Nick Carr on March 20, 2015 0 Comments History This is a beer style with limited history. Whether that limit is because some of it has been lost or because it is a relatively new style, not especially sought after in its own country, with a history half buried in that of English bitters, is hard to firmly nail down. There is a brief mention of “red ales” in a Irish poem dated back to the 8th or 9th century. This fleeting reference seems to be the earliest such allusion to red ale and says it was drunk in “Dorind” in Kerry, and “about the land of the Cruithni” (Cruithni is a name given the Pictish tribes). It is safe to suppose that what we consider Irish red in its modern styling is very different from the red ale spoken of in this poem. For one thing, hops had just started to find their way into brewing and were a few hundred years away from monopolizing the job of “brewing herb.” Other herbs such as heather, sweet gale, bog myrtle, and buck-bean still fed the bulk of the Irish brewers’ art. The Modern style seems to find its roots in English bitters and Pale Ales more than in any ode to the above lost and mysterious “red ale.” Its beginnings are in the Irish town of Kilkenny in 1710 and the birth of the Smithwick Brewery and its Smithwick Draught ale. This new red ale was less hops focused and instead zeroed in on the malt. It’s interesting to note that this style is much bigger here in America then the country it’s named for. This may seem odd at first, but there are two factors that I would contend, at the very least, greatly contribute. In 1980 Coors Brewing bought the license to use the name Killian from George Killian Lett, a fifth generation brewer that had closed the doors of his once famous Brewery of Enniscorthy. Coors began to brew Killian’s Irish Red, a lager somewhat in the Irish Red style; and with all its marketing muscle to backup this new venture, it found popularity in America. Also, Ireland has a much longer history with the dry stout and porter then it does with the Irish Red. Maybe its Irish pride, a genetic taste for those dark brews, or stout dominated advertising, but the new kid just doesn’t enjoy as much popularity there as its dark cousins. Characteristics of an Irish Red Ale The guidelines for the Irish Red Ale beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what an Irish Red Ale should represent. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 9–18 SRM Original Gravity: 1.044–1.060 Final Gravity: 1.010–1.014 IBU Range: 17–28 ABV Range: 4.0–6.0% Aroma: Low to Moderate Maltiness with Strong Caramel Notes; No Hop Aromas Flavor: Caramel Maltiness with Notes of Toffee, Buttered Toast & Roasted Grains; No Hoppiness; Clean with Medium-dry Finish Appearance: Ranges From Amber to Deep Reddish Copper With Slightly Tan Head Mouthfeel: Medium-Light to Medium Body; Smooth with Moderate Carbonation; Alcohol Warmth Possible Food Pairings: Lamb Chops, Reuben Sandwich, Shepherd’s Pie, Mutton, French onion soup, Crème Brûlée Appearance: Most examples of this style will be amber to a deep reddish copper in color. They will be quite clear with a small off-white to just slightly tan colored head. Aroma: The nose will have a low to moderate malt aroma which is often caramel centered, but can have also display toasty or toffee-like notes. Some diactyl may be present creating a butter-like character to the overall malt aroma. Usually, hop aroma will not be present at all. Mouthfeel: A mid-light to medium in body is most common, although if diacetyl is present it will likely add a character that can present as slippery or smooth. The stronger examples may present with low alcoholic warmth, otherwise this beer should run smooth with moderate carbonation and attenuation. Taste: The most noticed flavor will be a moderate caramel maltiness, sometimes running into a buttered toast or toffee character, especially if diacetyl is present. The swallow will highlight light roasted grain qualities helping to dry out the finish. Usually little to no hop flavors; if present these should be light and steer more toward the English hop varieties. Roast grains may create the sense of more hop bitterness then is actually present, which will be in the low to mid-range. Should be clean and smooth with a medium-dry finish. If brewed as a lager it will have no ester presence, while an ale version should have no diacetyl and just a subtle bit of esters. *Note: These Style Characteristics are set down by the BJCP. Examples Of The Style Rado’s Red Ale (Crow Hop Brewing Co., CO) Great American Beer Festival winner, Gold, 2014. Available year round at their taproom in Loveland. Piper Down (Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits, CA) Great American Beer Festival winner, Silver, 2014. Limited availability in 22 oz. bottles and on tap. Available in many bigger bottle shops. “Hydraulion” Red (Three Notch’d Brewing Co., VA) Great American Beer Festival winner, Bronze, 2014. Year Round. Available in bottle and on tap in Virginia. Red Trolley Ale (Karl Strauss Brewing Co., CA) Great American Beer Festival winner, Gold, 2014 and 2010. World Beer Cup winner, Gold, 2012 and 2010. Year Around. Available in most good bottle shops. George Killian’s Irish Red (Coors Brewing Co., CO) World Beer Cup winner, Gold, 2014. Year Around. Available everywhere. Mclovin (Vintage Brewing Co., WI) World Beer Cup winner, Silver 2014 and Bronze 2012. On tap at the brewery and around Wisconsin. Paulie’s Not Irish Red (Old Town Brewing Co., OR) World Beer Cup winner, Bronze, 2014. On tap at Old Town Brewing. Tips for Brewing Irish Red Ale If you’re interested in brewing your own Irish Red Ale at home, here are a few things you should know going into it. The Malt Bill: A good Irish Red is built on a good quality British or Irish pale malt. Generally these pale malts are a tad darker then American two-row which lends to toasty and biscuit qualities. If building your recipe around extract try to find a British pale ale extract such as Maris Otter. If Y-you use domestic pale ale malt or extract it can work. You will just have to adjust with some specialty grains such as Biscuit or Munich. If you are using these specialty grains don’t add more than about 3/4th of a pound for a 5 gallon batch. It’s easy to go overboard and you’ll end up with what may still be a good beer, but it won’t be an Irish Red. To create the caramel and toffee-like character add in a portion of Caramel/Crystal malt (10-40L) at a rate of around 5-10% of the entire grain bill. It’s important here realize the red color does not come from the Crystal, you would have to add way too much. Instead the reddish color and some added complexity comes from adding a small amount of roasted barley. Highly kilned grains can quickly overwhelm, so a light hand is necessary here, 3 to 6 ounces is all that is needed for a 5 gallon batch. Avoid chocolate, black patent, and SpecialB (a darker crystal malt), these tend toward a dark brown color and will add too much caramel flavor. Hops: English hop varieties should be used, completely avoid the American hops with a citrusy or catty profile. Kent Goldings, Fuggles, and Perle are just a few of many that will work well. A single addition of bittering hops at 60 minutes is generally all that is needed for this beer, but if you’d like a little more hop character you can add less than half an ounce maybe twenty minutes before the boil ends. The Mash: A pretty easy single infusion mash works great for this beer. Hold your temperature around 153°F for 60 minutes. Raise your temperature to 168°F and sparge slowly with 170°F water. Yeast: This beer can be brewed as either an ale or lager. If going the more traditional ale route pick a good English or Irish ale yeast. The Irish ale yeast provide the right low ester profile but may be slightly lacking in attenuation. While many English yeasts will create too much of a ester profile. If using an Irish yeast like White Labs WLP004 Irish Ale and Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale, make sure you pitch the right amount of healthy yeast and keep a close eye on your temperature. It might be possible to combine a Irish yeast with a low ester English yeast to help with attenuation and create an interesting flavor profile… hmm, I’ll have to give this a shot myself one of these days. If you want to use a lager yeast, select for clean character. Fermentation: Temperature control will be very important, more so for a lager, but still very important on an ale. If ale brewing you want to stick close to the lower end of the yeast’s temperature range. This will help with attenuation. Cheers!