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This month's question: What is Irish Red Ale? How do I make one?

Answer: Irish Red ale is one of the styles added to the list when the BJCP categories were revamped in 2004. It's been around for a while, but was never officially described until now. The folks at BJCP decided to put it into the Scottish ale category, despite the fact that some versions of Irish red are actually lagers. Scottish ale category #9, by the way, now includes Strong Scottish Wee Heavy, which was previously grouped with English Old Ale.

Irish red had a malty aroma, typically with caramel, toasted and/or toffee notes. Hop aroma is typically absent. Low levels of diacetyl may be present, unless the sample is the lager version, in which case a bit of DMS would be considered more appropriate. Not too surprisingly, Irish Red Ale is red in color, ranging from 9 to 18 on the SRM color scale. The flavor emphasizes caramelly sweet notes with a bit of roasted character. The bittering is fairly light, though the roastiness may make it seem more bitter. Hop flavor, if present would come from English varieties. The mouthfeel is medium-light, with moderate carbonation. Some version can be fairly strong and feature an alcoholic warmth. Overall, the flavor should be sweet up front, but dry in the finish.

To make an Irish Red ale, start with a good dose of crystal malt. I'd add about a pound and a half of 55 Lovibond crystal. You can go either extract (6 pounds per 5 gallons, or all grain, using 2-row English pale malt (about 9 pounds per 5 gallons.) Keep the mash temperature fairly low, so that the final gravity goes fairly low. The sweetness should come from the crystal, not from unfermentables in the pale malt. You can also add some adjunct grains such as corn or rice, particularly if you are making the lager version. Finally, include a few ounces of roast barley to give it that roasty character.

When selecting the hops, use English varieties such as Kent Golding or Fuggles. Keep the additions early, so that there is no aroma addition, and make sure the flavor addition is on the low side. Aim for about 22 IBUs of bitterness. Finally, select an Irish or English yeast, such as Wyeast 1084. Ferment the beer on the cool side, since this style should be fairly clean without esters.

Vital Statistics for Red Ale

Original Gravity Final Gravity IBUs Color, SRM Alcohol %
1.044 - 1.060 1.010 - 1.014 17 - 28 9 - 18 4.0 - 6.0%