Fall is upon us with the schizophrenic weather and temperature changes that embody autumn in Colorado Springs. One day you freeze, the next you get sunburnt. Like the unpredictable fall weather, red ales keep things interesting with their variety.
The style is not terribly well-defined and, as the name suggests, has a lot to do with the color of the beer. Red ales are darker than pale ales but lighter than brown ales. The character of the style tends to be malty, but reds can have a strong hop profile as well. Red ales range from light ambers, good for the sunny weather, to dark imperial reds, good for the cold and rain. Not only are reds a great style of beer to become familiar with in the fall, but lighter reds are also very approachable for people who might be intimidated by craft brews.
The lightest beer I tried was the Session Fest, a red lager brewed by Full Sail Brewing Company in Hood River, Oregon.
Strictly speaking, a red lager is very different from a red ale. Lagers are brewed at lower temperatures with bottom fermenting yeast, while ales are brewed at higher temperatures with top fermenting yeast. Because ale yeasts tend to be more aggressive, ales usually have a stronger body and flavor than lagers. For example, beers bought in 30-racks tend to be lagers, while craft brews tend to be ales, though there are some excellent craft lagers.
Fest is part of Full Sail’s Session line. There is also a regular Session lager and a black Session lager. Session comes in little 11-ounce medicine bottles with a rock, paper or scissors under the cap. In a general sense, a Session beer is a beer that is easy to drink a lot of. It’s a bit too easy to put back Full Sail’s 11-ounce bottles.
Anyway, terminology aside, Fest is a really good beer. It pours a true red with almost no head, the foam at the top of the glass. Similar to the other reds I tasted, it has a sugary malt body that is present initially. The body is big for a lager, but light compared to many red ales. The overall taste is not too complex and the beer finishes with some hop bitterness. What really makes this beer unique is that it is not at all filling and it’s cheap. Only $11 for a 12-pack. Overall, this is a good beer, especially if you are planning on drinking it all night.
A step up from Fest is Levity Amber Ale, brewed by Odell Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. Simply put, Levity is excellent. It is my favorite amber ale and an excellent example of the lighter end of red ales.
Levity pours with little head and a color so light it could almost be mistaken for a pale ale. One taste, however, and it reveals itself as an amber.
The drinker is immediately confronted with a characteristic amber malt body: sugary sweet and warm. The initial malt taste is balanced by a refreshing, slightly bitter hop flavor. The overall taste is bittersweet, warm, a bit spicy and perfect. The aftertaste is tart and leaves you wanting another sip. To top it all off, this beer isn’t heavy on the stomach, which makes it easy to overindulge.
When my friends who aren’t beer snobs ask me to pick them out a nice six-pack, this is my go-to.