Beer Review 0585: North Coast Red Seal Amber Ale

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Red Seal Amber Ale is produced in Fort Bragg, California by North Coast Brewing Company. The beer is an award-winning Amber Ale that is often compared to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (85 points) in terms of balance and substance. Red Seal Ale is 5.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and registers 42 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

North Coast opened in 1988, founded by Mark Reudrich, and quickly developed a staunch reputation for quality. Beers from North Coast have won over 70 awards in international competition. The brand features a core line, a California ale line, and “ultra premium” offerings. Red Seal fits in the core line, and is available year-round.

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The pour served up a beautiful beer, topped with an average size, slightly off-white soapy head that was built to last. The beer itself is a nice light amber color with golden highlights. It’s very clear, with lots of carbonation bubbles, and no particles or sediment. Lacing is excellent, and the glass is covered with thick and solid sheets of foam when I’m done. Exceptional!

On the nose, the hops win out overwhelmingly — there’s pungent notes of pine and grapefruit, but they do mix with a solidly yet subtle sweet caramel and lightly toasted malt backing. I was surprised by the hoppiness as this is described as an “Amber Ale” — it certainly smelled like a traditional west coast Pale Ale to me. As it warms, more hints of citrus and a bit of grass reveals itself.

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The flavor very much continues the Pale Ale theme; in fact, I’d just go ahead and call this one a full-fledged Pale. Piney and spicy hops blast away up front, immediately drying out the palate; there’s a rich, dark undercurrent of malt, but it’s no match for the hops. It’s bready and toasty, but those pine hops quickly turn resinous and bring in flavors of orange peel and grapefruit. The finish sees another kick of spicy hops, with exiting dry notes of orange peel, lemon, and grapefruit rind. Red Seal is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy, somewhat gritty mouthfeel. I also noticed a small touch of alcohol as the beer significantly (in the final sips) warmed.

Is this beer having an identity crisis? Maybe — North Coast classify this as an Amber Ale, yet the label says “copper-red pale ale” in the description. In my opinion, this beer is a classic example of a west coast Pale Ale, dry and hoppy, with just a kiss of malt backing; enough to make it NOT an IPA. And it has those classic spicy hop flavors going on instead of an all out alpha acid bomb. I can see exactly why this is often compared to Sierra’s Pale Ale — it’s astonishingly similar, if not a couple levels better. I enjoyed this beer and could see it pairing well with a variety of food options.

North Coast Red Seal Amber Ale, 89 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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