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Friday, September 02, 2011

Your Best Ambers and Reds

I haven't solicited you for your favorites lately, but a long holiday weekend seems like an ideal opportunity to get some opinions flying. The purpose behind these open threads is to find examples in a style I may not know about for possible inclusion in a book I'm working on. (Those of you outside the Northwest become precious resources.) I want to use beers that enjoy at least a regional distribution, mostly bottled examples, and those which are enduring standards and likely to still be sold by the time the book comes out (probably 2013).

American ambers and reds are often collapsed into a single style. Personally, I think this is a mistake. Fifteen years ago, reds were vanishingly rare and ambers were quite popular. The ambers of those days are the ones we still have around--mid-alcohol riffs on strong bitter with a balance point headed toward the malty, but with all that American hop goodness you expect from an American ale. Reds of the day were similar--except maybe they tilted more toward Munich instead of caramel malt. If you look at the top reds now, you see that they've strayed pretty far from the original mark. Now most are more similar to IPAs and double IPAs, though with a different malt base. Reds are less complex, with just a bit of candy sweetness to balance the assault of hops. (At the blogger conference, two of the beers that really impressed me were reds--Cigar City's cedary Tocobaga and Hopworks Imperial Red.)

Of course, you're invited to dispute this thesis, too. I'd be interested to hear your views, especially as they are backed up by examples--examples I can track down and maybe use for the book. The past editions of these open threads have been really valuable--for each style you've directed me to at least a couple beers that will go in the book. So consider this my advance thanks.

I'll be out of town and away from computers through Labor Day, so see you Tuesday--


  1. Mac and Jack's African Amber and Elysian Men's Room Original Red are my two favorites.

  2. Summit Horizon Red Ale, Rush River Unforgiven Amber, and Lake Superior Mesabi Red are a few of the local examples available in my area. My hands down favorite red is Odell's seasonal Red Ale.

  3. I've got to put a word in for my hometown Ska Pinstripe Red Ale. Pretty classic, slightly over 5 percent ABV, Ringwood ale yeast, kind of a fruity character. Get one while you're in Denver.

    I'll miss Cinder Cone. It was a fine red ale.

  4. I picked up some Coop Ale Works Native Amber on my way through Oklahoma City about two weeks ago and it is one of the better ambers I've had. It comes in 16oz cans too.

  5. Full Sail Amber is my readily available go-to Amber. Cigar City Brewing's Tocobaga has emerged as my overall favorite, although as of right now, it's a one-and-done deal. Lovely hop presence. Highland's Gaelic Ale is nice as well.

  6. Worthy example of American Craft Amber and Red Ales include:
    Bear Republic - Red Rocket Ale,
    Green Flash - Hop Head Red Ale,
    Mad River - Jamaica Red Ale,
    New Belgium - Fat Tire Amber Ale [it's ubiquitious]
    North Coast - Red Seal Amber Ale

    _Other Best but Limited Availability Examples_
    Block 15 - Ridgeback Red Ale
    Caldera - Ashland Amber Ale
    Cascade - Celtic Copper [Amber] Ale
    Laurelwood - Free Range Red Ale,
    Mac & Jack - African Amber Ale
    Oakshire - Amber Ale

    _Not Currently Available_
    Roots Organic - Island Red Ale

    I take that 'Big NW Red Ales' are a separate category.

  7. I second both of Jim Fick's picks, though Mac and Jack's almost stands in it's own category.

    Favorite Ambers are Alaskan's and Full Sails. They're consistently good.

    I don't know if they brew it down at the PDX Rock Bottom, but the one up in Seattle offers "Rain City Red". On their website it says they use pale & crystal malt, and Goldings hops. A bit more of a traditional red, at least on the hop side from what I remember.

    I also liked North Coast's Red Seal. A favorite when I can grab it.

  8. American Reds and Ambers are a weird phenomenon given their popularity despite occupying the sort of pointless middling range between IPA and maltier styles. It seems they're on the decline in terms of new entries in the style. That may just by my impression, though.

    I tend to think of Bell's Amber as a classic example.

