Red Ales

IMG_1322I love red ales. It is one of my favorite styles of beer. (Flanders Red is my favorite style of sour too, but that’s a whole different subject matter altogether.)

Pictured above are my top 3 Red Ales of All Time….

  1. Zoe by Maine Beer Company
  2. Blood of the Unicorn by Pipeworks
  3. Toaster Pastry by 21st Amendment

Why one of your favorites, you ask? A whole slew of reasons.

First and foremost, the red or amber American ale is just that, American. It is a fantastic representation of the American brewing landscape. The genre is wide, with plenty of room for creativity and interpretation, so the variables that come with each crimson brew are many and usually pretty interesting.

Second, I love crystal malt. I love how it’s made, I love the color it imparts upon a brew, and I love it’s sickly sweetness that be a nice partner to balance out so many different hop profiles, may it be piney, citrusy, or earthy.

Third, it’s somewhat of a mysterious brew. Do some research, I know I have. Where the style came from is debatable, whether you’re talking specifically about American or Irish. Specifically crystal malt wasn’t even invented until 1870, however red brews have been common amongst men since fermented concoctions were first discovered…..

Below I have drafted a timeline that I have put together over the last 8 or 9 months from various sources, also listed below.

History of the Red Ale

  • Ancient Sumerian Civilization – 2550 BC – Malted kilns imparted their color that made red beers possible
  • Ancient Egypt – 3150 BC – red beer saved mankind from Sekhmet, goddess of destruction
  • Bremen, Germany – 1000 CE – brewers were required to use “gruit” in their brews as an early form of taxation as the local bigwigs demanded. This was pre-hops and gruit was we would now call the bittering agent. Brewers who used gruit were known as “red brewers”, as many of the brews produced were red in color
    1. -Gruit was a mixed of herbs and spices ranging from bog myrtle AKA sweet gale, yarrow, wild rosemary, juniper, caraway, aniseed, and, if available, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg
  • London – 1722 – As manorial living was being replaced by a money-based market economy, many people living in these pastoral communities began moving into the cities. With them they brought their more hoppier farm-brewed ales, which were more hop-forward as they weren’t limited by the gruit tax of city brewers – and began influencing demand for different beers. Breweries began experimenting more with hops. At the time breweries often made different strengthened beers and blended them, one of them dubbed the “twopenny” or amber ale was one of them.
  • Belgium – 1700-1850 – As aging and blending beers fell out of favor in London and Germany with the development of yeast discovery, propagation and pasteurization, and refrigeration in the mid 1800’s, Flanders, the northern part of Belgium, continued on the process and developed advanced in aging and souring beers, where the Flanders Red comes from. (Didn’t include in tasting because it delves into the areas of sours and barrel-aging, as well as wild-fermentation, all of which could be their own class.)
  • Irish Red Ale – a development from the imported English Pale Ales and ESB’s. Irish Brewers began making a roastier, dryer version of those brews. Beginning of 19th century – over 200 breweries, that number fell to 50 during that century and by 2007, only 12 remained.
  • America – 1630 – 1870 – German and Dutch immigrants were crossing over and bringing brewing traditions with them. Most of Americans at the time were drinking spirits due to the accessibility of the beverage. But then Prohibition hit….there were 4131 breweries in the UC in 1873, by 1973, a few more than 100.
  • Crystal and Caramel Malts invented in 1870 and gave rise to the ESB…added a nice body to lighter ABV beer.

“Caramel and Crystal malts are produced separate from pale malts. They are typically made from high nitrogen barley that is first soaked in water and then germinated. Where regular pale malt is next dried and kilned at low temperature, caramel malts are instead left wet and heated to typical mash temperatures of 150-170 F (66-77 C) for a few hours at high humidity. This effectively “mashes” or converts the sugars while they are still in the grain. Next the caramel malt is roasted at a higher temperature of around 250F (121C) until the desired color is reached – caramelizing the sugars. This also removes the remaining moisture.”


  • Coors introduced its first and only red beer, George Killian’s Irish Red, to the U.S. market back in 1981–making it for a long time the only major brewer in the red-beer segment. –LA Times article
  • 1982 – Bill Owens opens Buffalo Bill’s Brewery in Haywood, California and claims he discovered the American Amber Ale….wanted a similar style to an ESB but at the time American beer drinkers didn’t like the term “bitter” associated with a drink. He wanted something not light, not dark, so he called it Amber.
  • 1995 – United States. The Red Beer Trend – the First time Macro breweries attempt to compete with craft breweries. Were the popular ones at the time. Red Tail Ale, Red Nectar, Pete’s Wicked Red, St. Rogue Red and Boar’s Head Red, big boys made Red Wolf (produced by Anheuser-Busch) and Leinenkugel Red (by Miller Brewing Co.)
  • A Red Ale resurgence as of late with the creativity going wild.

