Amber to red: two malty beers for the weekend

Beerista: An easygoing American Amber from Hope and Buxton’s India Red Ale

Poor red ales, they’re so unpopular these days.

It was only a few years ago that nearly every Irish brewery had one as part of a core range – but not so much anymore. These days I rarely reach for one on the shelf – much less seek them out – preferring, more often than not, something less malty and more hoppy.

You’ll still find a few red ales in bottles and cans – less so on draught – though most are some sort of variation on the style.

The traditional Irish red ale is a low-alcohol, low-hop character beer with a distinctive malt profile and often with roasted or caramel flavours. Smithwick’s was the flagbearer of the style for many decades and was the only widely available example of a red ale here before the craft beer movement came along.


When microbreweries started emerging, red ales were part of nearly every core range – most likely with Smithwick’s drinkers in mind.

When microbreweries in the US got their hands on the red ale style, they upped the alcohol and hop content and American Amber was born. Like most brewing innovations originating in the US, this approach made its way to these shores and over the past number of years there have been plenty of interpretations of the red ale style – mostly involving the addition of lots of hops.

American Amber Ale by Hope Beer in Howth, Co Dublin, is light-bodied and at 4.9 per cent, easy-drinking. It pours a lovely amber colour and there's a good balance of malt with a touch of pine and citrus.

High Tor India Red Ale, made by Buxton Brewery in the UK, is a bigger, full-bodied approach to the style at 6.3 per cent. It pours a deep red colour, has an assertive bitterness and a slightly dry finish that works nicely with the rich malty flavour. Both beers are quality reminders of how enjoyable this malty style can be – especially in chilly weather.