My first experience drinking a red IPA was at the now-defunct Populuxe Brewing in Seattle. My brewer friend Pete handed me a pint of the most crimson-looking beer I’d ever seen. This was a true red color with a slight orangey tint—it was beautiful, bordering on otherworldly.
There was more to it, though. When I closed my eyes, it had the aroma of New World hops—Citra to be precise. (It then occurred to me to read the tap list a little more closely—“Citra Red IPA,” plain as day. Read and ye shall know.) The aroma was of lime, grapefruit, some bright orange peel, and a little sweet mango. The malt was more in the background, supporting the hops, yet detectable and giving off toasty and toffee-like qualities.
Besides that aroma, it was pretty to look at. If you’re like me, I tend to think any beer—or food, for that matter—that looks tasty will be tasty. After a few sips, I knew that my eyes and nose had not let me down. It was a delicious red ale, relatively light in body and mouthfeel, with moderate alcohol, a bit dry in the bitter finish, and extremely drinkable.
After that, I knew I had to brew this one at home. So, let’s get into it.
About Red IPA
Many might think that this is just an IPA that’s reddish in color or an American amber ale. While they share a few of the same characteristics, they are different enough to warrant their own style—much like American black ale (aka Cascadian dark, aka black IPA) has its own style. After all, IPAs are popular enough to justify a range of specialty categories.
Among specialty IPAs, red is in colorful company with white, brown, black, rye, and even Belgian-style IPA. Much like an American IPA, it should be hop-forward in aroma and flavor, bitter, and moderately strong. However, while most American IPA has drifted away from crystal and other specialty malts, red IPA is a bit of a throwback, still getting some support from caramel, toffee, or other dark-fruit malt flavor. However, it shouldn’t be sweet, like some amber ales can be—it needs to retain that dry finish and relatively lighter body of a great IPA.
To me, this is the perfect beer to carry us from summer to fall, when we’re not quite ready to give up the summer beers and move into heartier stouts and porters.
And guess what? Red IPA is another of those styles that makes an excellent candidate for extract brewing. So, let’s break that down.
Planning Your Recipe
Let’s start with the malt—it doesn’t have to be complicated, but there is plenty to consider.
For a red IPA, the typical malt bill is going to be mostly North American two-row (in our case, a very light malt extract) plus a modest amount of crystal malts selected for color—though they will also have flavor impact. We’re shooting for an SRM of about 15, but there’s more to it than that.
A small addition of a “red” malt helps with the color and some of the body—Weyermann CaraAmber or BestMalz Red X are two to consider, each lending a rich reddish color and Munich-like malt flavor. We can use one of those as about two-thirds of our steeping grains. Beyond that, the addition of specialty malts should be small—no more than a half-pound (227 g) per addition for a five-gallon batch. Crystal 60L, 80L, and 120L play off each other well, so pick your two favorites; I prefer 120L paired with either of the lighter ones. Those combined with the red malt should be enough to hit our target color.
However, there are other ways. If you choose, you can skip the crystal and pair the red (or CaraAmber) malt with a bit of Weyermann Carafa, Briess Midnight Wheat, or other dehusked, roasted malt. These can bring a great depth of color, helping to impart a ruby hue with minimal roast bitterness. If you’re not following my recipe here, use brewing software or a similar tool to dial in your target SRM. Too low, and your “red” IPA will be a coppery one; too much, and you verge into amber-brown territory. It may take some dialing in to get the color you want.
As for the hops: Bitterness should be moderately high, and hop selections should complement the malts. In my view, Southern Hemisphere hops exhibiting zesty citrus, stone fruit, berry, and juicy melon-like qualities make this style really pop, adding lush “red” fruit flavors that rhyme with the beer’s color. However, Pacific Northwest hops with grapefruit peel and piney resins are also solid, reliable choices. The classic combination of Citra and Mosaic packs a one-two citrus jab in both aroma and flavor. I like marrying American and Southern Hemisphere hops in this style, since the unique flavor and aroma compounds combine to produce a citrus-tropical punch–like flavor. Southern Cross, Galaxy, and Motueka also are fun choices.
You also have options when it comes to the timing of hop additions. Besides a firm bittering charge, I like a hefty burst at flameout, and I allow it to steep like a whirlpool addition. I also like a dry-hop addition on Day 4 of active fermentation, to take advantage of the biotransformation that turns some of those hop compounds into more desirable, robust aromas and flavors.
Now, let’s think about fermentation and attenuation. A great red IPA is dry in the finish, making it a highly drinkable thirst-quencher. So, we want a higher attenuation to get that dry finish, and yeast choice is important. We’re looking for a clean-fermenting strain that may impart light fruity esters—an American or English ale strain is the best choice. Steer clear of strains that don’t flocculate well. We need a clear beer to show off that color; haze doesn’t do it justice (and nobody likes drinking red-eye gravy).
Depending on the strain, keep your fermentation temperatures in the 65–70°F (18–21°C) range, and let it go for about 10 days, or until fermentation is complete.
What to Pair with Reds?
Red IPA is another great beer to share with friends, family, and food. I particularly enjoy it with spicier fare—enchiladas, guacamole, Indian dishes such as butter chicken or tandoori, Hungarian chicken paprikash pizza on a late summer’s eve—so many delicious possibilities.
As with most of the styles that I love, this also makes a great wintertime gift—maybe just tie a green ribbon on that red beer. It’s also easy to stay within the parameters of the style while adding a pound of corn or table sugar, to beef up its strength for cold-weather drinking. I also like to switch up the hops a bit, bringing in some spicier combinations with Willamette and Styrian Golding.
Gorgeous to look at, delicious to drink, red IPA is also incredibly versatile—a perfect plaything for tinkering with hop additions, while unusual enough to be distinct from whatever IPAs your friends are brewing.
Cheers, and have fun brewing your ticket to the Red Planet.