How To Brew Irish Red Ale | Homebrew Challenge

by Steve Thanos | Last Updated: October 30, 2020

Irish Red Ale is one beer style that is more popular in America than its motherland. As a result of this style not catching on in Ireland or anywhere else for that matter, there is a very limited history. English bitters seemed to take the rank.

The earliest known record of beer in Ireland is believed to be brewed during the Bronze Age (3000 BC – 1200BC).

Much like Scotland, Ireland’s focus was on whiskey more than beer.

Michael Jackson’s Influence on a Style

Famed beer historian and writer, Michael Jackson wrote about Irish beer. Jackson makes mention of stouts, lagers and “a bland red beer,” which he called Irish Red Ale. Smithwicks even just referred to it as “ale.” In giving this rather bland beer an actual name, Jackson gave Ireland a beer style.

Jackson’s influence on beer and how it is perceived in America helped the style grow in the states. You can discover more of Michael Jackson’s beer musings at Beerhunter.com.

Hops or the Lack Thereof

Like we learned last week about Scotland, hops did not grow easily in this region. Therefore, Irish red ales where more malt focus and less interested in hops. At the time, Flemish hops were imported to Ireland. A ban on such imports in 1733 forced Irish brewers to purchase more expensive hops from England.

Competition

Irish brewers used their knowledge of brewing and produced their interpretation on British bitters. This was a style lighter, very refreshing, and very popular in the late 19th century. These brewers took roasted barley to achieve the color and flavor they sought.

They could have just used more caramel malts, but like hops these were too expensive at the time. The end result was a reddish hued beer with a nice toasted malt flavor with a dry finish.

Style Profile for Irish Red Ale

Appearance

The color is usually amber to deep reddish copper. It is quite clear with a small off-white to slightly tan colored head.

Aroma

There is a lot to moderate malt aroma on the nose. Mostly caramel on the nose, but can be toasty or toffee-like notes Some diacetyl may be present which creates a butter-like aroma, along with the malt. Hop aroma is usually not present at all.

Mouthfeel

The mouthfeel is mid-light to medium. When diacetyl is present, it can cause a rather slippery or smooth mouthfeel. Stronger examples may contain a low alcohol warmth. Moderate carbonation and attenuation.

Taste

Moderate caramel maltiness is upfront in the taste of an Irish Red Ale. If diacetyl is present, a buttered toast or toffee character may be detected. Light roasted grain qualities are upfront at the front of the palate with the initial tasting. Usually little to no hop flavor.

When present, English hop varieties are light. Roasted grains can give the sense of more hop bitterness that is actually present in the beer. Fermentation is clean. Beer finished smooth with a medium-dry finish.

Food Pairing

Irish red ales are famous for their caramel and toffee malt notes, along with some roasted grains. Often a red ale will have a rather dry finish. Hearty dishes such as Shepherd’s Pie and Bangers and Mash pair really well with the malty backbone of an Irish red ale.

Roasted and/or grilled meats pair up with the flavors well. Goat cheese salads with smoked almonds with a drizzle of vinegar based dressing plays well with a red ale. Think nutty and savory instead of fruity or spicy.

Tips for Brewing your own Irish Red Ale

Grain

A solid Irish red ale foundation is a good quality British or Irish pale malt. These malts are a little darker than American two-row and lends to toasty and biscuit qualities. British malts such as Maris Otter is always a great place to start when writing an Irish Red Ale recipe.

When using specialty malts, don’t go too heavy handed. Keep specialty malts to under a pound each. Caramel 10-40L is a good place to start. The red hue of the beer will actually not come Caramel or Crystal malts. Instead the color of an Irish red ale comes from the ever so light handed amounts of roasted barley.

Hops

Only English hops should be used if you are trying to brew a traditional Irish red ale. Avoid the American citrus forward hops. East Kent Goldings, Fuggles and Perle all work really well. A single addition of bittering hops at 60 minutes usually will do the trick. If you are looking for slightly more hop character, a half ounce at around the 20 minute mark will work nicely.

