Amber beers are a broad and diverse category of beers that share a similar hue. Not pale, but not a porter or stout, amber beers get their color from highly-kilned and roasted malts that lend the beer not just color but body and malt flavor that ranges from toasted bread, fruits, biscuit/cookie to light caramel and chocolate. Amber ales and red ales fall into the same family within the craft beer world, but other beers include Vienna lager and English amber beers, as well as various amber ale styles from Belgium.
While amber beers may not be in high demand, like IPAs, the amber ale style spawned some of the most successful beer brands in the world, and their proliferation in the 1980s and 90s helped to spark the craft beer revolution. Let’s reacquaint ourselves with some of the world’s best amber beers.
1. Alaskan Amber
Alaska, USA| ABV: 5.3 percent | Calories: 180
An American craft brewer takes on a German Altbier. Alaskan Amber is brewed with hops from the Pacific Northwest, two-row pale malt, and specialty malts that give this beer the long-lasting, rich flavors that make this such a popular amber ale. The term Alt refers to an old way of brewing where brewers will patiently age this ale at cool temperatures like a lager lending the beer a long, smooth beer drinking experience. The style hails from Dusseldorf, Germany, where the beer dominates the beer selection.
2. Lefthand Sawtooth Amber Ale
Colorado, USA | ABV: 5.3% | Calories: 175
Lefthand’s Sawtooth American amber ale has been a solid example of the style for decades. This well-balanced ale sports a smooth malt backbone and American hops. Crystal malts provide a hint of caramel and contribute to the beer’s coppery brown color. While beer enthusiasts might anticipate an American-style beer to be overly hoppy, Sawtooth is a restrained, medium bodied ale showcasing malty flavors and the right amount of hop bitterness.
3. Victoria Vienna Lager
Mexico | ABV: 4% | Calories: 120
All amber beers aren’t just ales. Victoria’s Vienna Lager is an amber beer that delivers toasted malts with subtle malt sweetness, translating to refreshment and drinkability. Despite its Austrian name, Victoria is brewed in Mexico. The region has been influenced for a century by European immigrants who brought with them their beer styles and brewing process. Due to its long aging, Victoria is generally crystal clear and right at home alongside a traditional roasted meat dish, whether Mexican or Austrian or for a refreshing beverage at the beach.
4. Knuckle Puck Brewing Blown Tire
Colorado, USA | ABV: 6.2% | Calories: 185
New Belgium Brewing’s Fat Tire amber ale would have been on this list if it had been created a couple of years ago. The Amber Ale helped spark the craft beer revolution. Alas, with new ownership and changing tastes by beer lovers, NBB recently changed the recipe. Now, Fat Tire Amber Ale is more of a golden ale, lacking the crystal malt body that defines the amber ales. The loss has inspired plenty of Fat Tire Amber Ale homage beers, notably a small brewery not far from the home of New Belgium called Knuckle Puck, which won GABF Gold with its Blown Tire amber ale.
5. De Koninck Bolleke
Belgium | ABV: 5% | Calories: 150
Caramel malts and Belgian yeast make for a deliciously complex amber ale in De Konnick’s Bolleke. Though described as a Belgian-style pale ale, the beer has all of the hints of the classic amber ale that likely inspired Fat Tire amber ale. The beer will delight your taste buds with fruity notes that aren’t present in most American amber ales. These flavors which can range from pear, green apple, and dark fruit like plum and fig are from the yeast derived fruity esters for which Belgian yeast is known to impart. De Koninck’s, with its gorgeous red hue and full bodied malt sweetness, is a classic complement to food, which embraces braised meats and resets the palate with lingering hoppiness for each bite.
6. Troegs Brewing Company Hopback Amber Ale
Pennsylvania, USA | ABV: 6% | Calories: 180
One of the beer world’s most unique hoppy beers, Pennsylvania’s Troegs has been brewing Hopback Amber for years with no signs of slowing down. Brewing with a combination of US and English floral hops, Hopback gets its name from the use of a hop back in the brewing process that serves as a way to increase the floral aromas and citrus notes in this American amber ale. Troegs adds heaps of Crystal and Nugget hops to the hopback device and runs the newly produced wort through it, acting like a suped-up tea bag to capture all of the hop goodness. The hops serve to balance the sweet malt character of this hoppy amber and contrast the sweet caramel notes contributed by Munich and Crystal malts.
7. Bell’s Amber Ale
Michigan, USA | ABV: 5.8% | Calories: 170
When I close my eyes and dream about the ultimate American amber ale, Bell’s Amber Ale is what I see. Balanced with caramel and crystal malts but chock full of American hops, this hoppy amber ale ends with a delectable aftertaste from the expert design of caramel sweetness of specialty malts and American hop flavors. Bell’s Amber Ale is definitely a desert island beer for beer enthusiasts and casual beer lovers alike.
8. Maine Beer Company Zoe
Maine, USA | ABV: 7.2% | Calories: 220
Maine Beer Company is known for its hoppier pale ales, but its American amber ale Zoe is definitely worth your attention; the beer clocks in at 7.2 percent ABV, which is on the high side for most amber ales. The additional strength allows for even more flavor to shine as the brewery flexes its mastery in combining specialty malts, including Victory, Caramel, and chocolate malts, with Centennial, Columbus, and Simcoe hops. The summation of Zoe is an American amber ale that has clearly earned a place on our list of best amber ales.
9. North Coast Brewing Company Red Seal Ale
California, USA | ABV: 5.4% | Calories: 180
North Coast is known for so many classic craft beer examples. Red Seal ale is but one. Red Seal pours out with a gorgeous red hue that telegraphs caramel sweetness that you’ll taste. Hop flavors abound in this close version of amber ale, more correctly described as a red ale, due to its heavy-handed use of crystal malts. The beer is a joy to drink and a great introduction to craft beer or to North Coast’s beers more specifically which include Skrimshaw Pilsner, Praqster Belgian Golden, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, and Brother Thelonious Belgian-style Abbey Ale.
10. Alesmith Evil Dead Red
California, USA | ABV: 6.66% | Calories: 200
The American amber ale category includes red ales that have a higher concentration of crystal malts. The result of brewing with more crystal creates a more intense caramel malty backbone that can turn to candied orange when combined with American hops. That is precisely what to look for in Alesmith’s Evil Dead Red Ale. This robust American Amber ale version is true to its So-Cal roots with intense hop flavors to complement the caramel notes of this devilishly sneaky strong ale.
11. Green Flash Hop Head Red
California, USA | ABV: 6.4% | Calories: 200
Like Alesmith, Green Flash has stayed true to their Southern California style by taking a traditional Amber and adding more crystal and American hops. That’s why hop head red drink more like a Double IPA than what most would expect in a red ale. The aggressive hopping aids in the strong caramel sweetness and makes for an unapologetic attack on your tastebuds.
Nestled between a pale ale and brown ale, American Amber ales, red ales, and a whole host of amber beers from around the world don’t get the recognition they deserve, but don’t let that stop you from seeking them out. While they may lack flash or novelty, they make up in drinkability and food pairing compatibility and are terrific beers for beginners and beer enthusiasts alike. Use this list as a guide on your beer adventures as you discover even more terrific American amber ales and red ale beers. We’re sure you’ll find them delicious and a lot more interesting than a one-dimensional hazy India Pale Ale that garners so much attention these days.
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