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Style Matters - Amber Lagers
In each issue, CBQ spotlights a particular beer style and provides tips from an ingredient and fermentation perspective. In this issue, we look at Amber Lagers. The selection of this style was made in honor of Karl Strauss, founder of Karl Strauss Brewing Co., San Diego’s first modern microbrewery. Amber Lager was his signature style. Karl Strauss died in December 2006 at the age of 94.

Malt Notes: The Amber Lager style of beer is a diverse category, ranging from the sweet, malt based beers found in Europe and often referred to as Vienna lagers, to the more aggressively hopped beers found on the West Coast of the US. When approaching the grain bills of this style we find two general trends: grain bills based on malty, bready flavors or those emphasizing caramel flavors.

When putting together a grain bill for an amber lager three questions come up, all of which revolve around which interpretation of the style you are trying to emulate. First, does the brewer want to follow the malty, sweet, bready, version of the style where caramel flavor is absent? In this case we would suggest building the style around Munich and Vienna malts. Munich and Vienna malts are kilned in a special high humidity drying (High Dried) process, which develops the "bread basket" side of the flavor spectrum. Of course the larger the fraction of Munich malt used, the more malty sweet the finished beer. Not surprisingly, we at Cargill are partial to our own Munich (8° – 11° L), malted from Harrington barley in North Dakota. Another excellent choice is Meussdoerffer Munich (5° – 6°L). Malted by traditional methods in Kulmbach, Germany this malt is noted for its aromatic notes and is an especially good addition if you are leaning toward a European version of the style.

If a more caramel amber lager is the goal, the next question is how much of a roasted note you are looking for? Caramel malts produced on a roaster will, of course, have a roasted noted as part of the flavor profile. The darker the caramel malt, the more pronounced the roasted flavor. Dingemans crystal malts from Belgium would be our top suggestion. Cara 20 will add caramel and amber color, while the dark crystal malt Special B will impart a strong caramel taste as well as a raisin-like flavor.

If you would like to have a caramel flavor, but steer clear of roasted notes, we would suggest Caramel Malts made on a kiln. Kilning is a slow warming process where the malt develops the caramel flavors, colors, and aromas over time. Because the kiln never exceeds 220ºF, the malt never burns and roasted flavors cannot develop. We would choose one of our seven Kilned Caramel malts, by balancing the fraction of caramel malt the brewer wanted in his recipe, with the amount of caramel flavor wanted in the finished beer.

— Cargill Malt

Hop Notes: The signature style for the late Karl Strauss is his Amber Lager, which is not too bitter, with a lower IBUs at 15, not too strong with the ACBV% at 4.2%, and just right with a subtle hop aroma. The bettering hop as advised by Master Brewer Paul Segura, is Horizon with a 11-13% alpha acid level and low Co-Humulone level ff 16-19% for a clean tasting beer. The aroma is provided with the classic "Cascade hop" with a 4.5-7.5% alpha acid level, good beta levels at between 5-7%, and high oil levels of Myrcene at 45-60%, as well as Farnesene of between 4-8% adding to the aroma profile in this beer. This hop has become the signature of the craft brewing world over the past 25 plus year. The Cascade gives this beer moderate hop spiciness and the flavor and aroma is low but evident. You can see more detailed hop information on these two varieties in the Hopunion Hop Variety Characteristics Book. View this information online at

— Hopunion LLC

Yeast and Fermentation Notes: You can use many varieties of yeast for an amber lager, including ale yeasts, such as WLP029 German Ale/ Kölsch Yeast, which will give the beer a more malty or sulphur-like characteristic. But the best results will be with a lager yeast such as WLP820 Oktoberfest/Märzen Lager Yeast, WLP838 Southern German Lager Yeast, and WLP833 German Bock Lager Yeast. These strains tend to produce malt-forward beers with low ester and sulphur production. Fermentation temperatures should be as low as possible for this particular strain; use the lower range of the fermentation temperatures. This style calls for more malt, which can have higher ester levels; you want to counteract this with lower fermentation temperatures. Typically fifty to fifty three degrees would be adequate.

Many breweries try to keep hop character low with light sulphur characteristics. This is important because these flavors compete with the malt profile, which for this style should be dominant.

Consider yeast nutrients for this style. Servomyces is good in most fermentations but particularly with lager yeast. It helps fermentation with low esters and fusel alcohol production. It also keeps yeast health very high. If you want to reuse the yeast, we would suggest making a high-gravity lager or a bock that you can age.

Karl Strauss helped popularize amber lagers in the United States, and that very well may be his legacy in this country. His family and coworkers should feel proud of this and other accomplishments.

As for other countries, the Germans would most likely call this style a dunkel. In my recent visit to Korea, most breweries featured three beers -— pilsner, weizen, and a dunkel. Germans trained many of the Korean brewers, which probably explains the beer choices. But perhaps the Koreans were also impressed by Karl’s work in the United States. We know we certainly are impressed.

— Chris White, White Labs