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Amber / Red Ale

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All About Amber Ale

While the whole world goes hop crazy, you've got a sweet tooth.

You brûlée sugar on everything. Your favorite scotch is butterscotch. You even like your malt caramelized. Sound familiar? If so, amber ales are for you.

What is Caramel Malt?

What is malt, for that matter? It's a central part of the brewing and distilling process, but few can define it. You'll be able to in a moment.

Soak barley in water and leave it to germinate. Dry it in a kiln, grind it, and you have malt. The Scots dry theirs with peat fire, giving the resulting liquor a smoky, peaty flavor.

If you roast that wet barley at over 150 degrees Fahrenheit, then roast it at 250 F, the sugars will convert in the grain, giving the resulting malt a caramel color and flavor. This malt gives amber ale its distinctive taste and hue.

What's an Ale?

While we're reviewing the basics, let's talk about lagers and ales. Lager yeast flourishes at a lower temperature, ferments from the bottom up, and produces clean, golden beers. Ale yeast metabolizes at a higher temperature, ferments from the top down and makes fuller, darker beers.

Both types have fans around the world, but the modern beer fanatic leans toward bigger, more nuanced ales.

What's an Amber Ale?

The obvious and most smart-aleck response is an ale that's amber. It's also true. Ambers range from rosy gold to deep mahogany. Rich, semi-sweet malt dominates the flavor. The aroma is redolent of ripe fruit and toffee.

While you can't put all the ambers in one box, in general, they favor caramel flavors over hops. They are the antithesis of the IPA. "Do you like hoppy or malty?" is a great question to ask when picking out a beer. Answer "hoppy" and pick an IPA. Say "malty" and go the amber route.

But it's never that simple. While some ambers are one-note malty reds, some of the best are complex duets sung by both malt and hop. Classic Scotch ales are a chorus of sweet, bitter, fruity, hoppy and more.

Next time you're feeling over-hopped, slide over to the amber side.