Better Know Your Beer Style: Category 07 Amber Hybrid Beers

9 02 2010

As I mentioned last week, hybrid beers are neither considered lager or ale. This is because they are both ale and lager! Many use lager yeast but are fermented at an ale temperature or use ale yeast but are fermented at lager temperatures. As you can see from this Venn Diagram below, hybrid beers blur the line between the two worlds.In last week’s post, I also wrote a rather lengthy rant about how frustrating it is that hybrid beers are all clumped together since a cream ale is more different from an altbier than a porter is different from a stout. But I won’t repeat that rant again. You can just read it there.

Much like the light hybrids of last week, the amber hybrids mix the best of ales and lagers in a very delicious way. Altbier (which is German for Old Beer) does not refer to the age of the beer but the age of the technique. This technique uses ale yeast but lagers at a cold temperature. In many ways, an altbier is a sweeter, more bitter, brown lager. But it still has the roundness and fruitiness of an ale.

Anchor Steam

Photo Credit: Rick Creative Commons

California Common is one of the few indigenous American beer types. Created in Northern California around the time of the gold rush, California Common (also known as steam beer) uses a lager yeast but is fermented at an ale temperature. In the 19th century, refrigeration and ice were not available to brewers. Hot wort was poured into shallow troughs, where the cool breezes from the Pacific Ocean would cool down the wort. The most popular form of California Common these days is the Anchor Steam out of San Francisco.

BJCP Category 07: Amber Hybrid Beers-

Subcategories: Northern German Altbier, California Common (Steam beer), Dusseldorf Altbier

Aroma: All should have subtle grainy and malty noses. While Northern German Altbiers should have no Noble hop character, Dusseldorf Altbier should have a more robust hopiness with hints of pepper, floral, or even perfume. California Common should have a strong nose from Northern Brewer hops. With a minty, pine resiny, rustic note to it.

Appearance: Altbiers should have a light amber to a coppery orange body. As should California Commons. While California Commons and Northern German Altbiers should have a medium head with good retention, a Dusseldorf Altbier has a big, bloomy head with excellent retention. Lagering should make altbiers crystal clear.

Flavor: All of these beers should have medium to high malt characters with sweet, biscuity notes; well rounded with fruity esters; and very clean on the end. All should have pronounced hop character. Altbiers should use Noble Hops with their well balanced flavor and bitterness. California Common should use American hops, particularly Northern Brewer.

Mouthfeel: All should be medium-bodied with medium to high carbonation. Very smooth and drinkable.

Ingredients: Altbiers should be made predominately from German malts with a base of Pils and some Munich malts for color. Chocolate and Crystal are also appropriate. Noble hops should be used, particularly Spalt. An ale yeast should be used, but a lager is acceptable, too. California Commons should be made with American pale malt. Northern Brewer is the hops of choice. It should not have any of the “4C’s” (Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, and Chinook) as they tend to be too citrusy. American lager yeasts are preferable especially one that comes from California. German lager strains tend to give off too much sulfur.

Technical Notes:

Original Gravity: 1.046-1.054
Final Gravity: 1.010-1.015
IBUs: 25-50
SRMs (Malt Color): 10-19
ABV: 4.5-5.2%

Commercial Examples:

Northern German Altbier: DAB Traditional, Hannen Alt, Schwelmer Alt, Grolsch Amber, Alaskan Amber, Long Trail Ale, Otter Creek Copper Ale, Schmaltz’ Alt
California Common (Steam Beer):
Anchor Steam, Southampton Steem Beer, Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber Lager
Dusseldorf Altbier: Altstadt brewpubs: Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen, Schumacher, Zum Schlüssel; other examples: Diebels Alt, Schlösser Alt, Frankenheim Alt

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