Welcome to this first in a series of posts on different beer styles and how to brew them!

Today, I’ll take you through one of my favorite styles: The American Amber Ale. This is really a delicious, easy-to-brew style that will be a favorite go-to homebrew for years to come. Promise. Let’s dig a little deeper..

American Amber Ale: What’s it all about?

Let’s take a look at what you’re trying to accomplish when brewing a good, solid American Amber. First, the basics:

  • A caramel-forward ale with lots of hoppiness to compliment the malt
  • Malt flavors: caramel, toffee, biscuit
  • Hop flavors: citrus, pine, resin, forest floor
  • Yeast flavors: Clean and crisp
  • Moderate carbonation (2.3 – 2.5 vols)
  • Moderate ABV (4.5-6%)

The above should give you a fairly good initial idea of the ale we’re looking for.

Now, I’ll take you through some of the lessons I’ve learnt over the years in creating Amber Ale recipes plus a few do’s and don’ts.

Onward!

Recipe Formulation & Method

In case it’s not obvious, I’m really, really fond of the amber ale style. So, I’ve brewed a lot of these delightful beers and have made a fair number of mistakes over the years. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

Grain Bill

While you’re chasing some sweet, sweet caramel flavors in brewing American Ambers, it’s important not to over-do things. So, when creating a recipe, try to aim for, at most, about 12% of your grain bill being composed out of caramel / crystal malt.

This is true whether you’re brewing all-grain or extract versions. Limit your caramel malts to around 10-12% of the total malt bill, and you’re golden.

More than that, and it’s going to be too sweet and perhaps even cloying. Not cool.

What you should do, however, is to layer your caramel malts. Try to use at least two different kinds with different degrees of lovibond. Favor lighter caramel malts and add just a touch of darker ones (i.e. 120+ Lovibond).

For that extra deep, red color, you can try to add just a touch of dark malt, like chocolate or roasted barley. And by touch, I really mean just a touch. In a typical 19 liter (5 gal) batch, that translates to around 60-70 grams of dark malt.

Another option for all-grain brewers is to add some melanoidin malt, which creates a lovely, rich red hue. You can also be a little more adventurous and try some of the newer varieties of crystal malt, like crystal rye and crystal wheat malts, or go in a Belgian direction by trying some Special B dark crystal malt.

Hops

One thing that distinguished American Ambers from their English counterparts is the hops!

American Ambers range from quite hoppy to just-shy-of-IPA hoppy. So, just as the malt bill is a caramel-fest, the hops come to the party as well. And that’s sort of what makes these beers great: They combine a rich sugary malt flavor with solid, citrus and pine bitterness. Few beers are more satisfying!

For your hop additions, consider adding quite a bit of late additions. So, starting at 15 minutes, add a series of C-hops, like Citra, Cascade, Centennial, or Chinook. While not common, Amber Ales are sometimes dry hopped to boost the hop flavor. But personally, I prefer to add a bit more in the whirlpool and forgoing the dry hopping altogether.

Whatever you do, aim for an IBU level of around 30-35 and a bitterness ratio of around 0.500-0.650 for a satisfying, balanced beer.

Yeast & Fermentation

Amber ales tend to emphasize malt and hops, and as a result, your fermentation needs to be relatively clean and crisp. So, to accomplish that, use a relatively neutral ale yeast (e.g. Lallemand’s US-05 or similar) and keep your fermentation temperatures around 16-18 Degrees Celsius.

Also, consider cold conditioning your ale in the last five days before bottling at around 2-5 degrees Celsius.

Bottling and Carbonation

American Ambers are moderately carbonated, around 2.4-2.5 volumes. So, in a 19 liter (5 gal) batch, use around 120-130 grams of bottling sugar (depending on your OG).

If kegging, you can carbonate at 5 degrees Celsius at around 12 psi.

Sample Recipe: Right-as-Rain Red

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, I’ll walk you through a sample recipe. Feel free to modify as you wish, but ty to keep the pointers discussed above in mind!

