Light to Dark Amber / 10 – 17 SRM
Pronounced / 25 – 45 IBU
Balanced toward malt over hops
One of the recent trends in beer marketing has been to advertise loudly how many pounds per barrel of hops or fruit brewers use in a beer. In the early 2000s, the arms race du jour was centered on the IBU, and how many we could possibly pack into a beer. Two important commonalities fall out of these two trends. The first is that craft beer is often about showcasing the extremes of brewing, which is sometimes pretty cool and many times borderline absurd (we do it too, though, so here’s to the sweatshirt calling the flannel black). The second, is that a certain amount of beer culture centers around relatively vague numbers.
Almost every craft drinker knows at least something about the IBU (if you don’t, stay tuned for the post on IPAs!), but there are other numbers that we cite in our blog that people may be less familiar with. One of those is SRM, which stands for Standard Reference Method, and quantifies the color of beer. In case you’re curious, the math for this found by multiplying the log of the attenuation–the amount of light absorbed–that light with a 430 nanometer wavelength experiences when passing through one centimeter of beer. Okay enough of the math shit…let’s get back to the beer.
Although each of these numbers is a testable, quantifiable measurement about beer, each of them is experienced subjectively. What one person describes as “sweet,” someone else might describe as “balanced.” Some people might be accustomed to beer with light bodies, so a medium-bodied beer could feel very full. Pale, amber, brown, dark, and black as descriptors for beer color fall into this category too, and the lines are pretty blurred when it comes to the difference between two of the earliest styles in American craft beer: Amber ale and Pale ale.
Even the BJCP guidelines, strictly stated as they are, have some overlap between these two styles. The top-range for SRM in American Pale is 10, which is the bottom of the range for Amber. We realize nobody except the geekiest of beer geeks (*slowly raises hand*) tries to guess SRM when they order a pint, but let’s face it…if you’ve made it this far into a blog post, you’ve probably got a bit of beer geek in you too. American Amber and Pale Ale are a perfect example of styles that aren’t black and white. The Amber was an outgrowth of Pale ales brewed starting in the early 1980s, so both of these beers feature American hops with citrusy, piney notes. Both also feature some caramel character, though in comparison pale has less than amber. If you order one of each in a flight from the same brewery, the Amber will of course be darker than the pale, and it will have a deeper, toastier, and more caremelly malt backbone. When we take a step back, though, this is a really cool example of grey areas between styles, and evolving concepts on beer in these two designations.
Whenever we try to aggregate and then quantify a moving target like beer–which changes brewer to brewer, region to region, and year to year–we end up trying to fit things into categories that might sometimes be okay to leave a bit vague. It’s not at all that there isn’t a distinction between amber and pale, but it’s just not always as obvious as we make it seem with style guides.
Aroma – Caramelly malt backbone with notes of toast, grain, and bread crust. Citrus, pine, and resiny American hops.
Appearance – Amber.
Flavor – Caramel maltiness, with notes of grain and bread crust. Medium bitterness.
Mouthfeel – Medium body. Finish varies, some are malty and lingering, others are drier and cleaner.
Vitals – 4.5 – 6.2% ABV, 25 – 45 IBU
Serve fresh in Pint glass at 38º
An amber, hoppy, moderate-strength American craft beer with a caramel malty flavor. The balance can vary quite a bit, with some versions being fairly malty and others being aggressively hoppy. Hoppy and bitter versions should not have clashing flavors with the caramel malt profile.
Low to moderate hop aroma with characteristics typical of American or New World hop varieties (citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon). A citrusy hop character is common, but not required. Moderately-low to moderately-high maltiness (usually with a moderate caramel character), which can either support, balance, or sometimes mask the hop presentation. Esters vary from moderate to none.
Amber to coppery-brown in color. Moderately large off-white head with good retention. Generally quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy.
Moderate to high hop flavor with characteristics typical of American or New World hop varieties (citrus, floral, pine, resinous, spicy, tropical fruit, stone fruit, berry, or melon). A citrusy hop character is common, but not required. 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, but can vary either way. Fruity esters can be moderate to none. Caramel sweetness and hop flavor/bitterness can linger somewhat into the medium to full finish.
Medium to medium-full body. Medium to high carbonation. Overall smooth finish without astringency. Stronger versions may have a slight alcohol warmth.
Can overlap in color with darker American pale ales, but with a different malt flavor and balance. Regional variations exist with some being fairly mainstream and others being quite aggressive in hopping. Stronger and more bitter versions are now split into the Red IPA style.
A modern American craft beer style developed as a variation from American Pale Ales. Known simply as Red Ales in some regions, these beers were popularized in the hoploving Northern California and the Pacific Northwest areas before spreading nationwide.
Pale ale malt, typically North American two-row. Medium to dark crystal malts. May also contain specialty grains which add additional character and uniqueness. American or New World hops, often with citrusy flavors, are common but others may also be used.
Darker, more caramelly, more body, and generally less bitter in the balance than American Pale Ales. Less alcohol, bitterness, and hop character than Red IPAs. Less strength, malt, and hop character than American Strong Ales. Should not have a strong chocolate or roast character that might suggest an American brown ale (although small amounts are OK).
Original Gravity (°Plato) 1.048-1.058 (11.9-14.3 °Plato)
Apparent Extract/Final Gravity (°Plato) 1.010-1.018 (2.5-4.6 °Plato)
Alcohol by Weight (Volume) 3.5%-4.8% (4.4%-6.1%)
Bitterness (IBU) 25-45
Color SRM (EBC) 11-18 (22-36 EBC)
A single infusion mash is traditional, and hopping rates vary depending on desired bitterness and aroma profile, but generally include significant late-hop and dry-hop additions for added aromatic punch. Fermented around 68º for a clean yeast profile.
AT THE BREWPUB: Smash burger and fries
CASUAL DATE: Pad Thai
FROM BF DISTILLING CO: Black Flannel Vermont Common Whiskey
NEW: My Brightest Diamond
OLD: Grainger, Lincolnshire Posy
Mix cherry juice and rye vigorously in a cocktail shaker with ice, then strain into a red wine glass. Top with Amber ale, spear maraschino cherry with cocktail spear, then place across rim of glass.