Red beers seem to me to have a bit of an identity crisis. Rightly or wrongly the drinking public associate colour with flavour. When I worked in a bar in Australia the Guinness was viewed with suspicion by some, and it was suggested that it 'did strange things to you' despite it being 1% abv lower than the XXXX that was the 'standard' beer. In the minds of some, a dark beer is something warming and wintry; beer to ward of the chill, and pale beer is the summer or warm weather alternative; beer for the garden. It's an easy stereotype even if the preconceptions aren't always backed up in reality, a little like the 'brown is boring' tag. IPA and other big hop-hit beers are the darlings of the 'craft beer scene', praises being sung from rooftops here and across the Atlantic, so where does this leave red ale - ignored and lonely?
Anyway, to beer. Since we seem to have skipped summer in favour of a second, slightly warmer, winter, I wondered if a few red beers might be seasonally appropriate. I had Buxton 'Kinder Sunset', Great Newsome 'Pricky Back Otchan' and Welbeck Abbey 'Red Feather' kicking about so, with a nod to Killing Joke's debut EP, I thought I'd compare them.
I have had beers from Buxton before and always enjoyed them, although apart from the Moor Top that I had on my way up to the Thornbridge Brewery the other week I can't remember what they are. I'll never make a ticker, it's a good job I've got Untappd to keep an eye on me. The Kinder Sunset pours a deep ruby red, and it has sweet cherry fruit on the nose and flavours like the toffee off a toffee apple. I found the soapy hops a bit off putting, it's one of those things I like in a beer in small doses but sometimes it's too much. (5% abv, Slurp sell it for £2.75 for a 50cl bottle.)
Given the reputation that Buxton have I was pleasantly surprised that I preferred the Great Newsome 'Pricky Back Otchan'. The hops were less soapy, and there's a delicious minerality to it, an almost metallic dry bite that I really enjoyed. It's a bit less red-coloured than the Buxton, possibly veering away from the red theme, but it's as close as I had. Again there's plenty of malty, biscuity aroma. (4.2% abv, £20 for a case of 12 50cl bottles if you can pick it up from the brewery.)
Last up was Red Feather from the Welbeck Brewery. A tasty brew, enough body despite its relatively low alcohol to give it some structure. This one is definitely all about the malt, there's lots of sweet biscuity flavour and a touch of spice, all backed up with chocolate and caramel. (3.9% abv, £2.70 for a 50cl bottle from Hops in a Bottle.)
Red beer; difficult to pin down to a style maybe? Given it seems we have a love of getting everything labelled and neatly compartmentalised - placed into a genre - maybe that's why it's a bit tricky. It's a bit like reggae-dub-punk-metal-industrial-gothic-synthpop bands I suppose...