How To Brew an American Amber Ale (3 Recipes & Complete Style Guide!)

American beer has come a long way, and it has its friends across the pond to thank. If you’re interested in American Amber Ale recipes and learning how to brew them – don’t worry! It’s simple and uses almost exclusively American ingredients.

American Ambers are brewed using American ingredients, including malt and hops. Hop additions are small and commonly include Cascade and Centennial hops for bittering and flavor. Most importantly, this style is brewed using malt-forward recipes that showcase specialty grains like Caramel and Crystal malts resulting in a sweet malty beer with mild bitterness.

Keep reading for a comprehensive look into American Amber recipes, including the beer’s history and how to brew them.

What is an American Amber?

America is known for formulating its own takes on foreign beer styles. The American Amber is a unique beer style, but its ancestors hail from England.

The American Amber stems from American Pale Ales. Although it comes from an American-style beer, we can trace everything back to the English Pale Ale, a sweet, hoppy rendition of the Americanized version.

We made American Ambers with clean fermenting yeast strains and American hops. Most importantly, this style uses specialty malts like Caramel and Crystal malt to give the style its copper hues and sweet malt taste.

  • Color – Copper, red-brown  (11-18 SRM)
  • Common flavor – Toasted and roasted bread notes, sweet caramel, and toffee malt flavor 
  • Aroma – Bready, low hop aroma, high maltiness, caramel
  • Mouthfeel – Full and mouth-coating, crisp
  • IBUs (Bitterness) – 25-45 IBUs
  • ABV – 4.4-6.1%
American Amber Ale recipes

History of the American Amber

The American Amber, like many beer styles, has English roots. It’s originally derived from the English Pale Ale and is a sweeter, maltier style than its hoppy and slightly sweet predecessor. Although the history of the American Amber isn’t completely unique, the beer style is.

The English roots are the only foundation for this beer–American Ambers are closely related to Irish Reds. Both are sweet with caramel and toffee flavors, but the American Amber is usually a higher ABV beer with a more potent malt flavor and aroma.

American Ambers are the result of the American craft beer revolution and stem from the American take on Pale Ales. The modernized hop varieties used in APAs were the stepping stone in American Ambers that gained popularity in the 1980s.

The American Amber is a product of the Western United States, mainly the West Coast and Pacific Northwest. It came around shortly after the rise of the American Pale Ale when brewers were experimenting with American hop varieties in hop-forward beers. The American Amber is a pioneering craft beer style.

Popular commercial American Ambers

Here are a few great examples of the American Amber style for you to try. 

  • Troegs Nugget Nectar – Brewed with Munich, Pilsner, and Vienna malts for a sweet taste and full body. Fresh Nugget, Palisade, and Simcoe hops are used in this Imperial Amber Ale.
  • New Belgium Fat Tire – A roasty, toffee flavor from C-80, Munich, and Victory malts. Willamette, Goldings, and Nugget hop round off the toasted flavor and aroma of this Amber Ale.
  • Bell’s Amber Ale – Brewed with toasted and caramel malts. Citrus and herbal hop aromas balance the beer. Sharp, yet subtle bitterness.
  • Mac & Jack’s African Amber – Unfiltered and dry-hopped. Malt forward with floral Cascade and Nugget hop notes. Brewed with two-row gain a specialty malt blend. 

How to brew an American Amber Ale

Now that you’re caught up on the history of this pioneering beer style let’s talk about how to actually brew one. The first step is reviewing the ingredients. Once we cover those, I’ll detail how they’re used during brewing.

The entire process of brewing an American Amber will take no longer than two weeks. Some recipes call for a multi-week rest after bottling, but not all of them. Kegging a beer has a shorter rest period than bottling.

how to brew an American Amber Ale

Recipe and ingredients

Before you start brewing your American Amber, you’ll need to gather your ingredients. There’s a degree of flexibility here, especially in the types of malt used. I’ve compiled a list of ingredients below as well as specific recommendations for things like water profile, grains, hops, and yeast.

