Better Dead than Red?

Ok, I’ll admit it, I don’t like red ales. No matter how hard I’ve tried I find all red ales cloyingly sweet and far too malty. Even those that claim to be hop forward come off too sweet and often syrupy. And before you accuse me of being a biased hop head, you should know that I take pleasure in traditional milds, ESBs, browns and other malt forward ales. There's just something wrong with reds. It’s not just one style of red either, every red ale I’ve tried, from American reds to Irish, from hoppy red IPAs to Imperial reds, the style just doesn’t agree with me me. Hell, I’ve even experimented with making my own red ale and ended up hating that too.

Imaginary label from an imaginary brewery

Imaginary label from an imaginary brewery

I’ve home brewed since the early  90s and like most home brewers I have dreams of going pro some day (if anyone’s interested in financing that dream I’d be glad to take your money). My brewing partner and I have gone as far as creating a concept, label art, posters and signage for our dream brewery and in this imaginary landscape one of our flagship beers is called “The People’s Red Ale.” Brewed with Maris Otter, crystal 60L, a bit of roasted barley, hopped with Fuggles, and fermented out with an Irish ale yeast (WLP004) this beer was popular. Friends, family and even complete strangers raved about it, but me, I hated it. So we tinkered with the recipe, making the beer more hop forward, changing hops, switching base malts, raising and lower the amount of roasted barley, changing to a more neutral yeast strain and while everyone else enjoyed our efforts I just couldn’t find it in me to like this beer. Not one to give up I decided I’d go on a personal quest to find the perfect, no wait, who am I kidding? I’ve just been looking for an enjoyable red ale.

It’s been nearly eight years since we brewed that first batch of the People’s Red, and I’ve tasted many, many, some might say way too many, red ales since then and I have yet to find a red I like. I will admit there have been some that came close to changing my mind, Bear Republic’s “Red Rocket,” Hopworks Urban Brewery’s “Abominable Ale,” Alesmith’s “My Bloody Valentine,” and a Smithwicks in a tiny pub in Southern Ireland didn’t get spit out, but I didn’t go in for seconds either. Well, that’s not totally true I drank my fair share of Smithwicks on that trip to Ireland, but that was about context not taste. I’ve tasted, dumped, and spit my way through many a modern red and I just can’t find one that suits my palate. Maybe it was the George Killian’s that we binge drank in high school that turned me against this style. Maybe I’ve just become prejudiced to the style and anything labeled red triggers some innate reverse Pavlovian response.  Or maybe, as much as it pains me to write this, I just don’t like that particular style of beer. How can that be? I’m a beer guy (note not a snob) and I rarely turn my nose up at a beer, but try as I might I have found no love for the red. And while I haven’t given up on my quest, I may just be tilting at windmills.

Do you have a red I might like?  Do any of you have a particular style you dislike? Let me know in the comments. For those of you who might be interested here are two of my People's Red home brew recipes "The People's Red Ale" and "The People's Red (for real people)." Feel free to critique.