Final reason why I love red ales….the first style that made the MacroBrewers sweat. 🙂

Listed below is just more definitions from commonly used resources.

Beer Advocate:

Primarily a catch all for any beer less than a Dark Ale in color, ranging from amber (duh) to deep red hues. This style of beer tends to focus on the malts, but hop character can range from low to high. Expect a balanced beer, with toasted malt characters and a light fruitiness in most examples.




This category contains modern American amber and brown warm-fermented beers of standard strength that can be balanced to bitter.

19A. American Amber Ale

Overall Impression: An amber, hoppy, moderate-strength American craft beer with a caramel malty flavor. The balance can vary quite a bit, with some versions being fairly malty and others being aggressively hoppy. Hoppy and bitter versions should not have clashing flavors with the caramel malt profile. Aroma: Low to moderate hop aroma with characteristics typical of American or New World hop varieties (citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon). A citrusy hop character is common, but not required. Moderately-low to moderately-high maltiness (usually with a moderate caramel character), which can either support, balance, or sometimes mask the hop presentation. Esters vary from moderate to none.

Appearance: Amber to coppery-brown in color. Moderately large off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy.
Flavor: Moderate to high hop flavor with characteristics typical of American or New World hop varieties (citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon). A citrusy hop character is common, but not required. Malt flavors are moderate to strong, and usually show an initial malty sweetness followed by a moderate caramel flavor (and sometimes other character malts in lesser amounts). Malt and hop bitterness are usually balanced and mutually supportive, but can vary either way. Fruity esters can be moderate to none. Caramel sweetness and hop flavor/bitterness can linger somewhat into the medium to full finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium to medium-full body. Medium to high carbonation. Overall smooth finish without astringency. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth. Comments: Can overlap in color with darker American pale ales, but with a different malt flavor and balance. Regional variations exist with some being fairly mainstream and others being quite aggressive in hopping. Stronger and more bitter versions are now split into the Red IPA style.

History: A modern American craft beer style developed as a variation from American Pale Ales. Known simply as Red Ales in some regions, these beers were popularized in the hop- loving Northern California and the Pacific Northwest areas before spreading nationwide.

Characteristic Ingredients: Pale ale malt, typically North American two-row. Medium to dark crystal malts. May also contain specialty grains which add additional character and uniqueness. American or New World hops, often with citrusy flavors, are common but others may also be used.

Style Comparison: Darker, more caramelly, more body, and generally less bitter in the balance than American Pale Ales. Less alcohol, bitterness, and hop character than Red IPAs. Less strength, malt, and hop character than American Strong Ales. Should not have a strong chocolate or roast character that might suggest an American brown ale (although small amounts are OK).

Commercial Examples: Deschutes Cinder Cone Red, Full Sail Amber, Kona Lavaman Red Ale, North Coast Ruedrich’s Red Seal Ale, Rogue American Amber Ale, Tröegs HopBack Amber Ale

Tags: standard-strength, amber-color, top-fermented, north- america, craft-style, amber-ale-family, balanced, hoppy


OG: 1.035 – 1.040 FG: 1.010 – 1.015

malty to dry and grainy. A subtle butterscotch character is acceptable; however, burnt sugars are not. The malt-hop balance tilts toward malt. Peat smoke is inappropriate. Mouthfeel: Medium-low to medium body. Low to moderate carbonation. Can be relatively rich and creamy to dry and grainy.

Comments: Malt-focused ales that gain the vast majority of their character from specialty malts, never the process. Burning malt or wort sugars via ‘kettle caramelization’ is not traditional nor is any blatantly ‘butterscotch’ character. Most frequently a draught product. Smoke character is inappropriate as any found traditionally would have come from the peat in the source water. Scottish ales with smoke character should be entered as a Classic Style Smoked Beer.

Characteristic Ingredients: Originally used Scottish pale malt, grits or flaked maize, and brewers caramel for color. Later adapted to use additional ingredients, such as amber and brown malts, crystal and wheat malts, and roasted grains or dark sugars for color but not for the ‘roasty’ flavor. Sugar adjuncts are traditional. Clean or slightly fruity yeast. Peat- smoked malt is inauthentic and inappropriate.

Style Comparison: Similar character to a Wee Heavy, but much smaller.

ABV: 3.2 – 3.9%

The traditional beers of Ireland contained in this category are amber to dark, top-fermented beers of moderate to slightly strong strength, and are often widely misunderstood due to differences in export versions, or overly focusing on the specific attributes of beer produced by high-volume, well-known breweries. Each of the styles in this grouping has a wider range than is commonly believed.