Water profile

An ideal water profile can take your beer from ‘okay’ to ‘fantastic.’ American Ambers benefit most from a balanced profile. Reverse osmosis water gives you the most control. The best water profile for American Ambers includes a 1:1 Sulfate to Chloride ratio at 50ppm.

American Ambers can utilize similar water profiles to APAs because they share some similar ingredients.

Base grains

American Amber base grains define the style and create the remarkable reddish copper finish you see in these beers.

American Ambers require a strong, sweet malt base. These beers generally use at least some amount of American two-row pale malt. Other specialty grains like Carmale and Crystal malt are commonly used to lend a caramel and toffee flavor.

Crystal and Caramel malts provide a sweet malt flavor with notes of caramel and toffee in the taste and aroma. These can make up anywhere from 25-75% of your grain bill, depending on your desired sweetness.

For bigger amber ales, Munich malt is a great choice. About 10% of your grains can come from Munich malt. This will give the higher ABV ambers the bready and toasty balance they need without making them cloying.

Specialty grains or other additions

American Ambers make great use of specialty malts to apply a unique flavor, aroma, appearance, and mouthfeel. The all-around malty character is derived from select grains.

The most commonly used specialty grains in American Ambers are Crystal and Caramel malts. Dark-colored Crystal malts impart raisin, plum, and burnt toffee or caramel notes to the beer. Lighter Crystal malts impart more caramel flavors and are sweeter than darker Crystal malts. Caramelized malts vary greatly but all provide a degree of sweetness.

Any beer that requires a hint of sweetness can utilize Caramel or Crystal malts. They work exceptionally well in American Ambers where the sweet malt flavor is desired. Caramelized malts like Cara-Vienna and Cara-Munich can add toastiness and nuttiness, respectively.

Too many of these specialty malts can make the beer too sweet. Used sparingly, they can harmonize with hops and other malt additions to create a balanced sweetness in an American Amber.

Hops

Hops play a big role in any beer, not just IPAs. They’re used to balance sweetness and add bitterness and flavor.

American Ambers generally use American hops. These hops, such as Cascade, Chinook, and Citra, give the beer a slight sweetness that pairs with the maltiness in this style.

The most important aspect of hop selection is choosing varieties that complement each other. As you’ll see below, bittering hops have more to do with the bitterness of a beer, whereas flavor and aroma hops are more responsible for the taste and smell.

Bittering

Bittering hops are used to add bitterness to beer. They’re added at the beginning of the boil, allowing ample time for isomerization to occur. At the same time, the aromas of these hops are boiled away and the wort is left with a strong bitterness.

Because bittering hops don’t add much flavor or aroma to beer, it’s best to choose ones that have a high alpha acid content to maximize bittering efficiency during brewing. Although bittering hops aren’t responsible for flavoring, too much can cause the beer to taste vegetal.

Here are some good bittering hops to use for an American Amber.

NamePurposeAlpha Acid %
ChinookBittering + Aroma12-14%
CitraBittering + Aroma10-15%
HorizonBittering + Aroma9-16%
ColumbusBittering + Aroma14-18%
Aroma and Flavor

Aroma and flavor hops are used for exactly that – aroma and flavor attributes.

Aroma and flavor hops are added late in the boil, usually past the halfway mark. The more time they’re in the boil, the less flavor and aroma they give off. You should use American hop varieties like Cascade or Centennial for American Ambers.

These hops also require greater selectivity. Not all flavor and aroma hops go together and the wrong combinations can create undesired flavors. Try to use hops that complement each other.

In styles where hops take a backseat, it’s common to use one strain of hop so the flavor is manageable. Note that all hops give off at least some bitterness despite when they’re added to the boil.

NameFlavor/AromaAlpha Acid %
CascadeCitrus, floral12-14%
CitraFloral, fruity, citrus11-13%
ChinookPiny, spicy12-14%
AmarilloFloral, fruity, citrus8-11%
CentennialFloral, fruity, citrus9.5-11.5%

Yeast

Yeast plays various roles in brewing. As such, different beer styles require different yeast strains.

