Craft beer is more common than ever, but it still seems like the style landscape has contracted. Hazy IPAs are everywhere, and of course you can get double IPAs and the barrel aged stouts. These are great from time to time, but every once in awhile I long for one of those “classic” styles that disappeared as breweries expanded their repertoire and chased the latest trends. I want a beer that tastes like it came from around 2002; something you might find at the local “microbrewery” alongside a plate of greasy boneless wings from the kitchen in back. What is more classic than an amber ale?
I love the American amber ale style. It can fit just about any time of year and any occasion, and the best ones bring a nice dose of maltiness and hoppiness into a cohesive package. I also like that they’ve been mostly immune from the double-triple-imperial crazes, and clock in between 4.5 and 5.7% (by the 2015 BJCP style guidelines). They’re fairly simple to brew, but also have a broad stylistic interpretation that rewards experimentation.
I put together a recipe that would have a nice dose of malt, drawing on Munich I (Weyermann) for nearly 50% of the grist, backed up by 2-row pale malt. To add a bit of zest, I put in a dose of rye malt, along with a generous helping of two kinds of crystal malt. The results came together in one of my favorite beers as of late!
I brewed this batch on 6 July 2019, just after two days of fairly large earthquakes in southern California. There was no choice for the name, then, other than “Aftershock Amber Ale.”
Aftershock Amber Ale
- 5 lbs. Munich I (Weyermann)
- 3 lbs. 2-row pale malt (Rahr)
- 1 lb. 1823 Heritage crystal malt (Bairds), 75°
- 1 lb. rye malt (Viking)
- 4 oz. 2-row crystal 60° malt (Great Western)
- 3 oz. rice hulls
- 0.5 oz. Warrior hop pellets (15.8%), 60 minute boil
- 1 Whirlfloc tablet, 10 minute boil
- 2 oz. Cascade whole hops (~5.5% alpha), 5 minute boil
- 1 pkg. Safale American ale yeast (US-05)
- 1 oz. Amarillo hop pellets (9.2% alpha), dry hop in keg
- 60 minute infusion mash, 152°, batch sparge
- 1.048 o.g., 1.010 f.g., 4.9% abv, 34 IBU, 13 SRM
- Claremont tap water
- I mashed in with 3.5 gallons of water at 162.5°, to hit a target mash temperature of 152°.
- After 60 minutes, I added 1.3 gallons of water, let sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. Next, I added 3.6 gallons of water at 185°, and did the same procedure before collecting the rest of the runnings.
- In total, I collected 6.6 gallons of runnings with a gravity of 1.042, for 73% efficiency.
- I brought everything to a boil, adding hops and finings per the schedule. After 60 minutes, I turned off the heat, chilled the wort, transferred it, and pitched the yeast.
- Starting gravity was 1.048. I brewed this on 6 July 2019, and fermented it at 68°.
- I kegged the beer on 17 July 2019. It had a final gravity of 1.011, for 4.9% abv.
- Beautiful, fairly clear, reddish amber hue to the beer, with an ivory-colored head that is fine and quite persistent.
- Mild rye aroma, with a bit of caramel behind that. Not much for hops.
- Moderately bitter and highly malty, with a pleasant rye flavor at the forefront. The malt and bitterness are nicely balanced against each other; it’s not too sweet, but just about right. The hop character comes across as somewhat piney and woody…there’s less citrus than I would expect, probably because of the malt overriding the hops.
- Moderate body, moderate carbonation, with a slightly dry finish.
- Would I brew this again?
- Absolutely! I love the mouthfeel and flavor on this; it really is exactly what I hoped for. I think I would probably ditch the dry hops on this; they aren’t really perceptible and might even clash with the malts a bit. Plus, they don’t really seem necessary.
My altbier has been on tap for over a month, and seems to be at peak flavor. Time for a tasting!
- The Basics
- Original gravity = 1.052, final gravity = 1.008, abv = 5.8%; estimated IBU = 28.
- Exceptionally malty, with a strong caramel/sweet note (thank you, honey malt!). I do not pick up much in the way of hops, esters, or other components.
- Brilliantly clear, with a deep amber, almost copper, hue. The head is low and ivory colored, with excellent retention.
- Moderately-high degree of maltiness, which is predominated by caramel aspects at the front end and a bit of breadiness at the back. It is rather bitter, and the bitterness has a distinct but clean character. There is a very modest perception of sweetness, but it is not overwhelming. The maltiness and hopiness are really nicely balanced, although it is definitely the bitterness that lingers longest on the finish.
- This is a medium-bodied beer, with medium-high carbonation.
- Would I brew this again?
- I quite like this beer, particularly as a way to try out a new style along with some malts that depart from my usual repertoire. The gelatin definitely did the trick for fining this out (particularly so when melded with the ingredient of time in the keezer). It departs from the altbier style in some ways (e.g., head is a bit lower than optimal for the style, and I didn’t use much in the way of German ingredients), but as a variation on that theme, it’s darned good. I can’t say it is in my “brew and drink every day” category (it’s a little too ‘massive’ of a beer for that), but it’s definitely in the “brew every once in awhile and enjoy” category.