15A. Irish Red Ale

Overall Impression: An easy-drinking pint, often with subtle flavors. Slightly malty in the balance sometimes with an initial soft toffee/caramel sweetness, a slightly grainy-biscuity palate, and a touch of roasted dryness in the finish. Some versions can emphasize the caramel and sweetness more, while others will favor the grainy palate and roasted dryness. Aroma: Low to moderate malt aroma, either neutral-grainy or with a lightly caramelly-toasty-toffee character. May have a very light buttery character (although this is not required). Hop aroma is low earthy or floral to none (usually not present). Quite clean.
Appearance: Medium amber to medium reddish-copper color. Clear. Low off-white to tan colored head, average persistence.
Flavor: Moderate to very little caramel malt flavor and sweetness, rarely with a light buttered toast or toffee-like quality. The palate often is fairly neutral and grainy, or can take on a lightly toasty or biscuity note as it finishes with a light taste of roasted grain, which lends a characteristic dryness to the finish. A light earthy or floral hop flavor is optional. Medium to medium-low hop bitterness. Medium-dry to dry finish. Clean and smooth. Little to no esters. The balance tends to be slightly towards the malt, although light use of roasted grains may increase the perception of bitterness slightly.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light to medium body, although examples containing low levels of diacetyl may have a slightly slick mouthfeel (not required). Moderate carbonation. Smooth. Moderately attenuated.
Comments: Several variations exist within the style, which causes the guidelines to be somewhat broad to accommodate them. Traditional Irish examples are relatively low in hops, are grainy with a slight roast dryness in the finish, fairly neutral in general. Modern export Irish examples are more caramelly and sweet, and might have more esters. American craft versions are often more alcoholic versions of the Irish export examples. An emerging Irish craft beer scene is exploring more bitter versions of traditional examples. Finally, there are some commercial examples that sound Irish but are essentially International Amber Lagers, with sweetish palates and little bitterness. These guidelines are written around the traditional Irish examples, with slight extensions for export Irish versions and modern craft Irish versions.
History: While Ireland has a long ale brewing heritage, the modern Irish Red Ale style is essentially an adaptation or interpretation of the popular English Bitter style with less hopping and a bit of roast to add color and dryness. Rediscovered as a craft beer style in Ireland, today it is an essential part of most brewery lineups, along with a pale ale and a stout.

26 BJCP Beer Style Guidelines – 2015 Edition

Vital Statistics:

Exciseman’s Ale, Orkney Dark Island, Pelican MacPelican’s Scottish Style Ale, Weasel Boy Plaid Ferret Scottish Ale
Tags: standard-strength, amber-color, top-fermented, british- isles, traditional-style, amber-ale-family, malty

OG: 1.040 – 1.060 FG: 1.010 – 1.016

ABV: 3.9 – 6.0% Commercial Examples: Belhaven Scottish Ale, Broughton

IBUs: 15 – 30 SRM: 13 – 22

Characteristic Ingredients: Generally has a bit of roasted barley or black malt to provide reddish color and dry roasted finish. Pale base malt. Caramel malts were historically imported and more expensive, so not all brewers would use them.

Style Comparison: A less-bitter and hoppy Irish equivalent to an English Bitter, with a dryish finish due to roasted barley. More attenuated with less caramel flavor and body than equivalent-strength Scottish ales. sweeter, less bitter, and have flavors from chocolate and specialty malts. Commercial examples of this style are almost always associated with a nitro pour. Do not expect traditional bottle-conditioned beers to have the full, creamy texture or very long-lasting head traditionally associated with nitrogen dispense.
History: The style evolved from attempts to capitalize on the success of London porters, but originally reflected a fuller, creamier, more “stout” body and strength. Guinness began brewing only porter in 1799, and a “stouter kind of porter” around 1810. Irish stout diverged from London single stout (or simply porter) in the late 1800s, with an emphasis on darker malts. Guinness was among the first breweries to use black patent malt for porters and stouts in the 1820s. Guinness began using roasted barley after WWII, while London brewers continued to use brown malt. Guinness started using flaked barley in the 1950s, also increasing attenuation greatly. Guinness Draught was launched as a brand in 1959. Draught cans and bottles were developed in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Characteristic Ingredients: Guinness is made using roasted barley, flaked barley, and pale malt, but other breweries don’t necessarily use roasted barley; they can use chocolate or other dark and specialty malts. Whatever combination of malts or grains is used, the resulting product should be black. Cork-type stouts are perhaps closer to historical London-type stouts in composition with a varied grist not dominated by roasted barley.
Style Comparison: Lower strength than an Irish Extra Stout, but with similar flavors. Darker in color (black) than an English porter (brown).
Vital Statistics:
IBUs: 25 – 45
SRM: 25 – 40
Commercial Examples: Beamish Irish Stout, Guinness Draught, Harpoon Boston Irish Stout, Murphy’s Irish Stout, O’Hara’s Irish Stout, Porterhouse Wrasslers 4X
Tags: standard-strength, dark-color, top-fermented, british- isles, traditional-style, stout-family, bitter, roasty


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