All-grain version (BIAB)

The Grain Bill:

For base grains, you want a solid, malty backbone that leans more toward biscuit, toffee and bready notes. To get there, a good quality 2-row Pale Malt, like Marris Otter, will comprise the largest percentage of malts, at around 65%. To add a bit more depth of flavor and a few more bready notes, we’ll add a good measure (19%) of Vienna Malt.

Now on to the grains that will make this ale and American Amber! Of course, we’ll have to add a few crystal malts to hit the right caramel and sweet sugar notes. For this recipe, I’m staying within the 10-12% range and using a light (20-40 Lovibond) and darker (60 Lovibond) crystal malt.

For a bit more body and bright red color, add some Melanoidin malt (this also helps with head retention)

Finally, a touch of light chocolate malt ensure a truly red color and a bit of spice.

Here’s the final malt bill:

  • 3.4 kgs Pale Malt
  • 1 kgs Vienna Malt
  • 300 g Light Crystal Malt
  • 260 g Medium Crystal Malt
  • 210 g Melanoidin Malt
  • 50 g Light Chocolate Malt

Hops Schedule

Given the complexity of the malt bill, we need some beefy hops to balance things out.

However, don’t make the mistake of adding too much bittering hops. We want hop flavor and solid bitterness, but nothin too face-melting, otherwise it becomes messy

Here’s the hops and when to add them:

  • @30 minutes: Add 25 g Amarillo. You’ll notice that we’re not adding any long-boil bittering hops for this recipe – that way, we prioritize hop flavor over hop bitterness
  • @15 minutes: Add 28 g Cascade. This addition will be the core of the hop profile for the beer: a nice, grapefruit bitterness that plays exceptionally well with the caramel flavors of the malts!
  • @Flameout: Add 28 g Citra. This hop addition will punch up the citrus aroma and flavor of the beer. Nice!

Yeast

For this beer, I’d recommend a good, clean fermenting yeast with moderate to high attenuation. For dry yeast, Fermentis’ US-05 is fine, and for liquid, I’d go with an American Ale / California Ale variety.

Method

Using the BIAB method, you’ll be mashing in at 72 degrees Celsius for a mash temperature of around 67 degrees Celsius (using around 27 liters of strike temp water).

Mash for 75 minutes, then lift the bag and drain naturally

Boil for 60 minutes, chill rapidly and pitch your yeast at 22-25 degrees Celsius.

Ferment at 18-20 degrees for 12 days, then cold crash for another 2. Bottle with 125 grams of corn sugar / dextrose, condition for 2 weeks before serving.

 

Extract with Specialty Grains Version

Instead of the Pale malt, Vienna malt, and Melanoidin, use 3.1 kgs of Dried Malt Extract (DME). Alter the specialty malts as follows when steeping:

  • 330 grams Light Crystal Malt
  • 160 grams Medium Crystal Malt
  • 40 grams Light Chocolate Malt

Before the boil, steep the crushed grains for 30 minutes at 60-70 degrees Celsius. Keep the hops the same as the all-grain method. Start with 22 Liters of brew water for a 19 liter batch.

Yeast, pitching temp and fermentation / bottling are all the same as the all-grain version.

The Numbers

Here are all the vital statistics you should know:

  • Pre-boil Gravity: 1.053
  • Original Gravity: 1.060
  • Final Gravity: 1.013
  • IBUs: 33
  • Bitterness Ratio: 0.541
  • ABV: 6.3 %

Final thoughts

American Amber Ales are full of great flavors: Not only are there loads of malty complexity, but also enough bitterness to satisfy die-hard hop-heads. These beers can be enjoyed year-round and are especially food friendly. The caramel flavors pair well with BBQ meats, especially smoked pork and brisket: give these a try!

Another awesome food-beer mix is to use the amber ale as the basis for a sauce. Use a glass or two of your amber ale homebrew and mix with some salt, pepper, a dash of balsamic vinegar, a few dried chilli flakes, and a generous dose of Worchestershire sauce. Reduce this mixture over low heat until it’s nice and thick. Anything that touches this will be awesome, I promise!

That’s it, folks! I look forward to more articles where I’ll talk about different styles and how to brew them. Until then, go brew an amber and let me know how yours turned out in the comments section below.

Slainte!

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