a reddish-brown brew with a bready nose peppered with moderately roasted grain. The flavor is malty sweet up front, with a medium body.
There's a fine line between an assertive malt character and cloying sweetness. Reel Slo is dialed in right to the better side of that equation. Its malt presence is firm and satisfying, but it finishes relatively dry, with more of the roasted grain notes, similar to a light coffee.
While red ales are common finds in most tasting rooms, they're rarely given much play beyond token status — craft beers for folks who aren't very adventurous. Reel Slo's position in a trio of debut canned beers from 81Bay says it all. This is an Irish red ale worth paying attention to, even if you have no particular nostalgic attachment to the style.
Reel Slo is already available on draft throughout the bay area, but look for six packs of cans in your local beer cooler, or on sale to-go at 81Bay while supplies last. — Justin Grant
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