This Month's Question:    What is an Amber Hybrid?  How do I make one?

 

Answer:    Amber Hybrid Beer is Category #7 in the latest BJCP Styleguide.  It consists of three styles including North German Altbier, California Common, and Düsseldorf Altbier.  

California Common and Düsseldorf Altbier both have the common characteristic that they are brewed at temperatures that are intermediate between most ales and lagers.  Northern German Altbier is typically a lager, though this is not explicitly required.  All three feature a rich amber malt flavor.  Each of them, however, has its own characteristics. 

            Düsseldorf style Altbier is an assertively bitter style with up to 50 IBUs.  It often has a significant hop aroma, though not as strong as American Pale Ale.  Altbiers are typically brewed using a decoction mash, or multi-step infusion mashes.

            Northern German Altbier is typically a less robust beer than Düsseldorf style.  The bittering and hop aroma are a bit lower.  Many of them could better be described as bitter brown lagers. 

Anchor Steam beer defines the style of beer known as California Common beer.  The most unique feature of California Common beer is the use of lager yeast at an elevated fermentation temperature.  It has a distinctive yeast flavor, and typically features a hop flavor of Northern Brewer hops. 

To make one of thee beers, start out with your recipe with Pale Malt or malt extract.  Target a starting gravity of about 1.050.  To this, add a generous dose of crystal malt.  Munich malt is also a good addition for both of the Altbiers.  You can also experiment with some of the other amber malts such as biscuit malt, chocolate or toasted malts.  My preference is to use a mixture of crystal malts with a range of color.  For a 5 gallon batch, I'd use a quarter pound each of 20°L and 80°L, and maybe a half pound each of 40°L and 60°L.    Steep the crystal malt for extract, or throw it in the mash for all-grain.  If you are mashing, target 155°F.  A single-step infusion mash can be used, though you'll get better clarity if you start off with a protein rest at 122°F.

            The hop profile varies by style.  Target 35, 40 or 45 IBUs for Northern German, California Common or Düsseldorf respectively.  A light noble hop finish is typical for Northern, and more noticeable for Düsseldorf.  Common, as noted previously, typically has a Northern Brewer finish.   The citrusy American hops are a bit out of place for this style, and are better suited for American Pale or Amber ales. 

            Fermentation of the Amber hybrids varies a bit depending on style.  They take a bit longer than most ales, so if you want to have one at it prime for the COC in August, you should plan to brew by Mid-May.  For the Northern, you will need to go with a full lager process, though you can allow the temperature to be a few degrees high, since a touch of ester is typical for the styles.  The White Labs Copenhagen yeast WLP850 strikes me as a good yeast for the style, though I've never tried it myself.     

For Common, use the Wyeast #2112 California lager yeast.  This reproduces the slight ester fruitiness characteristic of Anchor Steam.  I prefer to keep the fermentation temperature around 60° to 65°F.  Around my place, this takes very little effort this time of year, though as summer moves in, you'll need a lagering fridge.   

For Düsseldorf, try White Labs WLP036.  You'll need to ferment this in the high 60s as an ale, and then ramp the temperature downward once you have bottled the beer.   This will give the clean flavor that both of these beers are expected to have, and will improve clarity. 

 

 

Vital Statistics for Amber Hybrid Beers


Style

Starting Gravity

Final Gravity

Bitterness, IBU

Color, SRM

Hop Aroma

No. German Altbier

1.046-1.054

1.010-1.015

25-40

13-19

None-Low

California Common

1.048-1.054

1.011-1.014

30-45

10-14

Medium

Düsseldorf Altbier

1.046-1.054

1.010-1.015

35-50

11-17

Low-Mod