Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Rathskeller Amber Ale

Gray’s Brewing Company
Janesville, WI

Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 5.5%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Let me begin this review with a promise: I, Nigel "Slappy G" Tanner (best known from "Da Slappy G Show" on BBC America), will not bitch about the cold weather. I've come to accept my fate as a Beer Dork in the Arctic, and I have adequately prepared myself to be cold and miserable until July, when our two weeks of summer come. Until then, we'll just skip that topic altogether before it grows completely stale and boring (OK--even MORE stale and boring than it was when I first brought it up). Let's instead talk Amber Ales. I'll give ya'll a moment to process the excitement that comes with that topic. After all, debating Amber Ales is the only topic more exhilarating than trying to figure out which lawyer/trailer trash loser is the late Anna Nicole's baby's daddy.

It's well known within the craft beer community that Amber Ale is a pretty generic label for a type of beer that is, well... amber in color. They are also often called Red Ales, which are, uh... red in color (Nigel is all for brewing Mahogany Ale, Crimson Ale, or a light version, Magenta Ale). Some craft brews calling themselves Ambers are actually Altbiers, an old German style of brewing which conditions the beer for a longer period of time, making for a more mellow brew, very smooth going down, and yes--very amber in color. Most Ambers, however, are just that--a generic category of beer based on color that is heavy on the malt, making for a smooth beer that is lighter than your Stouts, Porters, Scottish, Bocks, Dopplebocks and other dark beers, but darker than Lagers, Pilsners, IPA's, Pale Ales, Hefe's, and so on. The closest beer style to an Amber/Red Ale would be the Oktoberfest/Marzen style, which is similar in body and color, though uses a noticeably different type of malt, making them fairly distinguishable from their Amber counterparts. Amber Ales/Red Ales have a wide variety of selections, not surprising given the loose criteria needed to be included in this category. The amount of hops used in an Amber can vary, but I firmly believe that a real Amber has light to medium hop additions at the most, as high hop additions would, in my opinion, push this beer type over into the category of a dark American Pale Ale. But hey--the beautiful thing about an Amber Ale is that everyone has their own opinion about what a perfect one should taste like, something that isn't as open for debate in the more defined beer styles.

As for Rathskeller Amber Ale, the offering provided by the folks at the small but growing Gray's Brewing Co. in Janesville, Wisconsin (another fine Madison-area microbrewery), I would have to say it's one of the better Ambers I've had, one that Nigel would consider to be exactly what an Amber should taste like. Rathskeller Amber is the closest I've come to resembling what I feel is the finest example of the style I've ever had, Bell's Amber. Gray's version is on the darker end of the Amber scale, with more flavor and body than its nearby counterparts, Capital's Wisconsin Amber and Tyranena's Headless Man Amber Ale. The beer pours about as dark as you can get for the style, a deep red with a pretty good head that dissipates fairly quickly, leaving only a slight white bubbly trace. The smell is not the best--for a beer that is full of good sugary malt flavor, mine smelled a little funky. I thought it was way too chemically, without any hint of the good flavor that was about to come. The flavor is very good. Caramel malt dominates here, with a medium hop addition to balance it, and just the slightest tinge of fruitiness to add a tad bit of spice. The beer goes down very smooth, like any Amber should, but does have a strong aftertaste due to the fact that it is one of the more bodied versions out there. All in all, this is a good beer, though not as much of a session brew as many of its counterparts (one thing about Ambers is that most of them are light enough and smooth enough to be session brews). For anyone who likes their Ambers like Nigel likes his, Gray's Rathskeller is certainly a must try. Cheers!

Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 9, 2007.
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