All beer was once dark, right? That’s one of those rote-repeated ‘truisms’ about beer which is actually not true. White beers, witbiers and weissbiers weren’t called that to be funny; they were pale in colour, often made with wheat, oats and/or unkilned malt. The history shift came with the industrial revolution and the great beer styles which evolved from that, like porter, stout, dunkel lagers, and more. These were dark and they were very popular and lots of people seemed to forget that other beers existed.
But from the mid-19th century, pale ales, best bitters and amber and golden lagers started to rise in prominence to eventually overtake the dark beers in popularity. So what does this have to do with Amber and Red beers?
Amber and Red is a big catch-all category with a broad range in characteristics. Many began as easy-going beers with a balance between richer malts and bitter hops, evolving as a reaction to the popularity of pale ales and pale lagers. More recently, the influence of American craft brewing has also seen this style get super hoppy. Here are a few great examples.
Palm is a classic Belgian ale which was first brewed in the early 20th century as a local rival to the spread of British pale ales and Central European pale lagers. It’s an everyday drinking beer, one with soft biscuit and honeyish malts, dry peppery hops and a fruity, banana-like yeast.
Galway Bay’s Bay Ale is an Irish Red Ale. There is history of paler Irish beers, but they were more likely to be just pale ales or bitters. When those beers arrived in America they were often served next to Guinness and in a similar smoothflow way, which highlighted malt sweetness. In a sharp marketing rebrand they were then called Irish Red and it effectively created a new style of beer. It’s now been picked up by Irish craft brewers who are taking on the style in a new way. Bay Ale is toasty, nutty and smooth with malts, and it’s balanced and easy-drinking, yet still with a definite dry bitterness of hops.
Tiny Rebel Cwtch is a ‘Welsh Red Ale’ (that’s Amber/Reds in Belgian, Irish and Welsh styles, with American coming next). It’s a bit like a maltier British bitter with a heap of American hops through it, giving tangy citrus and juicy berries. It won Champion Beer of Britain in 2015 and the name is Welsh for ‘cuddle’ – it’s pronounced ‘Cutch.’
The missing Amber from here is the American Amber. This became the most popular early craft beer style, something of a gateway beer between pale lagers and pale ales, with its softer malts and fruity hops. While it might not be an Amber ale, something like Brooklyn Lager gives you an idea of how this kind of beer tastes.
Take a look at our Amber & Red Ales.
Beers mentioned in this article