- Overall rating
With a little extra time over the holidays, I wanted to brew up a few batches. I’ve never made anything along the lines of an altbier before, so a recipe in the November 2015 issue of Brew Your Own caught my eye. It’s a clone recipe from the Milwaukee Brewing Co., called Louie’s Demise. From what I know of the style, the recipe hits most of the notes for an altbier, but takes an American bend in the malts (unspecified 2-row malt, which I presume is usually brewed with an American variety rather than Pils malt) and the yeast (WLP051, California V, rather than a German ale yeast). I made a few additional tiny modifications for my ingredients on-hand, and thus beer is titled the “Alt-Alt Ale”. It has a ring to it, and also vaguely reminds me of the AT-AT’s from Star Wars.
One interesting thing about this recipe is the use of honey malt. My eye has been on this for some time, but I’ve never actually brewed with it. This malt has a very strong aroma, with a thick, sweet and raisin-like character. It’s almost reminiscent of crystal 80, but much stronger. I think it’s going to be quite good, but I also think it would be something to use with caution in other recipes. This is a malt that’s nice to use when you need it, but could overwhelm a brew if competing with more delicate ingredients or aromas.
- 7.25 lbs. 2-row malt (Great Western Brewing Co.)
- 1.5 lbs. honey malt
- 1.25 lbs. Borlander Munich malt (Briess)
- 0.5 lbs. Munich 20°L (“Dark Munich”, Briess)
- 0.31 lbs. Carafoam (5 oz., Weyermann)
- 0.06 lbs. roasted barley (1 oz., Simpsons)
- 0.75 oz. Mt. Hood hops pellets (5.7% alpha), 60 minute boil
- 2 oz. Perle hops pellets (7.3% alpha), 5 minute boil
- 2 oz. Czech Saaz hops pellets (2.6% alpha), 5 minute whirlpool
- 1 tsp. Irish moss (10 minute boil)
- California Ale yeast (White Labs, WLP001), harvested and made in 1L starter
- From the yeast harvested at last batch, I prepared a 1L starter to aim for ~200 billion yeast cells (I “needed” 188 billion). I had only intended for it to sit overnight, but due to illness and then Christmas it ended up cold-crashing for another six days in the refrigerator. Because the starter should (theoretically) have been at full-strength, I didn’t figure that this was too big of a problem. One interesting thing I noticed is that the yeast this go-around seemed to be a bit more flocculent than I am used to for WLP001, with behavior closer to that which I normally see for WLP002.
- This recipe called for a somewhat thinner mash than I usually do, at 1.4 quarts of water per pound of grain. I mashed in with 4.78 gallons of water at 159.1°, which hit a mash temperature of 148.1°. This was effectively dead-on for my target (148°). The mash temperature was down to 145.5° after 30 minutes, and down to 144.5° after 45 minutes.
- After a 60 minute mash, I added 0.25 gallons of water at 210°, to raise the mash temperature to 145°. I let it sit for 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the first runnings. Then I added 3.78 gallons of water at 180°, which raised the mash bed to 160°. I let it sit 10 minutes, vorlaufed, and collected the remainder of the wort.
- Altogether, I collected 6.8 gallons of wort with a gravity of 1.045, for 74% mash efficiency.
- I boiled the wort for a total of 60 minutes, adding the hops and Irish moss at the intervals indicated above.
- After the boil, I chilled the wort down to 76°, transferred to the primary fermenter, and pitched the yeast.
- I had approximately 6 gallons of beer in the primary, with a starting gravity of 1.052. I brewed the beer on 26 December 2015, and plan to ferment it at 67° for around two weeks.
Tonight I bottled the Astro Amber Ale (AAA, or A-Cubed, for short), getting 39 of the 12-oz. bottles and 4 of the pint bottles. Not too bad of a yield! The uncarbonated brew is a nicely mild amber, but I will eagerly await to see how it matures over the next week or two.
The final specific gravity was 1.021, no change from when it was transferred to the secondary. Thus, we have a final alcohol content estimated at 3.8 percent, making it a moderately lightweight amber ale. I must confess that I’m a little surprised by this – perhaps it is a result of using a different brand of yeast?
AAA, all bottled up and ready to carbonate.
I just transferred the Astro Amber Ale over to the secondary fermenter. The gravity right now is 1.021, down from a starting gravity of 1.052. This provides a current alcohol content of roughly 3.8 percent. I expect that this will go up just a little bit as I let the beer finish fermenting and conditioning in the carboy over Christmas. My plan is to bottle in about two or three weeks.
In the glass, the beer has a nice reddish brown hue, and a pleasantly warm and malty taste with a smooth finish. This is a very, very premature judgement of what the final flavor might be like, of course. Regardless, I can’t wait to try out the finished, carbonated product in a month or so!