Nick Carr on November 14, 2014 2 Comments History of American Amber Ales It is difficult to make a case for any of the beer styles labeled “American” being something new or wholly unique. The truth is that most of the styles we brew have roots in the great traditions of Europe; England, Germany, and Belgium. In most cases the thing that Americanizes a style is the ingredients. The American Amber is no different. It ancestor is the English Pale Ale or Strong Bitter. There is no way to know whether it was a lack of English ingredients or an over ridding need to do things different that drove early American craft brewers to start using American grains and hop varieties (it easily could have been a combination). But whatever the cause, these early interpretations were the first in a style with a very wide ranging, rather blurred and undefined set of characteristics. You can see for yourself below how wide open to interpretation this style is. Another reason for this beer’s ambiguous quality is the times in which it got its start. In the Early days of American brewing, it may have been easier for the brewer to classify their beer into color categories; i.e. dark, brown, amber, and pale. Classifying beers this way would have also been easily understood, helping to market to an uneducated but willing public. Style Profile & Characteristics The guidelines for the American Amber Ale beer style are set by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) Style Committee. The below details are a summary of what you should expect from drinking an American amber. Quick Characteristics Color Range: 10 – 17 SRM Original Gravity: 1.045 – 1.060 OG Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.015 FG IBU Range: 25 – 40 ABV Range: 4.5 – 6.2% Appearance: Ranges from light tan to amber to near-black color. Foam will be light khaki colored. Aroma: Rich & sweet malts with possible notes of caramel, chocolate or nuttiness. Low to moderate citrusy hops. Low to moderate fruity esters. Little to no diacetyl. Flavor: Strong malty flavors balanced with hoppy components. Chocolate, caramel and toasty malts are common. Bitterness should range from mid to medium-high. Hoppy flavors should remain low, citrusy hop flavor optional. Low to moderate fruity esters; Little to no diacetyl. Mouthfeel: Body will be medium to medium-full. Moderately high carbonation. Alcohol warmth may be present. Food Pairings: BBQ, Tex-Mex, Roasted Lamb, Grilled Sausage, Gouda Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Pecan Pie. The BJCP classifies this type of beer as an “Amber And Brown American Beer.” It can be found in their guidelines as category 19A. Other beer styles within this category include: California Common (19B), and American Brown Ale (19C). Appearance Color should be somewhere in the range of amber, hopefully (you know for the names sake and all), but this can range from coppery brown into the beginning hues of red. A large off-white head should persist fairly well, while the beer should be quite clear, unless dry hopped, which can create some haze. Aroma Moderate maltiness can balance or even hide the hop aromas depending on hop presentation. This malt will often carry a slight caramel quality. Hop aroma can be low to mid-range and will depend heavily on the late kettle additions and if the beer was dry hopped. Often presents as a citrusy character. Esters range from medium to none. Zero diacetyl should be present. Mouthfeel Pushed by moderate to high carbonation, body will run a smooth medium to medium-full. Stronger versions may bring some alcohol warmth to the palate. Taste American Amber brings a nice balance of hop and malt. Malt flavors will be medium bordering on strong, with malty sweetness at the front, transforming into moderate caramel flavors further on. Possible other character malt flavors can present also, depending on specialty malts used, but should stay pretty low profile. Moderate to higher hop flavors showcase American varieties and, often, the citrusy quality many of these varieties are known for. Fruit esters can be moderate to none. The combination of malt-caramel and hop character can linger. Finish should be medium to full. Again no diacetyl should be noticeable. *Reference: The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines Award-Winning Examples Of The Style Amber Waves Ale from Capitol City Brewing Company, Arlington VA — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Silver, 2014 & 2006 and Gold in 2005. Available at their two locations: one in Arlington VA and the other in Washington DC. Rocco Red from Bootleggers Brewery, Fullerton CA — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2014. Available year around; 22 0z. bottles sold in many places around Southern California. Prohibition Ale from Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, San Francisco CA — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Gold, 2013. Available year around in draft, 12oz. and 22oz. bottles. (Read our review) Red Rock Ale from Triple Rock Brewery, Berkeley CA — Great American Beer Festival Winner, Bronze, 2013. Available year around at the Triple Rock Ale House. Runoff from odell Brewing Company, Fort Collins CO — World Beer Cup Winner, Gold, 2014. Available January through April through much of the West and Midwest. Shark Bite Red from Pizza Port, Carlsbad CA — World Beer Cup Winner, Silver, 2014. Available at several of Pizza Port’s locations. Amber Ella from Eight Degrees Brewing Company, Mitchestown Ireland — World Beer Cup Winner, Bronze, 2014. Limited availability, may be hard to find in the U.S. *Note: There may have been other winners in these years but if their website did not show them available I did not include them. How to Brew Your Own American Amber Ale Recipe If you’re interested in brewing your own American Amber Ale recipe at home, here are a few things you should know going into your brew day. The Malt A good American two-row malt will make up the bulk of your recipe. Domestic 2-row or North American pale malt work equally well. The Domestic will give very subtle malt character while the North American pale imparts a slightly richer bready maltiness. I made a big deal about the American ingredients defining this style, whether you want to ardently adhere to this idea is up to you. I say this because if you’d like an even greater malt presence British Pale malt is a good place to find it. Which you choose to use will depend a lot on what malt character you are looking for and it may take some experimentation to find which you prefer. Whatever you choose as your base grain it should make up anywhere from 85 to 98 percent of your bill. Extract Brewing If extract brewing, look for North American Pale extract or British Pale malt extract. These will have the same characteristics as their representative malts. Specialty Malts Specialty malt is where you will gain some complexity, depth of character, and color. Any American Amber recipe should contain some amount of crystal malts. Mid colored crystal (40-60°L) will give more caramel impression. The darker crystals (80-150°L) are less sweet and tend more toward burnt caramel and raisiny notes. Some combination of both works well, but if your pale malt choice points toward a subtle profile, lean more toward the mid-color crystal. On the other hand, if you are going for the big and bold malt backbone and higher alcohol, you’ll find the added complexity of the darker crystal can help balance, and additionally, will add some dryness to the beer. Other specialty grains can include roasted barley, black malt, and even chocolate. When playing with these grains, remember to use a light hand, as they can quickly become overwhelming. You probably don’t want to go any higher than about 5 to 8 percent on any combination of these grains. Hops Both bittering hops and flavoring hops within an American Amber recipe will range widely, and will depend on the overall “bigness” of the beer you’re wanting to brew. The bigger the beer, the bigger the flavor and bitterness it can handle. A starting gravity ratio, that is your IBU’s divided by your original gravity (OG), of 0.4 to 0.7 for an easy drinking pub-like amber; and 0.7 to 1.0 for those that are seeking the bold and big. As for hop varieties, any good American hop will do. Some often used varieties include: Amarillo Cascade Centennial Columbus But with the amount of new varieties available today, also makes this fertile ground for experimentation. Test out a few more varieties, but to stay true to the American amber style, you should stick with an American-grown variety. The Mash All grain brewers can easily use a single infusion mash with a temperature of between 152-154°F. Leave it at the conversion temperature for the standard hour. Add near boiling water, while stirring, to raise the temperature to 168°F and then sparge with 170°F, collecting the wort into your kettle. Yeast As described above, the American Amber style has a rather clean profile and only low amounts of esters should be present (if at all). With this in mind let’s look at yeast selection. Wyeast makes a few good choices, American Ale (1056) and American Ale II (1272) both work well. The 1056 yeast will create a little cleaner profile, while 1272 will produce more esters; but 1272 is also reliably fluctuating, and this is something homebrewers with no means of filtering should take into consideration. Another good option to consider is White Labs California Ale (WLP001). Fermentation Ferment the beer at the lower to middle of the yeast’s temperature range, again depending on if you want some esters or not. Be sure to pitch the appropriate amount of clean yeast. Control the temperature carefully to avoid off flavors or too much ester character. Cheers!