Let’s look at a classic American style, Amber Ale, aka Red Ale. And by classic, I mean the craft beer awakening of the 1990’s, not the historic styles of the 1800’s. In the mid-90s you could count on nearly every brewpub and “microbrewery” to have Amber or Red ale on tap.
Amber ales are not easily defined. It is a broad style whose most common attribute is color. Some have subdued bitterness while other prominently feature big citrusy American hops. Malt flavors fall somewhere between Pale and Brown ales. You’ll notice caramel flavors while some have a bit of fruitness. While Ambers can be toasty or biscuity, they should not have any chocolatey or roasty flavors common in Brown Ales.
Amber/Red ales range from light amber to dark copper, with an SRM* of 10-17. Ambers are on the lower end of the scale, with Reds at the higher end. Bitterness can be barely noticeable to prominent, with wide range from 25-40 IBUs*. The style can also have a wide range of ABV* from a sessionable 4.5% to a bigger 6.2%. Imperial versions are common too, with ABVs of 8-10%.
North Coast Red Seal Ale pours a deep amber, nearly a light copper color. There are noticeable hop aromas along with the smell of sweet malt. The beer is balanced. The initial flavors are caramel and bready, a graham cracker like malt, that fades into a light bitterness on the finish. The hop bitterness is spicy, almost European; not the citrus, piney flavors of American hops.
New Holland Sundog Amber is a rich copper. Based on the names of the two featured beers, the colors are opposite of what you’d expect. This beer leans toward malt, there are little hop aromas or flavors that stand out. Rich, caramelly malt is the main feature. There is a touch of toasty and nutty flavors with a slightly sweet finish.
Sundog is a very different Amber from Red Seal, but they showcase the breadth of the style. Both are good beers, it just depends what mood you’re in when you pick one. You have a lot of other options to when selecting an Amber or Red ale. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed in my travels: Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, Flat 12 Hello My Name is Amber, Highland Gaelic Ale, Karben4 Lady Luck, Deschutes Cinder Cone Red, Mac & Jack’s African Amber, Sebago Runabout Red, New Belgium Fat Tire and Fat Bottom Ruby Red.
The char of grilled meats perfectly complements the caramel and toasty flavors of the beer. You can’t beat Amber ale at a cookout of loaded burgers and ribs. Ambers are also big enough to hold their own with dishes with rich tomato-based sauces like barbeque, Pizza or Chili. Amber ales also work great with spicy Thai and Mexican foods and help quench the heat of Nashville Hot Chicken.
While there is no specific glass for Amber Ale, any glass suitable for American ales will work. The Spiegelau Lager Glass is great for Pale, Amber and Brown ales. Of course, if you’re at a loss picking a glass for any beer, you can never go wrong with a tulip glass. They make virtually every beer smell and taste better.
*Standard Reference Method
*International Bitterness Units
*Alcohol by Volume
All quantitative specifications are from the BJCP Style Guide