On St Patrick’s Day, pub-goers will indulge in a few pints of Guinness or a glass of some anonymous light beer tinted a lurid shade of green. The contrarian in me just wants a glass of malty Irish red ale — no faffing about with “perfect pours.” Smithwick’s is the most common example, and there are some great examples brewed in the Midwest, most notably Conway’s Irish Ale, from Great Lakes in Cleveland, and Boulevard’s Irish Ale, from Kansas City.
Of the local brews fit for the day, I’m inclined to order Flying Dog’s Lucky SOB, a copper-colored ale that smells of caramel and brown bread. The body is on the sweet side, as is typical of the style, with earthy malts, a bit of sour cherry and spicy hops right at the end. Strangely, though, I don’t pick up any notes of Lucky SOB’s promised special ingredient: four-leaf clover.
Yes, Lucky SOB is made with real four-leaf clovers. And that’s the source of one of the odder stories I’ve heard about government involvement with beer.
When Flying Dog decided to brew an Irish Red Ale for St. Patrick’s Day in 2012, the brewers decided to add four-leaf clovers as a novelty (and a bit of clever marketing). So staff went out to the large field beside the Frederick brewery, where the clovers are regularly found among the three-lobed shamrocks there. They don’t need to find many, according to Flying Dog communications director Erin Weston, who says “four or five” clovers go into each 50-barrel batch of beer.
But when Flying Dog submitted the new beer to the FDA, the brewery was told that four-leaf clovers aren’t “generally accepted as safe” for use in food and beverage manufacture. So Flying Dog had to find more four-leaf clovers from the same field and submit them to the FDA for analysis, to make sure they were free of pesticides or other chemicals, and explain how the plants were used in the brewing process.
Luckily, Weston says, the approval came fairly quickly, and Lucky SOB has returned to bars and stores every February since.
Flying Dog Lucky SOB Irish Red Ale. flyingdogbrewery.com. About $10 per six-pack of 12-ounce bottles in stores, and $6 per pint in bars.