    Left Hand Amber is also a good one and is another interesting case as it switched places with their Milk Stout as their biggest seller (Amber used to be, Milk Stout currently is). LH Milk Stout, by the way, is probably very worthy as an entry in the stouts category - it's very rare that any brewery (other than Guinness)'s most popular beer is a stout or dark beer. And it is really a fantastic beer.

  9. I agree that this style is in decline at the moment, lost in the flood of high-hopped pales. A lot of brewpubs don't even bother to keep a red on their list of standards these days. The style could make a comeback, I suppose. Why not?

    When I'm in the mood for a red, which is more likely to happen in cooler weather, I like Bear Republic's Red Rocket Ale. Stone's Levitation is another good one, recently tasted at the Mighty Mites Fest. Full Sail Amber is a consistent standby. Rogue also has some good reds.

    I once considered MacTarnahan's a pretty good red/amber ale, and maybe it still is a good example. But it's been blown away by beers with more alcohol and more IBUs. That's my impression, anyway.

  10. Troegs Nugget Nectar is a fantastic Red.

  11. Despite them calling it a "blonde ale", I consider Sixpoint's Sweet Action a very good red ale.

  12. I'll always remember Mia & Pia's red, I believe it is called Rod's Rodeo Red(?). Drank it the first time to this great little brewpub in Klamath Falls. Ice Harbor Brewery in Kennewick always has a red on tap and most recently had a seasonal double red, almost an Imperial, for us hopheads. Ambers have lost whatever luster they had for me several years ago.

  13. I'm going to pipe in and state an Imperial Red that is my favorite, but I do indeed have to trade for it to get it.

    Coronado Brewings Red Devil Imperial Red is my favorite via fresh bottle.

    I love some Hopworks, but I find many, like Laurelwood as well.. have HOPped on the NW hoppy red bandwagon.

    For me, I have made many remarks, and comments on the long-lost style we know as a Red Ale. It is one of my favorite styles, and one in which is very hard to find regularly from any regular brewer.

    The Mad River is good, and I too like the Elysian Men's Room Red which is always available. I will avoid Amber's as that style has flowed much more freely, and has drifted far from a true red.

    Also if you could, I emailed if you could kindly add my blog to your local beer blogs. Would appreciate it. If not, I would like to at least get an email why! ;)

    Cheers!, and good luck with the book! I look forward to it!

  14. Thank God Perry finally jumped in with a salute to Laurelwood, which is a very versatile NW Red.

    But have we really evolved to the point where Ninkasi Believer is no longer a big deal? I'll admit that -- due to a severe case of beer-geek-itis -- I never drink the same beer twice anymore, but Believer is a revelatory beer for me that unites the beauties of malt and hops in a fabulous way. I am still a Believer Believer, even though I rarely open one any more.

    By the way, "Hopworks" has been thrown around here, but I believe Jeff is talking about the tour de force Galactic Imperial Red, which I do love, but which is not a beer to be taken lightly. Hopworks also does a normal-gravity Rise Up Red which is also very decent but not as out-of-this-world as Galactic.

    (Cheers to Adam #1 for mentioning Coop Native Amber. I grabbed some this summer in Tulsa and was impressed, though it's not quite to the level of NW Reds.)

  15. As always, this is great info, folks. As always, some picks here I'm unaware of. And Flagon, thanks for the tip on Left Hand's milk stout.

  16. Another Dopeless Hopefiend10:39 PM, September 05, 2011

    Elysian Men's Room Original Red

    St. Rogue Dry-hopped Red

    Laurelwood Free Range Red

  17. I think Jack R hit the ball out of the park on this assignment. Cali is currently putting out some of the best amber/red ales. Bear Republic, Mad River, and North Coastwould all make my list. As would AVBC Boont Amber and Alesmith Evil Dead, which I don't believe have been mentioned yet.

    Mac & Jack's and MacTarnahan's should probably be in there too.

    Beer and Coding

  18. Points to be made for New Belgium Fat Tire; it is
    - a good-very good beer
    - widely available
    - an excellent gateway beer; approachable to the yet-to-be converted [similar, in that regard, to Widmer Bros' hefeweizen]
    - the brewery's flagship beer, pays the bills, and allows New Belgium the luxury to develop its Lips Of Faith Series of wild and/or wood conditioned ales and its Collaberation series.