The equinox passed last night, and as the evenings get longer it’s time to sit and watch the red of the setting sun with the red of a decent ale in your glass.
Done properly a red ale can balance the stroppiest of hops with confident malt character producing dried fruit, toffee and caramel flavours. Specialty malts are the key to red ales, with a handful of malts developed specifically to impart a rosy tinge. Some examples include Weyermann® Carared, and the locally-developed RedBack from Gladfield Malt.
The BJCP style guidelines have top-level categories for Pale, Amber, Brown and Dark beers, but none for red. Three red beer styles are described – Irish Red Ale, Flanders Red Ale and Red IPA.
Irish Red Ales, it says, are the local adaptation of English Bitters, easy-drinking and moderate in alcohol.
Over in Flanders they do it differently. The Flanders Red Ale is made with cara-malts for colour, and then aged for a couple of years in “huge oaken barrels” where the resident bacteria do their sour thing. The result is intensely fruity with complex and dry finish, and the overall impression is distinctly red wine-like.
The BJCP describes Red IPA as a cross between an American IPA and American Amber Ale. The style combines the tropical/stone fruit notes of US hops, and caramel/toffee/dark fruit malt character. The result, when done well, gives malt an opportunity to stand alongside hops in big but balanced beer, and it can be one of my personal favourites.
Here in New Zealand we can find an Irish Red on tap at some Irish pubs serving Kilkenny. On the craft side of the business, a few brewers produce Red IPAs, typically using locally-produced speciality malts to complement local hops.
But Kiwis being Kiwis, the urge to experiment with beer styles is strong. And given the broad range of beers that can be described as red, there’s a lot of potential for experimentation.
Dave Wood, of Hashigo Zake, developed a red beer made with beetroot. It took a few attempts to develop a technique that brought out the colour without making borscht, and the idea was to make a beer to celebrate his partner’s love of Queensland’s maroon league jersey. The red colour was distinct and messed with your mind because the colour and the flavour seem so disjointed. Beetnik was produced commercially with Baylands, to kick off the Hashigo Zake staffies beers series in 2010, and another batch is planned for later this year.
Wellington is about to face an invasion of red ales with The Hunt for Red October, a celebration of red beers involving 25 breweries and five bars over five weeks.
Starting next Friday the Malthouse, Bin 44, Rogue & Vagabond, Bebemos and Little Beer Quarter will each host a different red beer each Friday for five weeks. Organisers are coy on what beers will be available, to encourage you to hunt them out each week.
But here at Beertown.NZ we are not coy, so here’s our reconnaissance report profiling some of the invading reds:
8 Wired Sour Poppy (7%) – a sour version of Tall Poppy. Red, tart but relatively sweet as well. Very fruity, the acidity really accentuates the fruitiness of the Amarillo and Galaxy hops.
Beer Baroness Danger Lass (4.5%) – the baby version of Lady Danger.
Choice Bros Barrel Aged Reet Petite (6%) aged in a freshly emptied Pinot Noir French oak barrel. The dark red berry, spice and cedar notes of the Pinot complement the ginger spice and red malt character of the beer, giving another dimension of complexity to an already complex brew.
Baylands Typhoon Detector (6%) American Red Ale, using Simcoe, Citra and Amarillo hops. Named for the Red October herself, a Typhoon class sub.
Moa Festive IPA Red Edition (6%) – This Red IPA combines a medley of specialty malts offering rich, roasted caramel aromas, while a big throw of US Simcoe and Amarillo hops provide piney, citrus and pineapple flavours with an IBU of 75.
Renaissance Oak-Aged Stonecutter Scotch Ale (7%) – Nine malts blended to produce layers of caramel, toffee, liquorice, chocolate and roasty flavours. These layers are balanced by a tart, raisiny fruitiness that gradually gives way to give this dark beer a lingering dry finish. Aged on French Oak chips for a minimum of 3 months. Characters of rum and raisin, melded with a smoky sweet peat palate and a hint of the oak flavours.
Invercargill Brewery Beery Spike (5%) - a blend of summer release Boysenbeery, a fruit wheat beer, and Cumulonimbus sour beer.