American Amber Ale – Our Informative and Handy Guide

NOTE: Under the latest BJCP style Guidelines of 2021, the American Amber Ale is listed as style 19A – American Amber Ale under category 19 Amber and Brown American beer. This category contains modern American Amber and brown top-fermented ales and warm-fermented lagers of a standard strength that can be balanced to bitter.

Although the following information was correct at the time of writing, if you are studying for the BJCP exams, it’s always advisable to check out the BJCP website for any potential latest updates to the Style Guidelines.

Like most amber beers, an American Amber Ale is named after the deep golden to-amber color this American version of an English Pale Ale exhibits.

The color comes from the use of caramel and crystal malt additions which have been roasted to give American varieties the color, body, and flavor now appreciated by many US craft beer fans.

An American Amber is generally darker, with more of a caramel malt flavor, more body, and less bitter than an American Pale Ale. The Amber has less alcohol, less bitterness, and less hop character than a similar-colored Red IPA.

With less strength, malt, and hop character than American strong ales, it also has less chocolate and dark caramel than an American brown ale.

The nice balance an Amber Ale offers makes it an ideal in-between beer – in between different styles and also suitable for drinking in between seasons.

Autumn would be an ideal time to sip on this refreshing yet sometimes slightly warming ale.

An American Original, the American Amber Ale was developed on the West Coast in the early days of the American craft beer revolution as a maltier companion to the American Pale ale.

Throughout most of the 1980s and 90s, you would commonly see the American Amber in a brewery lineup next to the blonde ales, pale ales, and stouts.

As the American public, especially the beer geeks, got more hop-orientated, the master which is an IPA, along with other extreme beers, seemed to brush aside the Amber ale, which became an all-but-forgotten beer style.

However, this flavourful beer deserves a second look.

The History of the American Amber Ale

Brewery Bearfoot Pale Ale
Image by Wiki Commons

The American Amber Ale is one of the most widely enjoyed styles of craft beer in the US and was often seen as a cornerstone of the early American craft beer brewing revolution.

American Ambers are darker in color than their pale ale cousins, both American and English, with those caramel and crystal malts adding toasted toffee flavor, along with a fuller body.

Sometimes called American “Red” Ale, the style was made popular on the West Coast of the U.S. by Mendocino Brewing Company with their Red Tail Ale.

Early on in the American Craft Beer movement, brewpubs wanted representatives from the “gold, red and black” beer colors on tap. This would basically cover the entire range of beers from light golden lagers and ales to the darkest of beers such as a stout or porter.

The American Amber Ale style fell into the “red” range and was brewed to fill this need. The name “amber” was adapted as a marketing ploy to avoid problems with other names which American customers would either avoid or be confused by.

For example, the term “bitter’ was avoided due to advertising at the time for beers such as Keystone Light, showing beer drinkers with a “bitter beer face.”

Another confusing term had to do with the term “Pale Ale” which most Americans still view as any beer which is straw in color, not amber.

The American Amber Ale style is fairly broad in its interpretation. It can be hoppy and big on the West Coast, and subtle or restrained elsewhere. Some versions can be malty with a toasty note while others will have a slightly roasty character.

Some important factors to consider when brewing one is the amount and type of caramel malts you use in your recipe. Becoming familiar with the contributions of the various crystal malts will aid you in your recipe formulation.

These beers are sometimes hoppy but not really too bitter. Keep your hop additions in the flavor and aroma range to minimize the bittering effects, and use American hops for the authentic “American Brewpub” flavor.”

BJCP Style Guidelines

According to the BJCP, the overall impression you get of an American Amber Ale is of an amber, hoppy, moderate-strength American craft beer.

With a malty caramel flavor, the balance can vary quite a bit in this style from some versions being very malty to others being more aggressively hopped.

Hoppy or bitter versions of an American Amber should not have any clashing flavors with the caramel malt profile.


Dry hopping is often used in American Amber Ales to give a low to medium hop aroma. For some, late kettle additions of American hop varieties give better results.

A citrusy hop character from the use of American hops is common, but not required. Moderately low to moderately high maltiness balances and sometimes masks the hop presentation, especially outside of the West Coast.

These beers will usually exhibit a moderate caramel character. Fruit esters vary from moderate to none. No diacetyl should be present.


A deep amber to coppery brown color sometimes with a reddish hue is appropriate for this style.

A moderately large off-white head with good retention is typical. Generally, quite clear, although dry-hopped versions may be slightly hazy.


An American Amber will have a moderate to high hop flavor with similar characteristics to the aroma.

The use of American ingredients such as American hops and the 4 Cs can often lend a citrussy quality to the flavor. New World hops can often add floral aromas along with piney, resinous, spice, tropical fruit, and stone fruit notes.

The level of bitterness should be moderate to moderately high with the balance being from somewhat bitter to somewhat malty.

Malt flavors are moderate to strong, and usually show an initial malty sweetness followed by a moderate caramel flavor (and sometimes other character malts in lesser amounts such as toasty, bready, or roasty notes).

American Amber Ales should be a balanced beer with hop flavors, displaying a balance between bitterness and the big malt caramel profile.

Fruity esters can be moderate to none depending on the yeast and fermentation profile of the brewer. Caramel sweetness and hop flavor/bitterness can linger somewhat into the medium to full finish.

No diacetyl should be present.


The mouthfeel of an American Amber should be that of a medium-full-bodied to medium-bodied ale with a medium to high level of carbonation.

The overall finish should be smooth with no astringency from the hops. Stronger versions of an American Amber may offer a slight alcohol warmth.


A neutral pale ale malt, typically using an American domestic two-row.

Medium to darker crystal malts are often added for extra color. American or New World hops are common, often with a citrusy quality, but other hops may be used too.

A neutral to light esters yeast is traditionally used when brewing an American Amber.

Vital Statistics

IBU25 - 40
SRM10 - 17
OG1.045 - 1.060
FG1.010 - 1.015
ABV4.5% - 6.2%

Commercial Examples

New Belgium, Fat Tire, North Coast Red Seal Ale, Tröegs HopBack Amber Ale, Deschutes Cinder Cone Red, Pyramid Broken Rake, St. Rogue Red Ale, Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale, Lagunitas Censored Ale, Avery Redpoint Ale, McNeill’s Firehouse Amber Ale, Mendocino Red Tail Ale, Bell’s Amber

Food Pairings

  • Barbecue and grilled meats.
  • Medium cheddar cheese.
  • Banana Pound cake.

Glassware & Serving Temperature

  • Tulip glass. 45 – 55ºF.

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