Good yeast strains for an American Amber are clean fermenting with medium-high flocculation. They ferment clean and can introduce very mild citrus esters and tastes.

American Ambers benefit from relatively neutral yeast strains that ferment clean and produce very mild, if any, fruity esters.  

Dry

Here are a few good dry yeast strains for brewing an American Amber.

NameAttenuationFlocculationTemp Range
Safale US-0578-82%Medium64.4-78.8°F
US West Coast Yeast M4477-85%High59-74°F
LalBrew BRY-9778-84%High59-72°F
Liquid

Here are a few good liquid yeast strains for brewing an American Amber.

NameAttenuationFlocculationTemp Range
Wyeast 105673-77%Low to medium60-72°F
OYL-004West Coast Ale I73-80%Medium-low60–73° F
WLP039 East Midlands Ale73-82%Medium to high66° – 70°F

Brewing process for American Amber Ales

Once you’ve decided on your ingredients, it’s time to sanitize your equipment and get started with your brew day. Let’s review.

Before you start, decide on the type of mash you are going to do: single-step or infusion. You should also consider the mashing temperature, water quantities, hopping schedule, and if you need an additional fermenter.

At this point, you’ve figured out the hard parts. The brew day will be standard and, even if this is your first time brewing beer, it will be straightforward. If your malt isn’t pre-milled, which is oftentimes the case with specialty malts used in American Ambers, you’ll start there. After the mash-in, it’s time to sparge.

Once you collect enough wort, it’s on to the boil where you’ll add hops and any other additions your recipe calls for. After that, it’s time to cool the wort, pitch the yeast and wait.

Mashing

The mashing process for brewing an American Amber is pretty straightforward. You might have to mill your specialty malts before mashing.

A single infusion mash works fine for an American Amber. Mash between 151 and 154°F. A higher temperature in that range will give the beer greater maltiness, which is sometimes desired in this style.

I recommend mashing at 153 or 154°F for a more malt-forward product. Depending on the grains used, you’ll end up with a toastier, sweeter version of the beer with more body.

Depending on the recipe, an increase in temperature for a mashout might be appropriate to inhibit more, unwanted sugar conversion.

Boil

A standard 60-minute boil will likely always be enough for an American Amber. Add bittering hops at the start with 60 minutes left. Add flavor and aroma hops around 20, 15, 10, and 5-minute marks.

The recipe you’re using can offer more insight into when you should add your hops. The longer they’re in the boil, the more bitterness they will give the beer.

Whirlpool or flameout

You can add hops even after the boil is over.

These two stages of brewing are great for adding flavor and aroma from hops into your beer without sacrificing a large increase in bitterness. Hops added at these times are used strictly for the taste and smell of your beer and should be used sparingly in an American Amber.

Fermenting American Amber Ales

The fermentation process for American Ambers is nothing crazy.

Ferment the beer at a consistent temperature. The process can take up to 10 days or more depending on many factors including the health of the yeast, how much is pitched, and the temperature. Follow your recipe for precise fermentation guidelines.

You might require a secondary fermentation period, so keep that in might as you might need another container.

Temperatures

The temperature at which you’ll ferment your American Amber is dependent on the yeast strain used.

A standard temperature range for fermentation of an American Amber is between 59-79°F. The specific range for your beer is dictated by your recipe and the yeast strain used, so refer to that for the optimal temperature. 

Bottling or Kegging American Amber Ales

In the end, this comes down to personal preference.

American Ambers don’t harbor any special characteristics from one or the other of these packaging methods. Carbonation style varies between the two, so choose whichever suits your preferences. 

American Amber Ale recipes

Here are three great starting recipes for an American Amber, including two all-grain recipes and a malt extract/grain hybrid recipe – each brews an enticing and delicious American Amber.