Yeast

A Irish red can be brewed either as an ale or a lager. If pursuing the traditional route, choose a good English or Irish ale yeast. An Irish yeast will have the nice low ester profile you are looking for in this beer. If you want to go the English yeast route, then pick one that has a low ester profile.

Be forewarned, many English yeasts have a high ester profile. White Labs WLP004 Irish Ale and Wyeast 1084 Irish Ale are good choices. Follow the temperature recommendations with any yeast that you pick.

Fermentation

Temperature control is important with this style, especially if you are going to lager this beer. Stick close to the lower end of the yeast’s manufacturer’s temperature range. This will help with the beer’s attenuation.

Irish Red Ale the By the Numbers

  • Color Range: 9 – 18 SRM
  • Original Gravity: 1.044 – 1.060 OG
  • Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.014 FG
  • IBU Range: 17 – 28
  • ABV Range: 4.0 – 6.0%

Martin Keen’s Irish Red Ale Recipe

Grain

  • 86% 8 lbs Pearl Malt
  • 6% 8 oz Crystal 45 Malt
  • 6% 8 oz Crystal 120 Malt
  • 2% 4 oz Chocolate Rye Malt

Hops

1 oz East Kent Golding – Boil 60 min

Yeast

1.0 pkg Wyeast Irish Ale 1084

Directions

Mash at 152°F (66°C) for 60 mins

Boil for 60 mins

How To Brew Irish Red Ale Homebrew Challenge

Transcript: Irish red ale is a rich, but sessionable beer and I’m going to brew on up and serve it through my new nukatap set up. Hi, I’m Martin Keen and I’m taking The Homebrew Challenge to brew 99 beers in say it with me… 99 weeks.

Today’s beer is a Irish red ale, which is a beer that has a little bit of a sweet caramel-y taste without being overpowering. It’s a really nice, enjoyable, refreshing beer.

And this is my little package of ingredients of Irish red ale directly from Atlantic brew supply. Actually, I just did a take pickip the Atlantic brew supply and I’ve got ingredients for the next four beers here as well. So let’s talk about the ingredients for this beer, but, but not here.

That’s better. I feel like I need to be standing in front of my ingredients before I can talk about them. Okay. So for this beer, the base malt is Pearl malt at 86%. Are you expecting me to say maris otter? I think Pearl malt gives a little bit more toastiness, which I think is going to work well in this beer.

I also have 6% of caramel 45, and we need to address the Amber color of this beer. And we’re going to get there partially through crystal 120, which forms another 6% of this grist. And then we need a little bit of chocolate malt in this as well. I’m going to go specifically for chocolate rye at 2%.

Going for an original gravity of 1.042, which should give a beer about 4.1% ABV.

So this is my current tap set up. I have four taps here. I’ve got three of my new nukatap set up which I really like, and also a nitro tap here as well.

Now what generally tends to happen is these three Perlick taps are constantly in use. I always have a beer ready to put behind one of them. The nitro tap. Well, I use this sometimes for nitro cold brew or for serving beer on nitrogen. but very often I don’t have any nitrogen or beer gas on hand or a beer style that’s appropriate for it.

So quite often, as of right now, for example, this thing is non-operational. So I’m going to try a new set up. Now here’s the gear that I’m using. Everything was provided to me by kegland. There is a link in the description.

Now I have these Nukataps. These are stainless steel, forward seeling taps, so much like the perlicks, because they’reforward seeling you shouldn’t expect to see any drip issues or these things getting stuck.

Now there’s a couple of things I really like about these taps. So first of all, these are intended to be foam reducing. So first pour foam reducing. What that means is the first pint that you used to pour out, it should be less foamy.

Which is a problem I have with my current setup, which is I think mainly just because the beer and the lines is getting warm in between my Keezer and my tap. So we’ll see how that helps with that.

The other feature that I really like about these things is they are modular. Let me show you what I mean. So this end here screws off and you can replace it. So this is used for, you know, regular old CO2 dispensed beer. I can replace it with this attachment, which is intended for nitro taps, and I just screw it in. And now I have got a nitro tap.

So I can just sort of make some matches. I want, I can have four regular beer taps, and then I’ve got something that needs to be served on nitro. I can, I can easily do that. And in fact, there are other attachments for these taps as well. This is the one that I have, and I’m looking forward to using that.

