DRAFT PICKS: American Amber/Red Ale

Last week, a reader bumped into me at the market and asked why I have hitherto so ignored their favorite brew and category of ales.

Folks do seem to take umbrage with my column if I haven’t yet mentioned three


This reader is a huge fan of Bell’s Amber Ale, brewed by the ever-so-talented team at Bell’s Brewery, Inc. down in Kalamazoo, (or at least I believe they’re still located there.)

Bell’s Amber is a delightful beer that falls in the category, or classification of an American Amber / Red Ale.

There are some very, very nice beers being turned out in this category, but in many ways the term American Amber or Red Ale is something of a umbrella styling meant to create a ‘home’ for beers that tend to be a little lighter than many of the ale family while still maintaining a strong malt-forward identity.

A lot of people enjoy American Ambers, certainly in part because they tend to be very balanced and while being definitely malty ales, they also tend to be less assertive or aggressive than many other ales.

A lot of brewers turning out ambers or reds use a more fruity, even citrusy hops. There is generally a medium level hop aroma to most ambers or reds. The maltiness definitely depends on the brewer and the brew. Some reds can be quite sweet and malty, others less so.

In appearance, American Ambers and Red Ales are generally ... amber and red.

They are quite tasty — not too hoppy and more often than not generally mildly malty.

A great ale for offering guests who may not be too adventurous when it comes to trying out new brews.

The American Amber and Red Ale categories of beer were very popular in the northwest part of eh country — and area known for producing quality hops.

The popularity spread east, and today, they really are very, very popular all around the country.

Almost every brewery worth its salt is producing an American Amber or Red Ale because of the very high demand.

Look, it is good stuff, and a very refreshing brew.

I have found that the ones I didn’t like so much were a bit tinny — for whatever reason.

Some of the more popular, (and readily available), American Amber brews in the local markets include:

• Fat Tire Amber Ale — New Belgium Brewing

• Levitation Ale — Stone Brewing Co.

• Red Rocket Ale Bear Republic Brewing Co.

• Bell’s Amber Ale — Bell’s Brewery, Inc

• Censored — Lagunitas Brewing Company

• American Amber Ale — Rogue Ales

• Boont Amber Ale — Anderson Valley Brewing Company

• Avalanche Ale — Breckenridge Brewery

• Summit Horizon Red Ale — Summit Brewing Company

• Hoppus Maximus 8 Thirsty Dog Brewing Company

Enjoy. And in the meantime, try this week’s suggestions.

Pail Ale

Schmohz Brewing Company

Grand Rapids

Schmohz Brewery’s American Pale Ale is possibly not the best beer these innovative brewers have created, but it is still tasty and refreshing.

The problem is simple — it was just a touch weak on the hops side of things. I think APA’s can have a little more “muscle” to them although generally speaking I lean toward the more malty brews.

Pail Ale is indeed malt-forward and a bit fizzy at that.

It pours a light to medium coppery color and has a slight, and short lived head of almost beige, off-white foam. In my experience, APA’s generate a little more head, which is helpful in the aroma stage.

Despite it’s darker appearance, there is a pretty decent Pale Ale scent with easily felt citrus tones, a smidge of hoppiness, and some prominent malty spiciness. The more herbal hoppiness is there — but somewhat tucked away in the back. There is a hint of the great outdoors in the aroma, but there could be a more generous use of the hops in this beer.

The hops were more expressive in the tasting — nothing overwhelming, but more easily picked up on than in the scenting. The malts are strongly in evidence, with just a touch of hoppy bitterness to balance off the brew. The citrusy tones picked up on in the aroma stage were a little less demonstrative in the tasting. That’s too bad. The fact is, despite the decent grain list, general effort, and occasional washes of hops and background elements, this American Pale Ale could be a bit more expressive.

Having said that, there really is nothing “wrong” with this brew. It is medium bodied, refreshing, and competitive to most American beers.

I guess for lovers of the APA genre, (and certainly for fans of the IPA style), this will come off as a bit flat.

Nevertheless, it is worth a try. And other Schmohz brews are very, very worth not only a try, but repeat purchasing.

Brush Tail Farmhouse

Big Sky Brewing Company

Missoula, Montana

Regular readers will know I’m a fan of Big Sky Brewing our in Missoula. No apologies. They turn our great beer, and Moose Drool is the Crees household standard.

Big Sky may come out with more seasonal beers than I realize, but they don’t always make it this far east.

I was please to find this farmhouse ale on the shelf at my local supplier, (which is more-often-than-not Grunst Brothers In Big Rapids.)

Brush Tail pours and rich, clear slightly dark golden color with quite a bit of head if poured with authority. The foam is not quite a clear, crisp white — a bit off-white. There is a decent amount of residual lacing left when most of the head disappears.

This has all the fresh, fruity, citrusy, and even somewhat bready aroma that one should expect from a good farmhouse ale.

It really has a delicious smell, with a hint of some farmhouse spices in the background — some pepper, and maybe a hint of cardamom or coriander — but nothing too assertive.

The citrus tones so evident in the scenting become even more so in the tasting. Some may find this brew a bit odd, but I think the muted hops and the almost bready or biscuity tones are much of what explorers might come to expect from this style of ale.

There is a certain earthiness, but remember this style was first brewed to store for availability to workers in the fields of France and Belgium at mid-summer season.

To wit, there can well be a touch of yeasty earthiness in this style.

There was a back-taste of some more herbal bite. Again, I think this is more the style than a general funkiness.

Some saisons lean to the sweeter and more fruity recipes, (with a touch of honey occasionally.)

I like the saisons that are more of a working man’s brew.

I like this beer. It is a bit too basic and down-to-earth for some palates, but Don’t walk away without giving it a try.

I have a feeling this will be a beer that you either like ... a lot, or dislike ... a lot.

I liked it ... a lot.