Ale Asylum opened its large new brewery last fall, and since has rapidly been introducing Hopalicious and its other standard beers around the state. But locally, the buzz tends to center on one-time or one-off brews. Such limited releases are quietly announced, with often just a brief description at the bottom of the beer menu.
"These beers allow us to experiment and be creative," says Ale Asylum co-owner Otto Dilba. That imaginative spirit recently produced Blood Red Ale. Not only is the color perfect, but if your special someone is a hophead, then this is definitely a beer to consider for Valentine's Day.
What is it? Blood Red Ale from Ale Asylum of Madison, Wisconsin
Style: Blood red ale is an emerging style, not specifically defined by groups such as the Beer Judge Certification Program or the Brewers Association. They can be a more colorful variation on the American amber-red ale, emphasizing deep reddish-copper hues. Since the style gets its color from deeply roasted malts, there is often a sweet hint of caramel background. Depending upon the brewer's intent, they can have moderate to high hop flavor, and often strong citrusy qualities from the use of American hop varieties. These beers generally range from 4.5% to 6% ABV.
Background: Blood Red Ale is only served in the Ale Asylum tasting room. Just 33 barrels were made, which means it'll likely be available through February but probably not much longer. This is the third beer in the brewery's evolving approach to one-off brews. The first was an India Pale Ale and the second an India Brown Ale. Blood Red Ale showcases the collaborative talents of brewer Joe Walts and brewmaster Dean Coffey.
Walts developed the recipe for the beer, which is made with a single variety of hops called Citra, which is popular among homebrewers who like making bitter styles like IPAs. The citrus-like bitterness can be found in both aroma and flavor characteristics. Ale Asylum fans might recognize some of the same citrus-like flavors in Bedlam! (a Belgian IPA). Blood Red Ale sells for $5/pint, $15/pitcher and $15/growler (refill plus deposit) in the tasting room.
Even if this beer runs out before you make it to Ale Asylum, it's worth looking closely at its printed menu for the next one-off brew. The brewery is planning to offer a new release every other month. Many of these beers are based on favorite homebrew recipes from the brewers who work at Ale Asylum. "They allow us to tweak recipes, and the brewers get to test their ideas," says Dilba. Some of brews may even eventually find their way into 22-ounce bottles or into the rotating line of six-packs.
Dilba isn't offering too many details about what he and Coffey are planning next in their line of limited releases, only hinting that it'll be a Belgian ale, golden in color, and with sessionable qualities.
Another thing to watch for at Ale Asylum are announcements of events at the new brewery, including seasonal release parties, now that it has more room.
Coming soon is Bedlam! Fools Day, which will be held the weekend just before April 1 to mark the arrival of the brewery's popular spring seasonal.
- Aroma: A light citrus-hoppy aroma.
- Appearance: Reddish amber body. Slightly hazy. A soft, marbled, tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied, with a round mouthfeel.
- Taste: A firm citrus-bitterness throughout, but it's most evident at the beginning and the finish.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Firm, medium hoppiness. The tones of citrus-bitterness linger with a light dryness.
Glassware: Ale Asylum serves Blood Red in the basic bar pint glass. Its hoppy aroma stands up okay in the wide mouth of this style of glass. However, if you take home a growler, try it in a glass with a slight inward flare to the lip (Willi Becher or footed pilsner) to focus the fresh scent of the Citra hops.
Pairs well with: A little bit of spice and heat, but don't overdo it. From the Ale Asylum menu, try this next to the chorizo pizza with its garlic, black beans, roasted red peppers and tomatillo-avocado sauce. The hops offer just enough competition to provide a blended-balance of robust flavors.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: With its deep reddish amber color, Blood Red Ale is a beer that lives up to its name. However, it's the citrus-grapefruit bitterness that really stands out. This beer is not overly bitter -- it's more the level of a solid pale ale, but with more alcohol at 7%. The dark malts lend color, body and an underlying caramel flavor, yet the Citra hops remain the signature. I liked its flavor, but would have liked just a little more hoppy bite. It's still a great beer, especially so in the tasting room, where the hops retain their fresh qualities.>
Blood Red Ale is very sessionable and goes great with moderately spicy food, but its strength deserves a little caution. Compared to other Ale Asylum brews, this beer seems to fall in between the resiny-bitterness of the Ambergeddon (a West Coast Style Amber Ale) and Bedlam!'s fruity-sweet Belgian yeastiness with its accents of citrus-hoppiness.