The Amber Ale is, well, an Amber Ale

Happy New Year, fellow beer drinkers! theyearinbeer has completed its first year in beer, and with a whopping 260 reviews (TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY REVIEWS!), we consider it a rather successful year at that. At our first Beer Tasting Extravaganza, we renewed our vows, consecrated our undying pledge, to drink beer for another year. Yeah, we pretty much regret choosing the cute and rhyme-y name “the year in beer,” as it really should be, more accurately, “all of the years in beer.” Oh well. Semantics! MOVING ON.

We ended 2012 by drinking some of the most flavorful beers (for better or for worse), including an assortment of flavored pumpkin ales and spiced holiday ales. Well, it’s time to get back to basics and drink some solid beers that stand on their own without the addition of froofy fruits and spices.

At the beginning of any new year, once the hangover has subsided, we search for a restored balance in our lives as we move forward through time (which is now infinity without an impending End of the World situation). So, like everyone else, theyearinbeer is seeking out the more balanced AND delicious beers on our planet, starting with the AMBER ALE.

Replace those Miller Lites with a pile of Imperial Russian Stouts and that’s my zen.

What’s in a Name: The Amber Ale

Going on name alone, we can’t say that the Amber Ale sounds particularly interesting. I mean, aren’t most beers amber in color? How many times this year have we used “amber” to describe the color of beer in our reviews? (Hint: I don’t feel like counting but I can assure you it’s way too many times. There aren’t many synonyms for amber on Regardless. The Amber Ale can range from tasting like watery piss to sublime bliss (groan). Hopefully we’ll be stumbling upon more of the latter than the former this month.

So! The Amber Ale. Let’s talk about it. The major beer sites refer to Ambers as “a beer without definition” and “a catch all for any beer less than a dark ale in color.” Well, there you have it, the Amber Ale is in fact named for its color. What a simple, unsatisfying answer to that mystifying puzzle.


Most Ambers lie just west of the malt-hop state line, but can range from having a buttery, caramel malt profile to a smacks-you-in-the-face hops character. In summary, you can pretty much expect anything from an Amber.

Amber Ale: A Short History

While brewers today might be pumping out widely differing Amber Ales, with such discrepancies in taste that the style is largely undefinable, it will forever have a defined role in American craft beer history. Along with the Brown Ale, the Amber Ale was one of the first styles brewed during the early rumblings of the American craft beer movement on the West Coast. They are so embedded in this history, that they are often described as “West Coast Ales” due to their early popularity in California, Oregon, and Washington. In fact, Oregon’s Full Sail  released the first American Amber ale in 1989. It was Fat Tire, however, who put the Amber on the map and whose beer inspired other craft brewers to start brewing up this amber-hued beverage.

The early west coast brewers.

Like many things American, the Amber Ale has its roots in old world Europe. And like a majority of American beers, the Amber is an ancestor of English ales, and specifically, the English Pale Ale–a toned down Indian Pale Ale. These spunky West Coast brewers set out looking to find a middle ground between the subdued Pale and the bitter IPA. The result was a balanced ale with a lovely golden-reddish hue: THE AMBER ALE, a true American beer. Instead of marketing up some flashy name for this new beer (the route breweries would take now) early craft brewers wanted to provide new beer consumers with a simple, straightforward name for a beer slightly more complex than those they were used to drinking.

What to Expect

Sight: So get this, the Amber Ale is amber. If it were only that simple. It will actually range from a red-golden body to a deep red. Whoa.

Smell: The aroma should be pretty delicious, with a mixture of sweet caramel and fruity-piney hops.

Taste: As mentioned, the Amber Ale should exude a sublime balance. However, in reality, an Amber can fall pretty much anywhere on that malt-hop spectrum. Crystal malts are often used for Ambers, which produce a sweet, toffee flavor. The amount and type of hops will vary greatly from Amber to Amber, so expect anything from a slightly lingering bitter note to a pine tree flavor in your beer. And at an average 5-6% ABV, these balanced beers are pretty easy to put down.

Feel: Expect a medium body with medium carbonation. There shouldn’t be too much variation here, at least.

Amber Ales, we know you’re overshadowed by sexy beers like the ‘Smoked Black IPA’ or  the ‘Sour Green Apple Saison,’ but fear not. We’re going to drink as many of you as possible and get your boring-ass name out there! This should not be a divisive style, so don’t hesitate to try some this month on tap if you fear the overly sweet or the overly hoppy. The Amber Ale should please just about anyone, as long as its well-executed. Stay tuned for OH HEY THIS IS GREAT recommendations and OH GOD DO NOT CONSUME THIS recommendations.

Hopefully we’ll be avoiding bad amber beer like the kind that turned Buffy the Vampire Slayer and coeds into raging neanderthals in episode 4×05.

We’re on a quest to find the most balanced beer of all time that will become a lifer in our refridgerator. And the hunt starts….NOW!

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