Amber Ale vs. Red Ale

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by IPAEveryDay, Jun 9, 2021.

  1. IPAEveryDay

    IPAEveryDay Initiate (66) Sep 16, 2011 New York

    Sup all, I've been trying to read about the differences between an amber ale and a red ale. I've been on an amber ale kick lately, and I went to a bar and ordered a red ale assuming they were the same. My gf asked me what the difference was and I said, I'm pretty sure there is none. Turns out, there definitely is. It was subtle but definitely different.

    Can any of you beer geniuses help explain what the difference between the two is? Is it helpful if I narrow it down to American Ambers/Reds? Please help me so I don't embarrass myself in front of my gf again. Thanks!
     
  2. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/styles/128/

    They're pretty much the same "category," but there is a wide range of characteristics that can be brewed into the "style."

    Often a catch-all style for brewers (the BA description used to say that, but I see it's been edited).
     
  3. eldoctorador

    eldoctorador Champion (800) Dec 12, 2014 Chile

    Some of them may be similar, but there is a good number of Red Ales that are hoppier than their Amber counterparts.

    Irish reds are also super distinguishable. Personal opinion, they are meh so I would stick to non-Irish ones
     
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  4. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    There are some well-made Irish Reds (Great Lakes & Three Floyds, for instance), but yeah -- they're a different animal than the thread's subject -- so let's not veer to far off course -- at least, not this early in the thread. :wink:
     
  5. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,007) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
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    The other thing to keep in mind is that within a given beer style (e.g., Amber Ale) there will indeed be some subtle differences from Brand X vs. Brand Y. It well may be that for the Red Ale you are referencing it is more of a brand variation vs. a style variation aspect.

    Cheers!
     
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  6. Squire

    Squire Poo-Bah (2,440) Jul 16, 2015 Mississippi
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    I approach 'em with the attitude of what I'm drinking is this Brand's take on the style.
     
  7. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (3,092) May 30, 2005 Michigan
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    Any beer style has recipe ingredients that tend to define the traditional makeup of a beer in that style. However, brewers like to put their own touch into brewing a specific beer style so they vary the malt and/or hops. I'm just guessing here, but somewhere along the way in history a brewer chose a malt variation that produces a reddish color, thus the red ale was born, but not necessarily a new style since the ingredients didn't vary that far from norm. So the red ale basically sits at the far end of the color spectrum that defines the Amber style, yet the taste may or may not have changed that much.

    Brewers play with ingredients so that you can have an amber or red ale that is hoppier than normal, or with malts that tend toward being sweeter than normal.
     
  8. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,007) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania
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    Historically that was achieved via a small addition of Roasted Malt (e.g., Roasted Barley, Weyermann dehusked Carafa malts). On a 5 gallon homebrew scale it only takes about 1/4 lb. of Roasted Malt to add a reddish hue to the beer (there would also be some crystal malts as well to add some depth of color but it is the Roasted Malt that provides the reddish aspect).

    A few years ago BestMalz created a product they brand as Red X Malt:

    "If used at 100% of the grist, it creates a beer with an intense red color."

    https://www.morebeer.com/products/malt-bestmalz-red-lb-showroom.html

    A number of years ago Stone Brewing produced a beer using Red X Malt: Stone Pataskala Red X IPA.

    That Stone beer did have a pretty red color to it but I was not a fan of the malt flavor. After drinking one bottle (of the six-pack) I made a mental note to myself: never brew with Red X malt.

    Cheers!
     
  9. rgordon

    rgordon Meyvn (1,126) Apr 26, 2012 North Carolina

    I sold Rogue Ales back in the 90s and their St. Rogue Red was a very hoppy and stark ale that I rather liked. As I recall it was dry hopped and carried quite a punch. I also liked Shakespeare Stout and Hazlenut Brown. They were too pricey for the market in those days.
     
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  10. BigIronH

    BigIronH Devotee (413) Oct 31, 2019 Michigan
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    That’s the kind of the attitude I take towards every beer I drink. So many style variations, often two beers of the same style from two different brewers will taste completely different and I suppose that’s international most of the time.
     
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  11. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,675) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
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    All 3 are beers that I liked. A lot.
     
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  12. marquis

    marquis Champion (804) Nov 20, 2005 England

    Pale Ale is a broad church, In the pub situation it is often called Bitter though this name is getting out of fashion, Th amplify the point, Bitter is nothing more or less than draught Pale Ale.
    Any beer has a recipe and each brew is different, I have sixty years experience of drinking bitters/Pale Ales and I have found examples ranging from pale yellow to deep coppery red according to the ingredient list,
    I am frankly amused at attempts to classify them closer. I recall an article by Beior, the Irish beer enthusiasts group, who concluded that Irish Red is simply a Bitter with a certain colour. Plenty of British beers have a similar appearance.
    To end my rant, the expression Pale Ale simply refers to beers whose principle ingredient is Pale Malt. This terminology dates back to the 1600s and does not refer to the colour of the finished beer. This is why Black IPA is not contradictory.
     
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  13. jkrich

    jkrich Meyvn (1,306) Nov 1, 2001 Florida
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    A good example that explains the confusion and diversity of this style is Left Hand Brewing Company's, Sawtooth Ale. For years the ale was proudly called an ESB; sometime in the past few years, I noticed that this same ale is now referred to as an "amber" ale, even though it is exactly the same. I've noticed the same situation with other ales, so another good question is, What is the difference between an Amber ale and an ESB?
     
