a brown, a blonde and a red walk into a bar…
For years now, I have hated amber beer. I had never tried a Red Ale that tasted right to me. Every time I see a beer menu, I quickly skip over anything labeled “red” or “amber”. Besides my beer potluck over a year ago where someone brought Killian’s and thought it was amazing, I really have no good reason for this avoidance in recent memory. So I’ve been attempting to work a few reds into my drinking lately to determine whether my tastes have changed.
Let’s narrow things down a bit. When it comes to beers with “amber” or “red” in the name, the BJCP guidelines are full of them. European Amber Lager includes Vienna Lagers and Oktoberfests or Marzens. The Amber Hybrid category consists of two different altbiers plus the California Common Beer. There is even a red within the Sour category. Within the broad category called American Ales lies the American Amber Ale, and here is where my enemy is found.
Several months ago I visited Rush River and their flagship beer is an amber. I tried it last out of all the samples (I wouldn’t have tried it at all except we were at the brewery chatting for so long). I enjoyed the Unforgiven Amber so much that I thought maybe my entire disdain for red beer had been misplaced.
Rush River’s Unforgiven Amber, revisited at Groundswell in St Paul
Last week I tried Northbound Smokehouse’s Pride Red to test my theory again. It was a pretty average beer, but I didn’t hate it.
Based on the BJCP description, I should love this type of beer: “Malt flavors are moderate to strong, and usually show an initial malty sweetness followed by a moderate caramel flavor (and sometimes other character malts in lesser amounts). Malt and hop bitterness are usually balanced and mutually supportive.” Balance and moderation are typically words I use to describe my favorite beers.
Historically, the term “amber” really refers to the color of the beer. It’s not an old style, but it is derived from the American pale ale and the British Bitter. “The California brewery most often attributed with typifying AAA is Mendocino Brewing Company, founded in 1983, and their Red Tail Ale – arguably the first commercially successful AAA” – Homebrewtalk.com
Look for more ambers from me in the coming weeks, and pass along any of your favorite amber suggestions!