Amber ale is an American term used to describe a variety of beers that range in color from light golden to deep red. They are slow-fermenting and are considered somewhat richer than pale ale, with a medium body. The US Association of Brewers describes these beers as having flavors determined primarily by hops.
In appearance, amber ales are usually transparent, although some may be slightly cloudy. They usually possess a pale and large head when poured. These ales should also be well-carbonated; the amount of bubbles can determine the freshness of the beverage. If a beer is is flat, it is too old and will probably have lost much of its flavor.
Amber ales were originally considered synonymous with pale ales, but branched off distinctly around the turn of the 20th century. Sometimes described as West Coast ale, they became popular in California, Oregon and Washington, where beers with more hops added were popular. Copper-colored versions are also called red ales by some brewing companies, but there is no real distinction between the two terms.
Like all ales, ambers are made with top fermenting yeast, distinguishing them from lager. They often contain colored malt to give them their rich hues. This beer is usually considered a balance between the light pale ales and rich, heavy, brown ales. In taste, bitterness, and aroma, they provide a middle ground to their light and dark counterparts.
Many American companies make an amber ale, although the trend has not spread worldwide. Microbreweries usually feature at least one amber variety, and may feature tastings that include ambers as their medium-range ales.
The flavor of this type of beer varies widely, as there are few set rules for brewing it beyond color range. Many American hops varieties have a citrus flavor that may transfer to the beer, but this is not a necessary requirement. Most versions have a balance of toasty malt flavors and bitterness from the hops used.
Home-brewers wanting to make their own amber ale have a wide variety of ingredients to choose from. Basic versions usually include both pale ale malt and medium or dark crystal malt. American hops are preferred, particularly those with a citrus characteristic. Grains such as barley are also sometimes added to give additional depth and flavor to the brew. Home-brewing kits are often available online or in some specialty stores, and they make an excellent gift for aspiring brewers.
An amber ale goes well with meat dishes, such as steak, or hearty fish dishes. It is also an excellent beer to serve with pizza. The flavors do not overwhelm most foods, and they serve as an excellent introduction to beginning connoisseur drinkers. Once a good palate develops for medium flavors, an introduction to darker or lighter beverages will become easier, as the contrast will be distinct.