  14. VandilioffReborn

    VandilioffReborn Initiate (12) Apr 19, 2015 Canada (ON)

    As a former brewer myself; Irish reds always perked my attention when at a new bar. Its a beer that requires distinct notes ; particularly sweet notes. Any particular hop character is to be no where in its outline. A real Irish Red I think caps at 5.2%. So its a brew that requires certain check marks and with the craft beer scene blasting with hops and high abv's - .....

    That's why it perked my interest as a brewer. Its a testament to restraint when brewing it. As soon as I see one that boasts it hops and clocks in at 7 % 'Imperial Irish Red' etc

    I won't even try a sip.
     
  15. IPAEveryDay

    IPAEveryDay Initiate (66) Sep 16, 2011 New York

    I appreciate all of you, thanks for these responses. It sounds fairly nuanced and somewhat subjective, which makes sense. Lots of different breweries with their own particular styles / ways of brewing.
     
  16. rgordon

    rgordon Meyvn (1,126) Apr 26, 2012 North Carolina

    The fervor to classify every beer like plant species has always amused me. Up to a point brewers ought to be able to practice their art and trade with poetic license. New beers are found and made this way.
     
  17. keithmurray

    keithmurray Meyvn (1,423) Oct 7, 2009 Connecticut

    I always thought the two were used interchangeably
     
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  18. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (2,087) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota
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    A MN brewery did that as well, and while the name of the beer is still "14 ESB", on the can it is called an "Extra Special Amber Ale". I guess the marketing department didn't like to spell out "bitter" on the can.

    Also, I recall reading (somewhere) that ESB is a higher strength bitter intended for bottling and export. Fuller's was probably the first to use that designation.
     
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  19. defunksta

    defunksta Meyvn (1,068) Jan 18, 2019 North Dakota
    Trader

    Both good points and I'm not exactly sure. I have had ambers and also 14 ESB, which is a great beer. Both may be similarly hoppy. From my experience an amber may have more red citrus notes, whereas an ESB may have more toasty and bittering flavors. I probably stand to be educated too.
     
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  20. hudsonvalleyslim

    hudsonvalleyslim Disciple (322) May 29, 2003 Massachusetts

    The red/amber descriptors I take with a grain of salt. The expectation I think is a maltier hoppy brew, but the variations are endless. From Killian's Red to Hop Rod Rye.
     
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  21. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    Funny observation: BA lists Killian's as an Amber Lager -- not even an Irish Red. Very unfamiliar with the brand these days, Coors taking liberties?
    @jesskidden
     
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  22. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (2,087) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota
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    Killian's labels their beer as an Irish Red lager. There is no such style here on BA.
     
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  23. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    https://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/styles/147/

    No? :thinking_face:

    Or are you emphasizing the "Irish" adjective? In which case, I don't think I've seen that specific a style in any listings.
     
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  24. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (2,087) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota
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    Yes, I meant literally "Irish Red Lager."

    I know it's a Coors brand in the USA... but "American..."?
     
    #24 MNAle, Jun 16, 2021 at 4:21 PM
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2021 at 4:26 PM
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  25. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    It's been so long since I've tasted one, I can't comment -- but since there's no Irish Red *Lager* style guidelines to follow, Killian's (US) is probably the trail blazer. :rolling_eyes:
     
  26. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,675) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
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    It's a decent Lager, especially on draught, but it was gooder when it was an Ale.
     
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  27. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    Hmm. I'll take your word for it. Never really liked it as an ale, probably means I'll like it even less as a lager. :wink:
     
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  28. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,201) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Well, not much more I can add to this old post...:grin: (other than the fact that the US labeling regulations does not specify the use of top fermenting yeast for a product to be labeled "ale", only warm fermentation - so Coors' change from "Ale" to "Lager" would not necessarily correspond to when/if they changed the yeast).
     
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  29. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    Ugh -- do they still use rice? That'll keep me away from it.
     
  30. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,201) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
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    Doesn't look like it, based on the Molson Coors Ingredients pdf:
    Coors at the time used both rice and starch as adjuncts in their flagship beer, too.
    [​IMG]
     
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  31. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (7,675) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming
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    What? The Ale version tasted so damn good. Kinda ahead of its time for the time period. Shrugs.
     
  32. steveh

    steveh Poo-Bah (2,963) Oct 8, 2003 Illinois
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    It was weird on my palate -- started sickly sweet then turned sort of acidic. The thin body was at odds against that sweetness.

    In "that time period" there was a local brewery brewing a very nice Irish Red, then Sam Adams had one for a while, and Three Floyds' -- all much better than Killian's, in MHO.
     
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  33. marquis

    marquis Champion (804) Nov 20, 2005 England

    Fullers actually tried to copyright the name. The application was turned down because it was considered too generic.
    Another misused name is Wee Heavy, "wee" is of course a Scottish word for small.It was on the label of one brewery's (Fowler's) Strong Ale bottles but ONLY ON THE SMALL (wee) size .Wee referred to the portion size and had nothing to do with the beer style.
    In other words a wee heavy is just a small helping of strong ale.
     
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  34. Squire

    Squire Poo-Bah (2,440) Jul 16, 2015 Mississippi
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    Brit friends of mine also referred to a "small beer" which I figured was the same as a "wee heavy".
     
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  35. 57md

    57md Poo-Bah (3,150) Aug 22, 2011 Pennsylvania
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    To me "amber" and "red" are interchangeable. The key distinction for these styles is the hop-forward and malt-forward versions.
     
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