HARRISONBURG — Nearly a decade ago, Ben Trumbo was only a beginner brewer tinkering around with a recipe for a semi-sweet Irish red ale in St. Louis.
On Saturday, Trumbo and the other brewers of Harrisonburg’s Pale Fire Brewing received the bronze medal at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival competition in Colorado for their Red Molly Irish ale.
“Having your work recognized on this level — it’s incredible,” Trumbo said.
The award is part of the largest beer competition in the world, where over 2,200 breweries entered drinks.
“I’ve always loved the beer but it’s nice to know that other people do, too,” Trumbo said with a laugh.
In 2016, Pale Fire’s Red Molly also won the Bronze medal at the Beer World Cup and is the brewery’s best seller in its taproom at 217 S. Liberty St. in Harrisonburg, Trumbo said.
Restaurants in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., also stock the Red Molly for their customers, he said.
The draft-only ale could also be bottled in the near future, according to Trumbo.
“We are in the process of getting artwork and packaging material together to start bottling a beer soon — hopefully,” Trumbo said.
The award also gives Pale Fire momentum going into the large amount of logistics and preparation it takes in bottling, he said, which has been a long-term goal of the company.
The ale has some sweetness, as well as a small amount of chocolate wheat for a roasty aroma and crystal malts for some cherry flavoring, Trumbo said.
“The idea behind this was a beer that I’m never going to get tired of,” Trumbo said. “It’s pretty much fit that slot perfectly for me and it seems to be fitting that slot for a lot of other folks, too.”
Red ales are “fuller” than India pale ales but not as filling as stouts or porters, and have a distinct red color, which is hard to perfect, according to Trumbo.
And red is a color close to Trumbo’s heart as a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
“It was always this thing,” Trumbo said. “I was trying to put together a homebrew for a red ale and it just kind of grew.”
Trumbo has been with Pale Fire since before the business began in 2015, as Trumbo’s sister connected him with Tim Brady, the owner of Pale Fire.
And the recipe for Red Molly has not changed significantly since Pale Fire first ran the mixture through a test process in mid-2015, Trumbo said.
Trumbo’s first interest in Irish ales came when he studied in Ireland for the summer of 2004 while at the University of Virginia. Pale Fire Brewing uses pale malts imported from Ireland exclusively for the Red Molly.
The teamwork between Trumbo and the other four brewers at Pale Fire is also a key to the success of Red Molly, he said.
“Every step of the way requires all the hands we have,” he said. “The guys in the back are indispensable in making beer of this caliber on this level.”
Pale Fire is aiming to produce another 140 barrels, roughly 4,500 gallons, of Red Molly by the end of the year, Trumbo said.
“This by no means means that now we can rest on our laurels, but it’s really nice to have this kind of acknowledgement from peers and colleagues,” Trumbo said.
Red Molly is also fueling much of the company’s growth, he said.
“It’s not going anywhere,” Trumbo said. “We’re working on making sure it can be everywhere we can possibly get it as soon as we can.”