Back in the 1990s, when the American Craft Beer scene hadn’t yet reached legal drinking age and no one had even HEARD of a Kardashian, Amber Ales reigned supreme!
Kind of. The average 90s bar featured four or five taps, and the line-up looked something like this: Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Heineken (for a fancy night out), and something vaguely ‘amber’ in appearance. If you were curious, you could ask, “what kind of craft beer do you have?”
“Either Alaskan Amber or Heineken,” the bartender would reply. It was a different time.
Today, Amber Ales are on the verge of a comeback — or, maybe not. It’s tricky to pin down because “Amber Ale” isn’t even an official style! The closest the American Brewers Association comes is “American Style Amber/Red Ale,” but most folks looking for an Amber aren’t interested in a much sweeter and maltier Red.
Even the famous Alaskan is actually classified as an ‘Altbier,’ — a classic German-style Ale with an extra long fermentation.
Turns out, all those craft fans of yesteryear were lumping a bunch of styles together, and just calling it Amber Ale. So, what is a beer drinker to do if they’re looking for a nostalgic sip of those long lost flavors, while still exploring new breweries?
Easy: just throw on an old Stone Temple Pilots CD, tie a flannel around your waste, and seek out one of these 5 modern-day Amber Ales!
MadTree Brewing - Happy Amber Ale
Ohio’s MadTree brings the 90s flavor with this delightful little brew — so much, in fact, that you might feel the need to pair it with some 3D Doritos (remember those?). But, with a bold dose of Cascade and Chinook Hops, it also features delightfully modern citrus notes and delicious floral nuances.
And, in true old-school style, it’s one of MadTree’s most beloved beers. It even won Gold at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival! But, not in the category you might be thinking of — this Amber is technically classified as an Extra Special Bitter.
First things first — no unicorns were harmed in the making of Unicorn Blood. While it;s rumored that the brewers at Pipeworks did consult an actual unicorn, it was only to ensure realism. Like when war movies bring in actual army medics to make sure everything looks right.
More importantly, this aggressively hopped Ale brings big malt flavors, but with new-school notes of tropical fruit! While the brewery calls this a Red Ale, it sure LOOKS amber, and it’ll bring those caramel notes, but without the saccharine sweetness of some Reds. It is courageously flavorful though. If you need something lighter afterwards to wash it down, the brewery also makes a fantastic Pilsner.
Breakside Brewing - Hoppy Amber
Much like John Travolta and Harvey Keitel sharing the screen in Pulp Fiction, Hoppy Amber combines two old things to create something exciting and new! But, instead of movie stars, Portland, Oregon’s Breakside Brewing mashed up a classic Amber Ale and a 2010s-style West Coast IPA!
It’s unmistakably an Amber — every sip overflows with biscuity malts and just a touch of caramel. But, it’s almost an IPA, too! With a generous helping of Amarillo and Glacier Hops, this brew brings plenty of citrusy notes and a solidly bitter finish, proving that Breakside can brew just about anything.
They even craft one of our favorite Berliner Weisse style beers!
Pelican Brewing - Short Days, Long Nights
Okay, so Pelican Brewing isn’t exactly new to craft brewing. These guys have been making beer since 1996 — the same year that “Wannabe” rocketed The Spice Girls to international fame.
Coincidence? Yes. Definitely. Those things have nothing to do with each other. But, that probably gives you an idea of just how long they’ve been around. Pelican, not The Spice Girls.
So, it’s interesting that their Short Days, Long Nights is the most modern twist on an Amber we’ve seen in awhile! They brew it with real ginger and lime to emulate the flavors of a classic Dark n’ Stormy cocktail. And, it actually tastes like one, just not as sweet — ideal for sipping in Pelican’s beachfront taproom while a gale lashes the Oregon Coast.
Alvarado Street Brewery - Local Shred Red
As the name suggests, this super-malty brew from Alvarado Street pushes into true Red Ale territory. But, with its aggressive hop bill to balance things out, it sure drinks like an Amber! Plus, the can looks like it arrived directly from 1990 — possibly in a time-traveling Delorian. We may never know.
The malts are definitely on the sweet side (something these brewers know all about) but, with a wave of hyper-modern Citra and Simcoe Hops, there are plenty of resinous pine and pithy grapefruit flavors to keep things from dropping into dessert territory.
If you drank craft beer in the 90s, any of these brews will transport you back to those simpler days — when using the internet meant hanging up the phone, and Barbie Girl blared through malls across America.
If you were in elementary school back then, these beers will give you an idea of what your craft forefathers enjoyed.
With a modern twist, of course.