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Base & specialty malts
Base & specialty malts:
- Maris Otter pale malt - Brown malt - Crystal 40L - Crystal 120L

Brewing an Irish Red Ale

Previously in this series of articles on How to brew different Styles of Beer? we covered Brewing a Strong Bitter, this time the Beer Style comes from the ‘Irish Beer’ category in the BJCP 2014 Guidelines and is the style of an Irish Red Ale.

In the following sections we are going to examine different aspects of this style such as its background, the style guidelines, ingredients used, sample recipes, brewing process, and finally the outcome of brewing a batch of this beer.


Base & specialty malts
Base & specialty malts:
– Maris Otter pale malt
– Brown malt
– Crystal 40L
– Crystal 120L

An Irish Red Ale is a relatively recent style of beer in terms of how long beer has been brewed in Ireland, most notably these being Stouts. Irish Red Ales evolved from English Bitters and according to the BJCP Style Guidelines they are a less hoppy yet more roasty and a dryer adaptation of the neighboring style.

Commercial examples of this style include O’Hara’s Irish Red Ale, Franciscan Well Rebel Red, Smithwick’s Irish Ale, Kilkenny Irish Beer,
Caffrey’s Irish Ale, and Wexford Irish Cream Ale. Smithwick’s and Kilkenny’s are widely available outside of Ireland both on tap and bottled.


In the BJCP 2008 Style Guidelines the Irish Red Ale was grouped together with Scottish Ales within the Scottish and Irish Ale category (see here), but now the category has been split into two so that Scottish and Irish beers are grouped together by country rather than similar styles as follows:

BJCP 2014 BJCP 2008 BJCP 2008
Category 15: Irish Beer
9: Scottish and Irish Ale
13: Stout
Styles 15A: Irish Red Ale 9D: Irish Red Ale
15B: Irish Stout 13A: Dry Stout
15C: Irish Extra Stout 13A: Dry Stout

In the new guidelines the vital statistics of the Irish Red Ale beer style have primarily changed with a lowering of the Starting Gravity and hence the alcohol content plus there has been some tweaking to the lower range of bitterness and a reduction in the top of the color range:

  • Original Gravity (OG) = 1.036 – 1.046
  • Final Gravity (FG) = 1.010 – 1.014
  • Alcohol By Volume (ABV) = 3.8 – 5.0%
  • Bitterness (IBUs) = 18 – 28
  • Color (SRM) = 9 – 14


East Kent Goldings hops
East Kent Goldings hops

According to the BJCP 2014 Guidelines the following are characteristic ingredients used in the brewing of an Irish Red Ale:

  • Malts: Pale base malt, a bit of roasted barley or black malt to provide a reddish color and dry roasted finish. Historically caramel malts were also sometimes used.
  • Hops: Not specified but English varieties would make sense given how this style evolved from English Bitters.
  • Yeast: Highly attenuative English, Irish or Scottish yeast.
  • Water: Not specified.
  • Additions: Not specified.


Below are some sample recipes for 5 gallon batches of Irish Red Ales from leading authors in the homebrewing community together with some analysis on how they comply with the style guidelines. It should be noted that there are not many recipes for this style in homebrew books which may reflect on its popularity (?):

– Better Red Than Dead –

Hoisting the grain bag out of the Mash Tun
Hoisting the grain bag out of the Mash Tun

Source: Zymurgy (March/April 2009)
Author: Mark Pasquinelli

  • 7 Lbs Maris Otter malt
  • 3 Lbs Munich malt
  • 8 oz CaraRed 20
  • 6 oz Crystal 120L
  • 4 oz Roasted Barley
  • 1.5 oz Fuggle hops (45 min)
  • 1.0 oz East Kent Goldings hops (15 min)
  • Irish Ale yeast (White Labs WLP004 or Wyeast 1084)


  • OG: 1.053
  • FG: 1.016
  • ABV: 4.9%
  • Bitterness: 26 IBUs
  • Color: 17 SRM


  • Malts: the base malt in this recipe is British with a combination of both Roasted and two types of Caramel specialty malts. The CaraRed to impart color & body and Crystal 120L to add some caramel flavors.
  • Hops: these are traditional English varieties.
  • Yeast: WLP004 will produce ‘a slight hint of diacetyl, balanced by a light fruitiness and slight dry crispness’ according to the White Labs web site.
  • Statistics: the Starting and Finishing Gravities are in line with the 2008 style guidelines making them both a bit high for the 2014 guidelines though the alcohol content stays within range, just… the result might be a beer that is not quite as dry as desired. The color is also a little high for the style guidelines.

– Ruabeoir –

Recirculating iced cooling water
Recirculating iced cooling water

Source: Brewing Classic Styles
Author: Jamil Zainasheff

  • 11.25 Lbs British Pale Ale malt
  • 6 oz Crystal 40L
  • 6 oz Crystal 120L
  • 6 oz Roasted Barley (300L)
  • 1.25 oz Kent Goldings (60 min)
  • Irish Ale yeast (White Labs WLP004 or Wyeast 1084) or Fermentis Safale US-05.


  • OG: 1.054
  • FG: 1.014
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • Bitterness: 25 IBUs
  • Color: 17 SRM


  • Malts: the base malt in this recipe is specifically named as the British version whilst the author has opted to go for a combination of both Roasted and Caramel specialty malts as mentioned in the style guidelines.
  • Hops: this is a traditional English variety.
  • Yeast: the choice of liquid yeasts are Irish strains that are frequently used in Stouts.
  • Statistics: the Starting Gravity is in line with the 2008 style guidelines making it a bit high for the revised guidelines. Same goes for the resulting alcohol content, bitterness and color.


