|For more style articles, click
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
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