The history of Irish Red Ale is difficult to trace. Many Irish Ales made in Ireland are closely related to English Bitters, and some characterize Irish Red as a sub-category of English Bitters or Pale Ales. Others believe Irish Red stands as its own distinct style. Some” Irish Ales “ are lagers, though they share many of the same characteristics as ales. Adding to the confusion, breweries in America have taken American Amber Ales and added coloring or a bit of roasted malt and called that Irish Red as well.
Despite the variations and complex origins, the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guide now recognize Irish Red Ale as its own distinct style of beer. The recognized style most closely matches the Irish Red Ales brewed in Ireland such as Smithwick’s, Beamish Red Ale, Caffrey’s Irish Ale, Goose Island Kilgubbin Red Ale, and Murphy’s Irish Red.
Irish Reds have virtually no hop aroma low to moderate hop flavor and have low to moderate malty aroma and flavor. They have a very clean finish with a low buttery or toffee flavor. The use of roasted barley for coloring often results in a slightly roasted finish and creates a dry finish to the beer. Unlike English Ales, Irish Red has no ester (fruity) flavors.
The beer should be easy to drink.
Irish Red starts with traditional Irish grains. A moderate amount Caramel malt is used to aid in body, flavor and head retention.
The key malt for a red ale, however, is roast barley which is added in very small quantities for coloring. It is the roast barley that gives an Irish Red its traditional deep red color.