Brew-Boss Android app brewing process steps
Brew-Boss Android app brewing process steps

The recipe chosen for brewing this batch of Irish Red Ale was the Ruabeoir with the reason for this choice being a concern that Better Red Than Dead may not end up dry enough due to lower yeast attenuation.

As the roasted malt I opted for a Brown malt that I happened to have in my ingredients inventory and for the British Pale Ale malt I went with Maris Otter for the same reason. For yeast choice I went with White Labs WLP004 Irish Ale yeast.

The 5 gallon batch of beer was brewed on my Brew-Boss Electric Brewing system which uses the Brew In A Bag (BIAB) technique and the steps programmed into the Android tablet which controls the brewing schedule included:

  • Charcoal filtering the borough water and leaving it to stand overnight in order to vent off the chlorine.
  • Measuring out and milling the grains, also measuring out the hops and irish moss.
  • Sterilizing the fermentation equipment.
  • Heating the strike water to 155 deg F before mashing-in (adding the grist to the hot water).
  • Mashing for 60 mins at 153 deg F so the starches convert into sugars (pH 5.2).
  • Raising the temperature to 168 deg F to mash-out and stop enzymatic activity i.e. halt the conversion of starches to sugars.
  • Boiling for 10 mins to allow time for the hot break to clear.
  • Continue boiling for 60 mins with bittering hop addition.
  • Adding Irish Moss at 15 mins to help clear the beer.
  • A yeast starter was prepared comprising of 8 oz of DME (Dry Malt Extract) in two liters of water and placed in a flask on a stir plate together with one packet of yeast.
  • Yeast nutrient was added to the wort once it had been cooled.
  • Wort was aerated with Oxygen (60 secs) via a diffusing stone connected to an O2 tank with a regulator.
  • Yeast starter was decanted prior to pitching into the wort so that most of the spent wort did not go into the beer.
  • Primary fermentation was at 66 deg F for one week in a temperature controlled freezer.
  • The beer was racked off the trub (sediment) into the secondary fermenter and held at 66 deg F for two weeks.
  • Beer was force carbonated to 2.5 volumes of CO2 after cooling the beer to 36 deg F.


Spent grain being composted
Spent grain being composted

According to the style guidelines an Irish Red Ale should have the following characteristics:

  • Appearance: Medium amber to medium reddish-copper color. Clear. Low off-white to tan colored head, average persistence.
  • Aroma: Low to moderate malt aroma, either neutral-grainy or with a lightly caramelly-toasty-toffee character. May have a very light buttery character (although this is not required). Hop aroma is low earthy or floral to none (usually not present). Quite clean.
  • Flavor: Moderate to very little caramel malt flavor and sweetness, rarely with a light buttered toast or toffee-like quality. The palate often is fairly neutral and grainy, or can take on a lightly toasty or biscuity note as it finishes with a light taste of roasted grain, which lends a characteristic dryness to the finish. A light earthy or floral hop flavor is optional. Medium to medium-low hop bitterness. Medium-dry to dry finish. Clean and smooth. Little to no esters. The balance tends to be slightly towards the malt, although light use of roasted grains may increase the perception of bitterness slightly.
  • Mouth-feel: Medium-light to medium body, although examples containing low levels of diacetyl may have a slightly slick mouth-feel (not required). Moderate carbonation. Smooth. Moderately attenuated.
  • Overall: An easy-drinking pint, often with subtle flavors. Slightly malty in the balance sometimes with an initial soft toffee/caramel sweetness, a slightly grainy-biscuity palate, and a touch of roasted dryness in the finish. Some versions can emphasize the caramel and sweetness more, while others will favor the grainy palate and roasted dryness.

A common factor with these sample recipes is the use of British base malts and hops as well as an Irish Ale yeast.

How did my batch of Irish Red Ale turn out?

Wort for Irish Red Ale
Wort for Irish Red Ale

The Original Gravity was spot on target at 1.054 though alas the yeast did not attenuate as much as desired even with an extra pitch into the secondary and given more time. The beer did, however, start to self-carbonate which may have thrown off the final hydrometer reading.

Here are the actual vital statistics:

  • OG: 1.054
  • FG: 1.018
  • ABV: 4.73%
  • Bitterness: 24.9 IBUs
  • Color: 11.8 SRM

Below is a video of the primary fermentation which was very active with plenty of yeast churning around in the carboy and some yeast being thrown out via the blow-off tube.

The tasting notes are as follows:

Amber in color with a thin white head. A malty aroma. Flavor is fruity with some toffee. Moderate carbonation with a medium body and slightly bitter finish.

Irish Red Ale sample
Irish Red Ale sample

Overall I would deem this batch a success, generally I am disappointed with commercial examples of Irish Red Ales but this attempt has an almost Oktoberfest maltiness and body making it very drinkable. The only improvement I would make is to try improve the head retention.

What’s Next?

In my next article in this series I will be examining Brewing an Oatmeal Stout which is in the ‘Dark British Beer’ category so please check back for that article to be published.

Brew-BossThis article is made possible by Brew-Boss, to find out more about Electric Brewing systems and configuration options offered by Brew-Boss please click on their logo to check them out.

Comments or questions? If you have any comments or questions on this article please do not hesitate to leave them below.

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