The Growler makes homebrewed Irish Red Ale.
By Michael Dawson
Citizens, a disclaimer: even with St. Patrick’s Day almost upon us, this is not going to be about homebrewed Irish Red Ale. Well, it is, but only insofar as to frame up some guidelines we will then largely ignore.
Citizens, I’ve had pints (many pints, if we’re being honest) of Caffrey’s and Smithwick’s in front of peaty turf fires an empty pint glass’s throw from the north Atlantic, and this is not going to be about peaty turf fires and Caffrey’s and Smithwick’s. But it will be in the spirit of that. Buckle up.
Let’s say you brewed last month’s Ryed Irish Stout and think you’re all set for your observances of St. Patrick’s Day. But let’s further hypothesize that you were seized with a sudden panic (“not enough beer!”) or visited by unexpected guests or something like that. In any case, let’s crank out a batch of balanced, copper-colored smoothness and turn it over fast.
The plan, such as it is, will be to take a pretty standard Irish ale grain bill, take some liberties with the hop schedule to better suit our 21st century American craft beer sensibilities, and then conduct fermentation with a lager yeast – a high-temperature “steam”-style lager yeast, to be exact. This isn’t crazy, here’s why: precedent and brewhouse performance. The most well-known, mass-market, American-brewed Irish Red (and even some brewed in Ireland) are actually lagers; and for our batch, the steam-style yeast is going to give us (or your mooching March 17 guests, or whoever) that familiar clean lager-ish profile, plus help us out in the brewhouse with a very high flocculation – clear beer quick.
Going by the numbers:
With an SRM range of 9 to 18 SRM, Irish reds show up in the glass from dark golden-bronze to deep reddish-brown. These are known as very easy-drinking beers, with an original gravity ranging from 1.044 up to 1.060, sporting a finish that tends toward dry, and an abv that goes from a sessionable 4% up to a fairly substantial 6%. Like the Scottish ales we explored a few batches ago, Irish Red is not a hop-forward style, using hops mainly as a bitter counterweight for the dominant malt profile (although you’ll find the occasional example where some hop flavor creeps forward – that’s what we’re latching onto for our Auld Procrastinator).
What makes it tick:
On the world map of beer styles, I think of Irish red as occupying a spot in between the very malt-focused and clean Scottish ales and the fruitier, more hop-expressive bitters and ESBs of England: it’s tawny and leans to the malty with deeper, darker flavors like its Scottish cousins, but it’s not as clean with its yeast profile – esters and buttery diacetyl sometimes put a toe over the threshold (although not seen in those Irish reds brewed as lagers). And as mentioned above, hop character sometimes moves up in the mix; but by the same token, it’s not nearly as peachily, apple-ly ester-forward or as pungently hopped as an English pale ale.
But like either of those related families, the quality of malt shines through in the finished beer – a homebrewed Irish red ale starts with Irish malt (or at least a good UK variety like Maris Otter or Golden Promise). Some UK crystal malt will boost the round, sweet malty character. And that red color? Like Irish stout, Irish Red takes its hue from roasted barley, although in much smaller proportions – but still enough to impart a light coffee flavor and a dryness about the finish. Some incorporate adjunct grains like corn or rice to help lighten the body, but we’ll eschew that for this recipe.
A recipe to try:
Like Shane MacGowan’s teeth or the Millennium Falcon, it’s not much to look at but it’s got it where it counts: a solid British Isles grain roster, a new-world hop load with nefarious intentions for this normally malt-forward style, and a California lager strain designed to produce malty and brilliantly-clear beers in a short amount of time. With modest bitterness, moderate gravity, and enough color and malt-hop character to help cover up the flavors of youth, this beer should be ready to package inside of 2 weeks. Good craic.
Auld Procrastinator Irish-American Red Lager
All grain, 5 gallons
Target OG: 1.050
Target IBU: 28
- 8 lbs. Malting Co. of Ireland Stout Malt (or any nice UK pale malt – consult your LHBS)
- 12 oz UK 55L crystal malt
- 3 oz Roasted barley
- 1 oz. Palisade hop pellets
- 1 oz. Glacier or Palisade hop pellets
- Your choice of a “steam”-style California lager yeast – I’m using Wyeast 2112 California lager
Key Points for Key Pints:
- Choose your own hop adventure: we’ll use some finishing hops in this recipe, but you decide which kind and how much. Glacier and Palisade are both new-school American varieties, but with a slightly fruity, earthy, sweet-candy character that – to my nose – echo the high notes of some European hops and can play nice with old world beer styles. Pick one (or blend them!) and use ½ to a full ounce 15 minutes before the end of the boil. A half-ounce will give a subtle undertone that meshes with the malt and roast flavors, a full ounce will stand out more.
- Mash low for good attenuation: being an easy-drinking beer means no sickly-sweet finish from a high final gravity, but the Cali lager strains we’ll use typically don’t attenuate like overachievers. To counteract that, we’ll mash a little on the low side to encourage more beta-amylase activity and a more fermentable wort.
- Yeast starter for fast turnaround: not specific to Irish Reds, but in the interest of turning this batch around quickly – make a starter before brew day (consult your LHBS for the how-to and the gear) to minimize the lag time between pitching and fermentation. With a healthy pitch of yeast, we should be able to get from grain to glass in right around 14 days.
To the homebrewery!
Note: these steps are general guidelines and assume you’re already familiar with the all-grain brewing process – refer to the instructions for your brew system, and adjust as needed based on experience with your own particular equipment.
- Before brew day, prepare a yeast starter (consult your LHBS).
- On brew day, collect strike water (I use 1.3 quarts per pound, YMMV) and heat to approx. 162 F.
- Mill the grains, or have it done for you at the shop.
Mash & Sparge
- Add grains to strike water and mix to achieve a uniform temperature of 149-150 F. Rest the mash at this temperature for 60 – 90 minutes.
- While the mash rests, collect and heat sparge water.
- When the mash rest is complete, heat it to 170 F for mashout.
- Sparge and collect the wort in the boil kettle.
- Bring the wort to a boil. Add 1 oz Palisade hops when the wort begins to boil, and boil for 60 minutes.
- 15 minutes before the end of the boil, add ½ to 1 oz of your choice of finishing hops (Glacier or Palisade).
- Cool it!
Fermentation and beyond
- Transfer the cooled wort to a sanitized fermenter, aerate, and add yeast.
- Aim for a maximum fermentation temp in the mid 60s F; depending on temp and yeast, fermentation should be complete within 7 to 10 days.
- Continue to rest in the primary for a couple-three more days after final gravity is reached to allow the beer to clarify, then package.
- The beer is ready to drink as soon as it’s carbonated; assuming it survives the 17th, it should stay sound long enough to reprise with a corned beef sandwich throughout the spring.
Until next time: drink it like you brewed it.