Orange, green and red are a few primary colors we mentally associate with yearly celebrations – Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day. These colors dominate just about every place we shop – drugstores, supermarkets and retail shops. The beer market is no exception. In October, we see orange-labeled bottles with pumpkins adorning displays, In March, shamrocks and green everything as far as the eye can see invade pubs and bars, complete with Guinness posters and Smithwick’s coasters. The month of February showcases all things red and heart-shaped. Cupid shoots his arrow in an attempt to get us to fall in love with love, and in my case, beer. So now’s a good time as any to explore the world of red (also known as amber) lagers and ales.
What exactly is red ale? It’s usually a generic name for beers that have amber to deep red hues. These beers are also described as ruby red and garnet, depending on their redness. Malts – responsible for a beer’s color, body and sweetness – contribute to red ales’ medium body and smooth malt presence usually balanced delicately with hops. American Red Ales tend to focus on the malts but their hop profiles can range from the hoppy Saranac Red IPA to the delicate Bell’s Amber Ale. American Amber or Red Lagers have more malt character than Pale Lagers and are lighter bodied than ales. Yuengling and Brooklyn Lager are good choices to try and easy to find.
Not as easy to find but worth the search are the complex Flanders or Flemish Reds, characterized by distinctly sour, fruity and sharp flavors. Light bodied, these Belgian red beers are usually and aged in oak barrels and blended with older beers. The combination of special yeast strains and oak aging contributes to their unique sour flavor. Petrus Aged Red by Brouwerij Bavik is made from its Aged Pale added to its Double Brown Ale, with fresh cherries added during fermentation. Sweet, sour and slightly dry, this deep ruby red beer is a special treat. Another Flemish Red you can find is Duchesse De Bourgogne by Brouwerij Verhaeghe. It’s brewed with roasted malts and oak aged for months and well known for its distinct sweet fruitiness. While Flemish Reds are off the beaten path for some, it’s worth the adventure for your taste buds.
Another red beer is the Irish Red Ale, a very popular style found in many American pubs. Irish Reds are easy drinking, lightly hopped with a delicate toasted malt flavor. Very pleasant to the palate, beers like Ireland’s Smithwick’s and Murphy’s Irish Red are great choices when trying this style. George Killian’s Irish Red (which is actually an amber lager) brewed by Coors was my introduction to Irish Reds in my college days. It was a departure for me when all I used to drink were beers I never knew – kegs at fraternity parties (i.e. free beer). One would never ask a brother, “excuse me, what’s on tap tonight?” so I drank whatever was the beer of the night. I was delightfully surprised by Killian’s for the first time, and later came to learn that it actually used to be a beer brewed in Ireland by the name of “Enniscorthy Ruby Ale” by the Lett’s Brewery owned by the Killian family. The brewery closed in the 1950s and the marketing rights were sold to a French brewery and later acquired by Coors, who brought back the recipe and changed the name to honor the Killian family name. If you want to try other American versions of the Irish Red, try Saranac’s Irish Red Ale or Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Conway’s Irish Ale. Some beers are seasonal but most are readily available year-round, so you don’t have to wait for a holiday to get your hands on these red beauties. Where some beers go to the extreme in hoppiness (IPA’s and DIPA’s) or in maltiness (bocks), reds have a nice marriage between the two. Whether you’re in the Valentine’s mood or not, this is the kind of red that you just might fall in love with. I did! Cheers!
Adapted from Table Hopping, Feb 2014