AMBER ALE is a term used to describe pale ales brewed with a proportion of crystal malt to produce an amber color generally ranging from light copper to light brown. A small amount of crystal or other colored malt is added to the basic pale ale base to produce a slightly darker color. These are beers similar to the traditional pale ales of England, although somewhat less bitterly hopped. In France, the term “ambrée” is used to signify a beer, either cold or warm fermented, which is amber in color. In North America, American-variety hops are used in varying degrees of bitterness, although very few examples are particularly hoppy.
A notable example is the 5% abv De Koninck brand, with its distinctive spherical glasses (called ‘bollekes’). It is popular in its native city of Antwerp. Another is Palm Speciale. Some, such as Vieux Temps (brewed by Stella Artois) were based on British styles to please troops stationed in Belgium during World War I. Others were introduced by the UK-born brewer George Maw Johnson in the late 19th century. A very strong ambrée is brewed by “Bush” (Dubuisson), another brewery influenced by British styles. (Dubuisson Bush is known as “Scaldis” in the United States.)
Wallonian amber or ambrée ale, such as La Gauloise Ambrée, is considered to be somewhat distinct by some beer writers, and to be influenced by the French version of the ambrée style.
Amber Ale Characteristics
AROMA / BOUQUET:
Variable. Most exhibit varying amounts of fruity esters, spicy phenols and/or yeast-borne aromatics. Aromas from actual spice additions may be present. Hop aroma may be none to high, and may include a dry-hopped character. Malt aroma may be low to high.
Variable. Color varies considerably from pale gold to deep copper. Clarity may be hazy to clear. Head retention is usually good. Generally moderate to high carbonation.
FLAVOR / TASTE:
Variable. A great variety of flavors are found in these beers. Maltiness may be light to quite rich. Hop flavor and bitterness may be low to high. Spicy flavors may be imparted by yeast (phenolics) and/or actual spice additions.
MOUTHFEEL / PALATE:
Variable. Some are well-attenuated, thus fairly light-bodied for their original gravity, while others are thick and rich. Most are moderately to highly carbonated. A warming sensation from alcohol may be present in stronger examples. A “mouth puckering” sensation may be present from acidity.
Variable. This category encompasses a wide range of Belgian ales produced by truly artisanal brewers and large commercial brewers.
Amber ale characteristic descriptives from 2008 BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guidelines. (http://www.bjcp.org)
RELATED AMBER ALE BREWVIEWS:
August 21, 2017: BREWERY SPOTLIGHT BREWVIEW 3: UNIBROUE’S LUNE DE MIEL
February 3, 2014: BRASSERIE DUBUISSON SCALDIS