Scroll Down

What’s the story with Red Ales?


Red ales seem to come and go in terms of being on trend, they suit the autumn and can bring the colours of the season along with warming malty sweetness and moderate strength.

There’s a lot of information around Irish Red ales and these beers were initially brewed in the late 19th and early 20th century. The beers were mainly brewed by regional brewers and these were subsequently picked up by the national and international brewers and made into big brands.

The US Craft Brewers on the West Coast used malt forward beers and then balanced the sweetness with lots of juicy hops, thus the American Red and Amber Ale styles were created.

In the UK, bitters and ESB’s tended to be reddy brown in colour but they weren’t particularly malt forward.

In Belgium the Flemish brew Flanders Red Ales and these are complex mixed fermentation beers, the base malts are likely to be similar to other Reds though.

The style is defined the Beer Judge Certification Programme as follows;

Quick Characteristics
Color Range9–18 SRM 20 – 39 ebc
Original Gravity1.044–1.060
Final Gravity1.010–1.014
IBU Range17–28
ABV Range4.0–6.0%
AromaLow to Moderate Maltiness with Strong Caramel Notes; No Hop Aromas
FlavourCaramel Maltiness with Notes of Toffee, Buttered Toast & Roasted Grains; No Hoppiness; Clean with Medium-dry Finish
AppearanceRanges From Amber to Deep Reddish Copper with Slightly Tan Head
MouthfeelMedium-Light to Medium Body; Smooth with Moderate Carbonation; Alcohol Warmth Possible
Food PairingsLamb Chops, Reuben Sandwich, Shepherd’s Pie, Mutton, French onion soup, Crème Brûlée

So, it’s all about the malt, but which types should you use and how do you actually get that red colour?

What are the best speciality malts for a Red Ale?

Z4487_Red-Ale-Blog_Image-1As we’ve seen there are different styles within a style here so don’t be bound by what’s gone before and copy recipes. Here are some malts that will serve as a palate of colour and flavour for a solid Red Ale arranged in ascending potency;

Rye: 12-32°EBC

Rye is great for bringing a spicy depth to a beer and a nice red hue.

Munich: 15-45°EBC

Produced on a conventional kiln using temperature, moisture and air flow to create melanoidins for colour and flavour. Light Munich and Dark Munich will enhance malty depth and complexity, they will give a reddish-brown colour to beer.

Amber: 55-75°EBC

The lightest coloured of the roasted malts that gives a toasty, biscuity dryness and helps provide a clean finish, colour contribution is reddish-brown.

Crystals: 100-400°EBC

These malts are stewed at 65°C to saccharify the starch in the grain and then they’re roasted to give varying degrees of colour and flavour. The lightest ones will bring caramel sweetness, mid-range will be toffee/treacle toffee and at the high end sultana/raisin flavours and ruby red colour.

Roasted Barley: 1100-140°EBC

For a truly red final colour in your beer use 0.5 to 1% roasted barley. It’s best to not mash it in with the rest of the grains but sprinkle it on top of the mash just before sparging to leach out the colour but avoid any harsh, astringent flavours.


Wheat at around 10 to 15% inclusion will create a nice head and add some body and mouthfeel.

Product Comparison

We put some of our products to the test! Although our product range doesn’t necessarily suggest we sell any “red” malts, we were pleasantly surprised when we assessed a selection of our malts against “red” malts already available on the market.

As we have already stated, Munich malts are known to give reddish-brown hues to the wort. However, on closer inspection, the red tones were far more intense than we had first anticipated! Light Munich, with it’s corresponding laboratory analysis, very closely resembles “red” malts on the market. Even more remarkably, is that the Light Munich malt tea, side-by-side with these “red” malt products was strikingly more… well… red! The Dark Munich malt tea was a rich mahogany, deep, dark red. However, with the Dark Munich, the laboratory analysis is not comparable to “red” malts on the market. At smaller addition rates, this could however replicate the red colour we see with Light Munich and other “red” malts.

But of course, colour isn’t everything… what about flavour?

In a blind flavour assessment, our flavour panel instantly detected a well-rounded, complex flavour being offered from our Light Munich in comparison with other “red” malts. Flavour profiles showed more aromas with more intensity, and with a smoother mouthfeel (see below).


How to brew a good Red Ale

So there we are, so many different combinations to think about with the malts and I would recommend that you try to taste them all individually before you start building a recipe, get in touch with your Sales Manager to arrange a sample box or ask us through the website.

The hop charge will depend on the basic style you go for, for European Reds go with more delicate floral, spicy and dark fruit hops and keep the bitterness subtle with only a smidge of late hop. If you want to emulate the US Reds go with fruity, spicy hops. Add plenty but put them in late to keep the bitterness below 28ibu, a spicy dry hop addition will also go well.

Keep in mind that the finishing gravity needs to be fairly high, aim for a mash temperature of 68°C and Burtonise the brewing liquor.

Esters should be subtle so choose your yeast carefully and don’t let the fermentation temperature exceed 21°C. Remember to chill the beer at a point where some residual fermentable sugars will be present for flavour, depth and condition.

For more information or to access our recipe calculator please contact your Sales Manager.

Happy brewing and let’s hope you see red and make a tasty satisfying beer!



Further Reading...
View All

Back to top