What is amber ale?

An amber beer in a Beer Store pint class on a wooden surface. There is fall foliage in the background.

Amber ale (perfect in any season) is the beer for you if you’re looking for a refreshing ale with versatility and a hint of sweetness

An amber ale can be a lot like a pale ale, despite the fact that it isn’t pale in colour.

“Amber ale” isn’t a style of beer, exactly, but more so a term that brewers use to define a beer with a beautiful golden amber or copper hue, like a breathtaking sunset.

And, like a sunset, an amber ale is transitional — it bridges the gap between a lighter, refreshing beer and a more substantial one, making it just the right beverage for mealtimes or those in-between weather days.

What is amber ale?

An amber ale is a terrific choice if you want something that’s thirst-quenching, but also has a flavour profile that goes with a lot of different foods.

The easiest way to think of amber ale is as a kind of pale ale. So, what’s different when a beer is touted as an “amber ale”? The brewer probably wants to emphasize the deeper colour — and that gorgeous glow is your signal that the flavour is going to be a little maltier (that is, full of bread-like sweetness) than your average pale ale.

What does amber ale taste like?

An amber ale tends to be an all-around average kind of beer (in a good way).

It’s relatively light-bodied, but not as light as a pale lager or cream ale. Like a British-style pale ale, it’s moderately malty: When a brewer calls their ale an “amber ale,” it usually means they have added an extra helping of crystal or caramel malt. This malted barley adds aromas of fresh-baked and/or toasted bread and nutty caramel to the brew, plus a bit of extra body and mouth feel.

The eye-catching light-amber-to-copper hue (which is right in the middle of the beer-colour spectrum) also comes from the addition of crystal or caramel malt.

As for bitterness, amber ale tends to be lightly to moderately hopped. And it usually has a crisp finish, but it’s not especially tart.

Some brewers have souped up their amber ale with the same wonderfully aromatic hop varieties you’ll find in American pale ale, which can give it a vibrant tang. (For you hop nerds, these varieties include “classic C” hops, such as, Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Columbus.)

All in all, fans of amber ale find they’re in just the right zone — refreshing and interesting!

Where does amber ale come from?

You could trace the ultimate inspiration for most amber ale back to the British Isles, especially Irish-style red ale, Scottish ale and, above all, English pale ale — all of them flavourful, somewhat malty beers that are also refreshing.

Nowadays, amber ale can come from anywhere, and brewers from Canada to Belgium have added their own twists to the style. (Fun fact: Amber ale is known as “ambrée” in Belgium and Quebec.)

How do you pour and serve amber ale?

You have a choice: If you want to emphasize the sweeter, maltier character of the beer, serve it British-style, at between about 10 C and 13 C (50 F and 55 F), to bring out those aromas. This is a good idea if you’re having an amber ale with dinner, so you can let those flavours truly complement your meal.

But if you want the beer to be more refreshing, serve it cool (not ice cold, because you still want to taste those malts), between about 7 C and 10 C (45 F and 50 F).

Either way, pour your amber ale into a pub glass or a dimpled mug and aim for around 2 centimetres of head.

What are some good food pairings for amber ale?

Similar to their close cousins in the ale family (such as pale ale and red ale), amber ale is very versatile. It can enhance your food experience of everything from summer barbecues to holiday desserts.

An amber ale’s caramel aromas pair well with the sear and char on grilled foods — try it with pork chops, a burger or a grilled portobello on a bun. Meanwhile, the hint of sweetness in the beer contrasts nicely with cheese, so slap a slice on that burger, if it’s your thing.

You can pair your amber ale with any kind of sharp or nutty cheese, such as cheddar, Gouda, pecorino or Parmesan. (Mac and cheese, and amber ale? Great idea. Pasta carbonara? You bet.)

At the same time, the toffee and caramel notes of an amber ale will complement similar flavours in desserts, and it pairs wonderfully with chocolate and nuts. Try it with everything from butter tarts to brownies.

Or, finally, when the lights go down for movie time, try making this Nutty Amber Ale Caramel Corn and enjoy it with a glass of amber ale. The popcorn will go well with the nutty sweetness of the beer, while also leveraging its dry finish to quench your snack-generated thirst.

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