Ah autumn… that bittersweet time of year when the weather starts to cool, the days get shorter and the leaves of various deciduous trees turn brilliant shades of amber and red before detaching (or ‘abscising’ for all you botanists out there) and spiraling gently earthward. Coincidentally, or possibly as part of Mother Nature’s grand design, autumn is also the time of year when bitter and sweet ales of various amber shades rightly come into their own, while unwary drinkers may similarly find themselves abscising from consciousness and spiraling not-so-gently earthward.
Amber ales can be broadly described as pale ales made with a greater proportion of amber malt. My own description of an amber or red ale is pretty much anything that is:
- Amber or red in colour; or
- Has the word ‘amber’ or ‘red’ on the label.
Now obviously none of this narrow things down very much. And so out of what little goodness there remains in my heart, and following many autumns of exhaustive research here are a few of my favourites (from South Australia unless otherwise specified), matched of course with suitably crimson-hued heavy tunes. You’re welcome.
The aptly named Sunset Ale(4.6% ABV) from Two Birds Brewing in the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood is a wonderful session beer for this or pretty much any time of the year. A bold but seamless balance of toffee and citrus characters with a clean, moderately bitter finish, this righteous ale should be accompanied by righteous tunes. Look no further than Ruby Soho from So-Cal punks Rancid’s break-out 1995 album ‘…And Out Come the Wolves’.
Swell Brewing Co’s Amber Ale (4.7% ABV) is another cracking session ale which is quite yeast-forward with predominant malt-biscuit flavours and just enough bitterness to round things out. Orange Goblin’s cranking, grooving ‘Healing Through Fire’ album is the ideal metal music match for this burnt orange and proudly unfiltered ale.
Manly’s 4 Pines Brewing Company can do little wrong at the moment with a seemingly never-ending series of superb Keller Door limited releases. Their American Amber Ale (5.1% ABV) is, however, part of their core range and thankfully available all year round. Deep red in colour, there is plenty going on with Mosaic and Columbus hops providing some fruity undertones to offset burnt toffee characters and a strident bitter finish that reminds me just a little of Coopers Extra Stout. So clearly you should be listening to The Red and the Black by sinister ‘seventies rockers Blue Oyster Cult while drinking this.
Clare Valley Brewing Co’s Red Ale (5.2% ABV) is a malt-forward beer with a rich warming flavour, full of caramel and malt biscuit notes. It is a deep amber colour and made with water drawn from a spring some one hundred meters below the Clare Valley, making Hawkwind’s ‘Blood of the Earth’ album (on which the veteran space-rockers tackle the all-too-real issue of living on a planet that is literally dying beneath our feet) the ideal musical accompaniment.
Archie’s Red Ale (5% ABV) is the beer that kicked it all off for Mismatch Brewing Co. It is a distinctive malt and rye driven ale with deft apricot and citrus flavours lurking in the background. For no reason other than I love them and they have songs with ‘red’ in the title, you should drink ‘Archie’s Red Ale’ while listening to Rush and in particular Red Barchetta, Red Tide and Red Sector A.
To the unbridled delight of many including me, Mismatch are also about to unleash once again their Evil Archie Red IPA (6.66% ABV), which was previously only available as a limited, keg only release. In short they have taken ‘Archie’s Red Ale’, cranked up the alcohol and loaded it up with lashings of new world hops which can be expected to add some deep stonefruit characters and big bitterness. Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood’ will be the obvious soundtrack to such devilish deliciousness.
Woolshed Brewery’s Aaamber Ale (5.2% ABV) is named after the AAAM brand that is awarded to the very best quality Merino wool once it is shorn. The beer itself is brewed with the highest quality Australian hops and also a bunch of crystal wheat. The result is a beer with plenty going on with malt biscuit, burnt toffee, stone fruit and citrus flavours all competing for attention. Complex, bold and full of itself, much like WASP’s magnum opus ‘The Crimson Idol’.
California’s Stone Brewing are well known for brewing big, hoppy and aggressive beers and their Pataskala Red XIPA (7.3% ABV) is no exception. The beer was first brewed in 2015 to support music and arts education programs in Pataskala, Ohio, the home town of Stone co-founder Greg Koch. A special German malt variety bestows both vibrant colour and bold toffee characters to offset the masses of citrusy hops. Just the tipple to fortify yourself while listening to Mastodon’s similarly huge and bombastic ‘Blood Mountain’ at high volume.
The award-winning Former Tenant Red IPA (7.8% ABV) from Modus Operandi Brewing in the beachside Sydney suburb of Mona Vale is another big red IPA and is named in honour of the previous tenant of the current site of the Modus Operandi brewery, and who it seems was quite the marijuana enthusiast. Lathered in new world hops whose bold aromas and flavours are well balanced by the big malt bill. The said former tenant may or may not have been a fan of the work of stoner rock godfathers Kyuss, but the molten riffs from that band’ classic ‘Blues for the Red Sun’ album are just what you need while kicking back with one of these beauties.
And last of all, one of my absolute favourite beers full stop… Fox Hat Brewing’s Red Pelt India Red Ale (7.8% ABV). Somewhat similar in style to both the Pataskala Red XIPA and the Former Tenant, the Red Pelt hits packs powerful, piney hop aromas, wonderfully complex but skilfully blended and balanced flavours, and a lingering resinous finish. The relentless, kaleidoscopic waves of complex flavours are best appreciated with music that bears similar qualities. Look no further than 2007’s the ‘Red Album’, on which the mighty Baroness are at their most unbridled and ferocious.