American Red Ale
American Red Ale, also called American Amber Ale, is a richly flavored, sweet, hoppy beer popular on the West Coast of the United States, and especially in the Pacific Northwest. It usually features a reddish or orange color and a sweet malt flavor from the use of caramel malts, and a strong hop character often including grassy notes from dry hopping.
History of American Red Ale
American Amber Ale has its origin in the earliest days of the American craft beer "revolution". Brewers wanted to brew and market beers resembling the English styles Bitter and Pale Ale. Some breweries did just that, bottling 'Best Bitter' and 'ESB'. Others, faced with a dearth of traditional English ingredients, had to use American ingredients.
David Brockington, in the November/December 1995 issue of 'Brewing Techniques' magazine, quoted Ed Tringali - former brewer at Berkeley, CA's Triple Rock and Seattle's Big Time breweries, as considering the original American Amber Ale (hereafter AAA) a "brewpub beer". In the beginning of the craft beer revolution, brewpubs wanted a simple lineup of "gold, red and black" beers from their taps. Brewers like Tringali decided that amber to copper-colored beers like English Pale Ales and Special Bitters were the answer to the "red" portion of the color scheme.
At the same time, brewery and brewpub owners were leery of marketing beers with the word "bitter" in the name; justifiably so, in an age with TV commercials deriding 'bitter beer face' showing in prime time every evening. Thus, the breweries marketed their red beers as "amber".
There was also a conscious effort to avoid color-based confusion in the consumer. Calling an amber beer 'pale ale' in an era when the consumer expects the word 'pale' to mean 'straw' - like mass-market lager beers - would cause problems. It was easier to market a classic English Pale Ale under the name Amber Ale to differentiate it. Here, as in many facets of craft brewing, California brewers led the trend.
The California brewery most often attributed with typifying AAA is Mendocino Brewing Company, founded in 1983, and their Red Tail Ale - arguably the first commercially successful AAA. The late, great Michael Jackson called Red Tail Ale "an American classic". Brewer Don Barkley crafted the beer specifically to be a stronger, more flavorful, richly colored, full-bodied amber beer.
Red Tail was and is a well-balanced ale with a solid malty backbone, a noticeable crystal-malt body, and a perceptible hoppiness. From that beginning, countless other breweries have brewed their interpretations of the style, weighted both to the malty side as well as the balanced and hoppy.
Regardless of balance, all AAAs are 100% malt beers, and possess a distinct crystal malt note. This is the crucial difference between AAA and American Pale Ale, such as the benchmark Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. This can be a subtle difference, but it is crucial; the key to AAA vs. APA is AAA's easily-ascertained crystal-malt contribution. As Brockington noted in his article:
Add some 80L crystal to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and you not only have a different beer, but a different style of beer.
R P Davis 15:48, 13 September 2008 (CDT)
Types of American Red Ale
West Coast versions tend to have more intense hop character and be more heavily tilted towards hop flavors than East Coast versions, which are often more balanced. In addition to the standard Red Ale, some American brewers are brewing "imperial" or "double" versions. This Imperial Red Ale style is often indistinguishable from an American IPA except that it might feature a sweeter malt character than the typical IPA.
Brewing American Red Ale
First and foremost, AAA is an American beer. Thus, select only American ingredients. This distinguishes AAA from the English beers upon which AAA is based.
MALT Choose US 2-row Pale malt for the base malt. English 2-row pale malts, such as Maris Otter, have a marked flavor profile easily discernible in the finished beer; this is due to the higher final kilning temperature used in malting. American base malts have a much more neutral profile, permitting a cleaner beer. Choose a high-quality Crystal malt from 40 to 80 degrees Lovibond for the necessary crystal/caramel flavor and color contribution. 10-15% of the grist should be comprised of crystal malt. A small amount of Munich or Vienna malt can be used to emphasize maltiness; target around 5% of the total grist. Some commercial examples also use a small amount of CaraPils. If a deep red color is desired, a tiny amount of roasted barley can be used for coloring purposes only. If it can be tasted in the finished beer, you've used too much; no more than 0.5-1% of the total grist. Better to use a small amount of darker crystal malt (120L) than roasted barley if you want a darker color, though.
HOPS As with the grist, choose only domestic hops varieties in AAA. Most commercial examples use one or a blend of the "Big C"s - Cascade, Chinook, Centennial - as part of the defining character. Avoid domestic varieties based on European ancestors (Willamette is a Fuggle cultivar, as Liberty is Hallertau).
YEAST A clean-fermenting ale yeast is required. Most brewers prefer Wyeast 1056 (go figure) or White Labs "Cal V". US-05 is a good choice for a dry yeast. Controlled fermentation, to avoid excessive ester production, is also highly desirable.
Here is David Brockington's general outline, based on conversations with brewers directly involved with the development of the style:
- Color from light red to deep copper, stopping just short of brown.
- Firm to emphatic crystal-malt character
- Distinctively American hops; bitterness moderate to high (25-45 IBUs); hops flavor and aroma moderate to intense
- OG 1.045 - 1.065, finishing dry.
R P Davis 16:11, 13 September 2008 (CDT)
BJCP Style Guidelines
American Amber Ale
GABF Style Listings
American Style Amber/Red Ale
|American amber/red ales range from light copper to light brown in color. They are characterized by American variety hops used to produce high hop bitterness, flavor, and medium to high aroma. Amber ales have medium-high to high maltiness with medium to low caramel character. They should have medium to medium-high body. The style may have low levels of fruity ester flavor and aroma. Diacetyl can be either absent or barely perceived at very low levels. Chill haze is allowable at cold temperatures. Slight yeast haze is acceptable for bottle conditioned products.||
Imperial or Double Red Ale
|Imperial or double red ales have intense hop bitterness, flavor and aroma. Alcohol content is also very high and of notable character. They range from deep amber to dark copper in color. The style may use any variety of hops. Though the hop character is intense it’s balanced with complex alcohol flavors, moderate to high fruity esters and medium to high caramel malt character. Imperial or Double Red Ales have a full body. Diacetyl should not be perceived.||