Now, the way that I’m going to connect this all into my system is I have a number of other things here as well. So I’ve got these shanks here and these shanks will just screw in to each one of the taps and they are duo tight compatible. So I have a bunch of these duo type connectors, and you can literally just click that in there. And now I can put in some line.

With regards to line, I have five millimeter line I’m intending to use about 10 feet of beer line for each beer tap. On the other end of that line. I’m then going to attach another one of these dou type adapters. This one is used to connect to my liquid post. So that’s the new bling which I will be setting up in my Keezer.

Hops

East Kent Golding Hops. I’m throwing in one bag of east Kent Golding, right at the start of the boil, but for an IBU of about 21.

The beers come out at 1.040.

Yeast

For yeast I’m using, WYeast 1084 This is Irish ale yeast. I’ll be fermenting this beer at 68 Fahrenheit or 20 Celsius. Right, onto these beer taps.

And this is the finished setup. I’ve replaced all of the beer taps, the shanks, and even the beer lines. Now this is complicated a little bit with my system because I have my keezer at the other side of this wall here. And then we’ve drilled a hole in the wall, which is running into the back of the Keezer.

So all of the beer lines that are in here have to go down through here through the wall and in to the Keezer. So I have my son tugging on the old lines to pull them out. And then when we got down to just one line left, I tied all the new beer lines to that one and pulled that one through as well. And that ended up putting all the lines.

And then it was just really a case of removing everything that was else that was in here, all the shanks and so forth, and then installing the new shanks and putting the new taps in and then just screwing back on the, uh, the tap handles.

And yes, they do all work. There’s beer that comes out of each one of these taps. And I will be putting them to the test over the coming weeks.

What have you got there Lauren? Right, here I have an awesome Irish red ale,… illiminated.

Look how much cooler yours looks then mine. Oh yeah. So yeah, this, I think this know I hold this up, it’s like, huh, it just looks like another beer, but actually when you provide a bit of color to it, you can really, you see it’s red, right? Yeah. I definitely can. It looks awesome. Although it’s like a Mothra flame, I’m trying not to look at this light. So blinding, it’s really bright

And there’s such a thing as like LED beer coasters. Right. So?

Yeah. Um, I actually saw somebody on your comments mentioned it. I can’t remember who it was. I’m so sorry. But, um, yeah, he mentioned it and I was like, that’s a really good idea. So I told Martin and he happened to have this in the house and it’s super cool. It’s definitely an led coaster.

But I can’t even. Yeah, yeah. Right. So let’s take it down a notch and turn it off for now.

But okay. Appearance, we liked the appearance with a bit of assistance. Okay. Alright. What about aroma with this beer? Not really any sweetness like with the Scottish beers. Yeah. But uh, nothing sort of hopwise is, is, is standing out, which is, I think really what you’d expect.

Okay. Um, let’s go in for the taste. Now, I’m most curious on your opinion here due to this being an irish beer. And of course you’re having Irish heritage. So, uh, this is modeled after there’s like Killian’s. Right. Um, so how does this taste?

I think it tastes pretty good. I feel like I’m put on the spot that I really have to like critique this. Like, so with the sweetness, I definitely would say it’s like a caramelly sorta taste to it. Yeah. caramelly toffee, maybe toffee. Yeah. I can definitely taste that undernotes of it.

Not sort of overpoweringly sweet. Um, quite, quite a smooth tasting beer as well. I know when I’ve had Killian’s, um, Irish red is definitely easy drinking, smooth kind of beer. I feel like we’re getting, getting through that.

This is a really nice drinkable beer. I think. So check out the description. I’ve got the recipe there or the brewing equipment there I’ve actually even updated my descriptions to include all the camera equipment that I’m using as well.

Um, so this is the first of the Irish beers that we are doing, going to look at a slightly darker beer next week, but for now Lauren, Sláinte!

I am the former President of my homebrew club, Plainfield Ale and Lager Enthusiasts (PALE) in the western suburbs of Chicago, IL. I brew on my BIAB system with my incredibly patient and understanding wife, adorable 9 year old daughter, and 12 year old brew dog.