A few weeks ago, I was enjoying dinner with my family at Yosemite's famous Ahwahnee Hotel. It was a minivacation over a three-day weekend. Scanning the beer menu, the only bottle on it that I was unfamiliar with was brewed by nearby Mammoth Brewing: Ahwahnee Amber Ale.

Like most die-hard beer lovers, I tend to order beer I've never had before, so I gave it a try. It was delicious and, as I later discovered, had won a bronze medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup. Amber ale is a beer style that isn't nearly as popular as it once was -- and that's a shame, really.

Once upon a time, in the early days of craft beer, most breweries made ales and carried at least three kinds of beers. They had a dark beer, usually a brown ale, porter or stout. They had a pale ale -- and thanks to Sierra Nevada's Pale Ale and Anchor's Liberty Ale, it was the first superstar style of the microbrewery revolution. Compared with mass-produced industrial lagers, pale ales were the IPAs of their day, usually the hoppiest beer you could find in the mid-1980s.

If you didn't want a bitter, hoppy beer or a roasty dark ale, not to worry. There was a third choice: amber ale. These beers were generally not as hoppy as a pale ale and not as malty sweet as a brown ale but somewhere in between. Amber ales were the standard antidote to the roasted and sometimes bitter flavors in porters and stouts as well. The truth is, they still are; they just get lost in today's climate of hoppy and extreme beers.


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Amber ale, also called red ale, is essentially an American invention. Its name, as one might expect, comes from its color, which ranges from amber to a coppery red. A somewhat generic type of ale with less hops than a pale ale or IPA, it also often features more malt character, with sweeter, mostly caramel notes and sometimes some light fruit flavors, too. But it's the very middle-of-the-road character that makes it such a versatile variety. To be fair, some amber or red ales can be pretty hoppy, but that hop character is usually well-balanced. Some others may be a little sweeter, so you may need to try a few to find your Goldilocks amber ale -- the one that's just right for you.

Amber ales don't evoke much passion from beer lovers, though they're often among a brewery's most popular beers, occasionally even their flagship -- but they're not trendy. Not being trendy, however, is a terrible reason not to drink one. The best are perfectly balanced beers with great flavors that make them ideal in almost any scenario, in any weather and with any dish.

Luckily, there's no shortage of amber ales. They may not get the attention they deserve, but they're everywhere. Some of my favorites include Anderson Valley Boont Amber, Bear Republic Red Rocket, Lagunitas Censored, North Coast Red Seal Ale and Speakeasy Prohibition Ale.

Others to try include Ale Asylum Ambergeddon, Deschutes Cinder Cone Red, Devil's Canyon's Deadicated Amber Ale, Drake's Amber, El Toro Poppy Jasper, Green Flash Hop Head Red, Iron Springs Epiphany Ale, Lost Coast Alleycat Amber Ale, Mad River Jamaica Red Ale, Marin Albion Amber Ale, Mendocino Red Tail Ale, New Belgium Fat Tire, Rogue St. Rogue Red Ale, Ruhstaller 1881 and Stone Levitation Ale.

And if you can't make it to Yosemite, Mammoth Brewing sells its amber ale under the name "Real McCoy."

Contact Jay R. Brooks at BrooksOnBeer@gmail.com. Read more at blogs.mercurynews.com/eat-drink-play.