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The Amber Ale is a mercurial little fellow, hard to nail down with one solid definition. Is the style defined by the color of the beer? No, that’s far too simplistic. Is it one specific ingredient, then, such as rye or wheat grain can do? No, not that either – various malt profiles can fall under the heading of Amber and not seem like the snuck into the party. Is it a strain of yeast? No! The hops? No!
There are a lot of things you can say don’t fully define Amber Ales, but there are also a few unifying factors, so we can all calm down and discuss those. Those factors are… well, OK the first sort of is an amber hue. But it can range from quite pale yellow-orangey to almost a brown. It is how these colors are produced and not the colors themselves, though, that define the beer: the hue comes from the predominance of the crystal malts used in the brewing process.
These are barley grains that are soaked (to start their sprouting) and then roasted until they are a light to medium brown and producing a rich toffee/toast flavoring. The fact that some of their starches are not fully converted to a fermentable state also leaves the resulting beer slightly sweeter than other styles.