What is the difference between ale and red ale?

Answered by Louis Krause

As a sommelier and brewer, I can tell you that the main difference between and red ale lies in the types of malts used and the resulting flavors and colors. Let's dive into the specifics to get a better understanding.

1. Malts Used:
Ale: Ales are brewed using a variety of malts, but they typically rely on pale malts as the base. These malts provide a clean and light flavor profile, allowing other ingredients like to shine through.

Red Ale: Red ales, on the other hand, use specialty roasted malts to achieve their distinctive red hue. These malts are kilned at higher temperatures, leading to a richer and more toasted flavor. The roasted malts also lend a caramel-like sweetness to the .

2. Color:
Ale: Ales can come in a range of colors, from pale gold to deep amber, but they generally do not have the intense red tones that red ales exhibit. The color of ales is often influenced by the choice of malts and techniques employed.

Red Ale: As the name suggests, red ales have a reddish tint to their appearance. The color can vary from a lighter amber with hints of red to a darker copper or even a deep brown with vibrant red hues. This visual aspect is a defining characteristic of red ales.

3. Flavor Profile:
Ale: Ales are known for their versatility in flavor. Depending on the recipe and brewing process, ales can range from crisp and refreshing to malty and robust. The focus is often on the hops, which can impart bitterness, floral, citrus, or piney notes. The character in ales tends to be more subdued compared to red ales.

Red Ale: Red ales showcase a more pronounced malt character with a touch of sweetness. The specialty roasted malts used in red ales contribute to flavors like caramel, toffee, and even subtle roasted or nutty notes. The malty backbone is well-balanced with hop bitterness, resulting in a beer that is flavorful and often slightly sweet.

Personal Experience: I vividly recall tasting a classic American Amber Ale, which is a type of red ale, during a brewery visit. The beer had a gorgeous deep amber color with ruby highlights. The aroma was filled with caramel and toasted malt notes, enticing me to take a sip. Upon tasting, I experienced a delightful blend of caramel sweetness, biscuit-like maltiness, and a gentle hop bitterness. The flavors were well-balanced, making it a highly enjoyable and memorable drinking experience.

The main distinction between ale and red ale lies in the choice of malts used, resulting in differences in color and flavor profile. While ales tend to have a lighter malt presence and a wider range of colors, red ales utilize specialty roasted malts to achieve their distinctive red hue and offer a richer, caramel-like flavor.