Amber Waves

Ingredients

  • 9.5 lb. Great Western 2-row malt (or light, North American 2-row)
  • 0.75 lb. Great Western crystal malt 
  • 0.5 lb. Durst Munich malt 
  • 0.25 lb. Great Western crystal malt
  • 0.50 oz. Horizon hops
  • 0.50 oz. Cascade hops
  • 0.50 oz. Centennial hops 
  • Wyeast 1056 (American Ale), White Labs WLP001 (California Ale) or Fermentis Safale US-05 yeast

Instructions

  1. Mill specialty grains
  2. Heat water to 154°F (1.5 liters for every 1 pound of grain)
  3. Mash until the enzymatic conversion completes
  4. Infuse mash with almost-boiling water, stir and raise temperature to 168°F
  5. Sparge slowly at 170°F, collect 6.5 gallons of wort
  6. Boil wort (90 minutes total)
  7. Add Horizon hops with 60 minutes remaining
  8. Add 0.25 oz. Cascade and Centennial hops with 10 minutes remaining
  9. Add 0.25 oz. Cascade and Centennial hops at flameout
  10. Chill wort to 67°F, aerate
  11. Pitch yeast (9 grams of rehydrated dry yeast or 2 packages of liquid yeast)
  12. Ferment for 7 days at 67°F
  13. Let sit for 2 days after fermentation
  14. If bottling in a keg, rack and force carbonate. If bottling, prime bottles with priming sugar targeting carbonation level of 2-2.5 volumes

Peter Reed’s American Amber Ale

Ingredients

  • 14 oz. Crystal malt (10°L)
  • 7 oz. Crystal malt (60°L)
  • 1.75 oz. Black Patent malt
  • 7 lbs. pale ale liquid extract 
  • 7 oz. brown cane sugar
  •  0.6 oz. of whole Centennial hops
  • 1 oz. of whole Cascade hops 
  • 1 oz. of whole Cascade hops
  • Wyeast 1272 American Ale II

Instructions

  1. Add grains loosely to grain bag
  2. Heat 2 gallons of water to 170°F
  3. Remove water from heat, add grains
  4. Cover and steep for 1 hour
  5. Boil 2 gallons of water, add steeped water
  6. While stirring, slowly add liquid malt extract and cane sugar
  7. Add water to reach 7 gallons
  8. Bring to boil (90 minutes total)
  9. Add0.6 oz. Centennial hops with 60 minutes remaining
  10. Add 1 oz. of Cascade hops with 20 minutes remaining
  11. Add 1 oz. of Cascade hops at flameout
  12. Cool wort to 69°F
  13. Transfer wort to primary fermenter, aerate and cool to 62°F
  14. Pitch yeast
  15. Ferment at 66°F for 7 days or until complete
  16. Cool to 38°F, then package
  17. If kegged, let sit for one week before drinking. If bottled, let sit for 3 weeks.

Mad Jack’s Hoppy Amber Ale

Ingredients

  • 10.75 lbs. Maris Otter malt
  • 1 lb. Munich malt
  • 1 lb. Caramel malt (80°L)
  • 0.5 lb. Carapils malt
  • 1 oz. Centennial hops
  • 0.5 tsp Irish Moss
  • 1 tsp Yeast Nutrient
  • 1 oz. Cascade hops
  • 1 oz. Cascade hops
  • (2) Safale S-04 yeast
  • 4 oz corn sugar for priming

Instructions

  1. Bring water to 155°F
  2. Mash at 155°F for 60 minutes
  3. Sparge with 168°F water, 7 gallons of water total
  4. Bring water to boil (90 minutes total)
  5. Add 1 oz. of Centennial hops at 60 minutes remaining
  6. Add 0.5 tsp. Irish Moss and 0.5 tsp. yeast nutrient at 10 minutes remaining
  7. Add 1 oz. of Cascade hops at 5minutes remaining
  8. Add 1 oz. of Cascade at flameout (or during secondary – if you decide to dry-hop, skip this step for now)
  9. Cool wort to 64°F
  10. Pitch yeast
  11. Ferment at 64-64°F for 3-5 days and then allow the temperature to rise to 68°F
  12. Optional: rack to secondary for another 10-14 days
    1. Add 1 oz. of Cascade hops if you skipped step 8
  13. Package beer in a keg or bottle. If bottling, add priming sugar first