Why It Works
- A small amount of black malt gives the ale a wonderful red cast without adding roasty flavors.
- An optional dry-hopping step with Amarillo hops adds intense citrus aromas.
When I visit a small brewpub for the first time, I love to order a red ale. It's a style that many small breweries make, but no two approaches it the same way. Sometimes you'll find yourself with a sweet, rich, malty beer similar to a Scotch ale, and other times it will be a double IPA in disguise.
The red ale is historically a close cousin to the American pale ale, and classic recipes resemble a pale ale recipe in everything except color. A base of American two-row malt sweetened with a variety of Crystal malts should comprise the majority of the grains. There is leeway for a few other specialty grains in this style, such as a bit of pale chocolate or dark Munich malts, but too much variety will make the malt flavor muddled as opposed to complex.
If you're looking for a bright, sparkling red color, the secret is found in a tiny amount of black malt. Adding one to two ounces of black malt to your steeping grains for five gallons of beer produces a surprisingly vibrant hue with no noticeable flavor contribution. Don't go overboard, though: More than a couple ounces could put the recipe into the brown ale style or change the flavor to be too roasty.
Red ales can be focused on malt or hop flavor according to your personal preference. In either case, the standard Northwest varieties of Centennial, Cascade, and Columbus are expected but not required. I have successfully used the over-the-top bittering hops Galena and Magnum in IPA-esque red ales, so if you want a chance to experiment with the bigger hop guns, this is a good style to play around with.
The recipe below is my own version of a west coast style red ale, with a lot of citrus hop character and aroma. Commercial beers with similar characteristics would be Founder's Red's Rye, or Stone Brewing Co.'s Levitation. This one is always a crowd-pleaser, especially among IPA-loving people, so invite your friends over and enjoy!
The specialty grains you will need for this beginner-friendly recipe are CaraRed malt, Crystal 60L and tiny bit of Black Roasted Barley. The hops used are Centennial and the assertive Amarillo varieties.
The yeast should be an American ale strain, and you'll need a 1 Liter starter of either White Labs WLP001 or Wyeast 1056. You can substitute one 11.5 gram package of Safale US-05 for the starter of liquid yeast.
To bring out the intense orange-citrus aroma of this homebrew, dry hop with 1 ounce of Amarillo hops for 1 week. It will add a brightness to the beer that will make your friends and family say "Wow!" even before they take a sip. The strong hop bitterness of this recipe is balanced by a touch of sweetness, similar to an assertive IPA. If bitter beers are not your thing, cut both of the Centennial hop additions from 1 ounce to 1/2 ounce. That way, you'll keep the aromas and flavors of the Amarillo, but bring the bitterness levels into pale ale territory.
As your beer cools, always keep proper sanitation as priority number one. Mix up at least three gallons of sanitizing solution in your sanitizing bucket (either Iodophor or Star San), and sanitize every utensil that comes in contact with the wort after the boil is complete. Before you transfer your wort to the fermentation vessel, pour the sanitizer into the vessel and swirl the sanitizer around so it touches every surface, then pour it back into the sanitizing bucket. There is no need to rinse the sanitizer or foam off of anything you use—there will be no residual flavor and the residue will actually help to keep everything clean.
- 6 gallons of tap water, split
- 6 pounds Light liquid malt extract
- 1 pound CaraRed malt, crushed
- 1/2 pound Crystal 60L malt, crushed
- 2 ounces Black Roasted Barley malt, crushed
- 1 ounce Centennial Hops—60 minutes
- 1 ounce Centennial Hops—15 minutes
- 1 ounce Amarillo Hops—5 minutes
- 1 Liter starter of American Ale yeast (White Labs WLP001 or Wyeast 1056)
- 1 ounce Amarillo Hops—for dry hopping in secondary
- priming sugar for bottling
If possible, place 3 gallons water in the refrigerator to cool in a sanitized container.
Tie the CaraRed, Crystal 60L and Black Roasted Barley malt in a large mesh grain bag or hop bag. Place the bag in 3 gallons of water in a 5 gallon pot and immerse the grain.
Begin to heat, making sure mesh bag isn’t sitting directly on the bottom of the pot. Remove the grain bag when the temperature reaches 170°F (77°C).
Bring wort to a vigorous boil. As water is heating, slowly add 6 pounds of light liquid malt extract, stirring constantly until completely dissolved. When the boil begins, add 1 ounce Centennial hops in a mesh bag.
After 45 minutes of boiling has passed, add 1 ounce Centennial hops in a mesh bag.
After a total of 55 minutes has passed, add 1 ounce Amarillo hops in a mesh bag.
After total of 60 minutes of boil, remove from heat. Warning: After wort cools below 180°F (82°C) everything that touches it should be sanitary, and exposure to open air should be limited as much as possible.
Cool wort by placing pot in ice bath until it is below 85°F (29°C). Transfer to sanitized fermentor (either a carboy or a fermentation bucket). Top off to make 5 gallons using refrigerated water.
Use a sanitized auto-siphon racking cane to remove enough wort to take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. Make a note of this number, since you will be using it to calculate the actual alcohol content when it's done fermenting. The reading should be around 1.050.
Carefully pour yeast into cooled wort (it should be below 70°F or 21°C), and agitate vigorously. Cover fermentor with a sanitized stopper and airlock. Ferment in dark place, keeping ambient temperature consistent, preferably between 65° and 68°F (18° and 20°C).
After 2 to 3 weeks when primary fermentation is complete (take at least 2 consistent gravity readings), transfer to a secondary carboy for conditioning, add 1 ounce Amarillo hops for dry hopping and store as cool as possible.
Bottle after another 1 to 2 weeks using enough priming sugar for a medium level of carbonation according to these instructions.
5 gallon glass carboy in addition to basic homebrewing equipment setup