Amber ale is a term used in Australia, France and North America for pale ales brewed with a proportion of crystal malt to produce an amber colour generally ranging from light copper to light brown. A small amount of crystal or other coloured malt is added to the basic pale ale base to produce a slightly darker colour, as in some Irish and British pale ales. In France the term “ambrée” is used to signify a beer, either cold or warm fermented, which is amber in colour; the beer, as in Pelforth Ambrée and Fischer Amber, may be a Vienna lager, or it may be a Bière de Garde as in Jenlain Ambrée.In North America, American-variety hops are used in varying degrees of bitterness, although very few examples are particularly hoppy. In Australia the most popular Amber Ale is from Malt Shovel Brewery, branded James Squire in honour of Australia’s first brewer, who first brewed beer in Sydney in 1794.
A style without definition, amber ales range from bland, vaguely caramelly beers to products with a fairly healthy malt and hop balance. Often the differentiation between a quality amber and an American Pale is that the amber might have more dark malt character, or a less assertive hop rate. This balance of flavors makes Amber Ale quite versatile as a food pairing option, not to mention being rather tasty in its own right. 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.
Pictured here is an Amber ale, the Lost Coast, from AlleyCat Brewery in Edmonton, Canada.