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Amber Ale

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Dark Horse Brewing Co.
Marshall, MI

Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 5.5%

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

Remember this one carefully, folks: amber is, technically, not a style. It’s a color. When you order an amber ale, or lager, what you really should be asking for is an alt, the German word for “old.” Not old as in “been sitting in the fridge for the last year and half like a dead raccoon,” but old as in “old timey.” An altbier is a throwback beer to when brewing had variety and tradition, before the advent of the pilsner basically wrecked beer for the next 150 years.

But in the American craft brewing industry, amber has kind’ve morphed into an actual style, something along the lines of an alt but with a stronger malt character. Two prototypical entries would be Bell’s Amber Ale and Sprecher’s Special Amber, the latter actually being a lager. These two beers sport big malt profiles backed by relatively meaty bodies, all sans some of the tinniness you would find in more traditional alts like New Belgium’s Fat Tire and the outstanding Alaskan Amber.

All this is leading up to my trying of Dark Horse Brewing Co.’s Amber Ale. Remember how I said amber isn’t really a style? Well, this entry just reinforces my point. This beer enters the glass a cloudy orangey-gold—to be honest, sight-wise it’s not all that attractive. The head was thin and dissipated quickly, but part of that could be that I poured it into a goblet instead of a pint glass.

The aroma was mostly malt, but not huge like you’d expect from an American “amber.” Instead, the folks at Dark Horse paired that maltiness with some spicy yeastiness and a touch of esters. And the taste … well, we’re no longer in alt country. The front is light, effervescent sugariness, extremely reminiscent of a Belgian-style tripel. The end has some darker, toastier malt flavors, but the lightness dominates throughout, even in the body. Indeed, this is one of the lighter “ambers” I’ve had.

This all adds up to a delicious, complex, extremely drinkable beer. It’s probably more accurately categorized alongside Belgian-style brews, but Dark Horse’s Amber Ale is good enough to rise above such stylistic transgressions.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on August 30, 2007.
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