Imperial Amber Ale is not an officially recognized style, but there are plenty of examples of brewer’s efforts to define it on their own. The beer I most identify with the style is Tröegs’ Nugget Nectar.
This late Winter seasonal is always highly anticipated everywhere within the regional brewery’s distribution net. It is lighter in color than many other amber ales, getting it’s hue mainly from huge amounts of Vienna malt, which is mixed with Pilsner for the beer’s base. A whole lot American hops go into this beer, but as the name suggests, it highlights Nugget. I’ve seen a lot of people classify Nugget exclusively as a bittering hop, but Tröegs puts it to great use here for aroma. The beer is spicy, piny and bitter. If not for all that Vienna malt, it could be a pure hop bomb, but it has a great malt backbone, beyond a normal IPA and helping give credence to the claim that it is it’s own style.
The other imperial amber, or imperial red as they call it, I’ve become very fond of recently, is Great Lakes Brewing’s Nosferatu. Great Lakes has been around for a long time, but is just really becoming available in my area recently. I have loved every one of their beers I’ve tried so far, but Edmund Fitzgerald Porter and Nosferatu are the two battling it out to be my favorite. Nosferatu is very different from Nugget Nectar in both malt and hops, but the thing that struck me immediately was the roast character. They use English special roast in the grist, a malt I’ve used in very small amounts in bitters and it works wonderfully here. While the hops aren’t to the extreme of Tröegs’ monster, there is still a ton of great Cascade flavor and aroma.
It could be argued that amber and red ales can be labeled interchangeably, but the roasted malt and crystal in Nosferatu make it most similar to a beefed up Irish Red Ale. Nugget Nectar, which contains some Munich malt in addition to the aforementioned Vienna and Pilsner, has a malt bill similar to a Vienna lager.
I’ve tried other beers labeled imperial amber, imperial red or even red IPA that could all fit into a similar category, but when I was forming the recipe for Dawn of the Red, it was these two that I was thinking of. I wanted to include the special roast and go with a malt bill closer to the Nosferatu. I wanted to go crazy with the hops like Nugget Nectar, but I wanted to lean more towards citrus and tropical fruit instead of pine and spice.
The recipe that I came up with is below. The beer turned out well, and I definitely want to brew more, but I also definitely want to tweak it. Next time, I would drop the amber malt and maybe just use some more special roast instead. The amber is very biscuity, which works with the roast malt, but I think that together it is too much for the amount of hop character I was going for. I would also consider including some of that Vienna that is so prominent in Nugget Nectar and cutting the crystal malt. The Vienna would add back some of the biscuit character, but not it is not as bold as amber malt, it’s more rounded and generally malty. That maltiness would help justify getting rid of the crystal, which has some of that, but also a sweetness that I think fights with the roast a bit.
I had never used Mosaic hops before, but read a lot about them when working on this recipe and I could not be happier with what they brought to the beer. I somehow felt that I had to include some Nugget hops, so I did at twenty minutes, and I bittered with Chinook, but after the reading I did, I thought Centennial and Mosaic would work great together as joint stars of the show. Despite some problems in the process, they did. After racking to secondary, my volume was extremely low. The plan was to dry hop with two ounces of Mosaic. Instead, I boiled a gallon of water, then added one ounce and did another 15 minute hop stand. After cooling, I added the water to the fermentor and then added the other ounce to dry hop.
This brought my ABV down lower than I planned and I think muddled the other hop flavors, but the Mosaic (with traces of Centennial) come through perfectly. Despite all of the changes I would make and the problems, this beer is delicious and it all just makes me more anxious to give it another go.
Style: Imperial Amber Ale
Brew Date: 12/26/2013
Serve Date: 2/5/2014
Estimated ABV: 7% (topped up with water)
86.96% 15 lb Briess Pale Malt
5.8% 1 lb 60L Crystal
4.35% .75 lb Special Roast
2.9% .5 lb Amber Malt
60 min 32 IBU 1 oz. Chinook 11.6% AA
20 min 22 IBU 1 oz. Nugget 13.5% AA
10 min 11 IBU 1 oz. Mosaic 11.6% AA
5 min 5 IBU 1 oz. Centennial 8.7% AA
0 min 0 IBU 2 oz. Mosaic 11.6% AA
0 min 0 IBU 1 oz. Centennial 8.7% AA
FIFTEEN minute hop stand before chilling
White Labs 0001 – California Ale
22 quarts of water at 166º added to malt to get temperature of 154º. Held for one hour.
Sparged with 170º water to get six gallons over one hour.
One hour boil with fifteen minute hop stand at flame out before cooling.
12/26 – Fermented at room temperature. Fermentation seemed very active, but took much longer than expected. Planned to rack to secondary after one week, but waited.
1/14 – Racked to secondary. Volume was extremely low. The plan was to dry hop with two ounces of Mosaic. Instead, I boiled a gallon of water, then added one ounce and did another 15 minute hop stand with one ounce. After cooling, I added the water to the fermentor and then added the other ounce to dry hop.
1/22 – Bottled