It seems that every time I sit down to write a blog post, I know pretty much what I want to say. However, I never know how to introduce it. I never claimed to be a writer… I’m just here to make beer and tell people about it, so for this one I’m just going to jump right in with a commentary on our new Amber Ale:
Everyone that has been following craft beer for the last few years can easily tell you the number one selling craft beer style in the USA is IPA. However, not many people would accurately guess the second best selling style. Depending on the study (and excluding studies where Shocktop and Blue Moon are included as craft beer), the second most popular craft style is either Pale Ale or Amber Ale. For some reason though, Amber Ales seem to get a bad reputation as being “beginner” or “gateway” craft beers, despite the fact that there are some truly terrific Ambers being brewed that can appeal to even the most advanced craft beer drinkers.
I’ll admit that there was a time when I fell into the bias against ambers, but I think that part of the reason is that “Amber Ale” has really become a catch all category for anything darker than a pale ale and lighter than a brown ale. Many breweries have fallen into the trap of “We need to have something to please the ________ crowd” mentality and as a result, we see a lot of boring examples of a few styles with Amber Ales potentially being the poster child of boring beers. It seems that the formula for an Amber Ale lately has been to make something very sweet, loaded with crystal malts, little to no hop aroma/flavor, and around 5% ABV. For a while though, the trend was to make Ambers with complex flavors and a balance with hops in mind. In fact, even Anheuser-Busch got in on it with their American Ale in 2008 which was an Amber Ale loaded with Cascade.
As the style has kind of slipped more towards these sweet, malty examples, I started to think about what the style would be if it had continued down the path that pale ales and IPA’s have. The three Ambers that I think of as the quintessential American Amber Ales being Bell’s Amber, Modern Times Blazing World, and Troegs Hopback Amber, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if the style followed the same path that those breweries went with more hop forward examples. With that concept in mind and following the trend of the New England style IPA’s, I decided to explore what I think of “Biffhorrific Amber.” Essentially, what would have become of the Amber Ale style if it had followed the trends of Pale Ales and IPA’s.
For our Amber Ale, I applied a lot of lessons learned from our NEIPA’s in regards to hop schedule, water chemistry, yeast strain, and mouthfeel. It will not be hazy like a New England style IPA (mostly because hazy amber beers just look really gross), but it does feature the same velvety mouthfeel, low bitterness, and (relatively) large hop aroma. Looking at old Amber recipes, one thing that stands out is how much higher the hopping rates were for Amber Ales at the beginning of the most recent craft beer boom. The hop dosing rates were nearly identical to those of Pale Ales. This was at a time when most pale ales featured 1.5 lbs of hops per barrel and IPA’s featured around 3 lbs of hops per barrel. Now, as hopping rates have increased, our pale ale recipe is more in line with what many people think of as hopping rates for IPA’s and our IPA’s reach DIPA territory. I wanted to follow along with that concept in my theory of the “Biffhorrific Amber.” As a result, this beer is loaded with the classic Amber Ale hop: The last of our award winning Cascade hops. It is then dry hopped with Citra which brings the total hop usage rate up to approximately what would have been common for an IPA a few years ago, however we also followed our modern hopping schedule which attempts to minimize bitterness. This Amber is surprisingly aromatic with huge tropical fruit aromas from the hops, lots of peach esters from the yeast, complimented with a pleasant biscuity malt flavor, and no cloying sweetness. This experiment in the alternative future from Amber Ales of 2008 has been a lot of fun for me and I hope that our consumers enjoy it as much as I have!