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[Photograph: Sarah Postma]

When I visit a small brewpub for the first time, I love to order a red ale. It's a style that many small breweries make, but no two approach it the same way. Sometimes you'll find yourself with a sweet, rich, malty beer similar to a Scotch ale, and other times it will be a double IPA in disguise.

The red ale is historically a close cousin to the American pale ale, and classic recipes resemble a pale ale recipe in everything except color. A base of American two-row malt sweetened with a variety of Crystal malts should comprise the majority of the grains. There is leeway for a few other specialty grains in this style, such as a bit of pale chocolate or dark Munich malts, but too much variety will make the malt flavor muddled as opposed to complex.

If you're looking for a bright, sparkling red color, the secret is found in a tiny amount of black malt. Adding one to two ounces of black malt to your steeping grains for five gallons of beer produces a surprisingly vibrant hue with no noticeable flavor contribution. Don't go overboard, though: more than a couple ounces could put the recipe into the brown ale style or change the flavor to be too roasty.

Red Ales can be focused on malt or hop flavor according to your personal preference. In either case, the standard Northwest varieties of Centennial, Cascade and Columbus are expected but not required. I have successfully used the over-the-top bittering hops Galena and Magnum in IPA-esque Red Ales, so if you want a chance to experiment with the bigger hop guns, this is a good style to play around with.

The recipe below is my own version of a west coast style red ale, with a lot of citrus hop character and aroma. Commercial beers with similar characteristics would be Green Flash Brewing Co's Hop Head Red, Founder's Red's Rye, or Stone Brewing Co.'s Levitation. This one is always a crowd-pleaser, especially among IPA-loving people, so invite your friends over and enjoy!

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Hoppy Red Ale »

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