Make Your Best International Amber Lager | Craft Beer & Brewing

Make Your Best International Amber Lager

This can be a great session lager to help you recruit your macro-drinking friends into the world of craft/homebrewed beer, and for your own purposes it's a nice tap to have on when you're looking for lighter flavors with a bit more character behind them.

Josh Weikert 9 months ago

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I came into homebrewing just after what must have been a very sad and lonely several-decades in homebrewed beer. Looking at the recipes and style guidelines, it seems like most homebrewers were more or less just brewing to color (pale, amber, dark) and yeast (ale or lager), with ingredients that were equally as primitive in their descriptions. Fast forwarding to today, we have more than a hundred specific sub-styles and more varieties of malt, hops, and yeast than we (probably) know what to do with. As a result, it can be easy to write off what sound like generic, color-based categories - but we shouldn't, at least not all of them. One such style is International Amber Lager.

Looking at the "Commercial Examples" list, it can be somewhat uninspiring (who really wants to make a Yuengling Lager clone?), but just because something can be a bit one-note and overly-simplified doesn't mean it must be. This can be a great session lager to help you recruit your macro-drinking friends into the world of craft/homebrewed beer, and for your own purposes it's a nice tap to have on when you're looking for lighter flavors with a bit more character behind them.

STYLE

It would be easy to just say, "well, it's just another amber lager, so can't I just re-use one of those recipes?" You can, of course, but you might find that they're not a great fit. These "International" lagers - even the darker ones - are not usually as malt-forward as the more traditional amber lagers out there, nor are they usually as hops-forward as some (though this one pushes that a bit). We're shooting for low-medium malt character without a lot of complexity - I find a clean toasty flavor is best, like a simple Oktoberfest - along with an equal amount of floral hops character with maybe a touch of fruit. It should be light on the palate and moderately dry, and while the ABV can drift upwards I like mine at an even five percent.

This isn't a complicated style, but it requires us to restrain our impulses to go "full homebrewer" and overdo it. It's not one note - it's a chord. But note that it's not a whole orchestra, either. Restraint is the name of the game.

RECIPE

Ingredients matter, here. The guidelines note that simple two-row malts and/or adjuncts are common, but I can't think of any good reason to go that route unless you really struggle to get good, dry beers that are fully attenuated.

For the base malt, I like 100% Pilsner, about 7.5 pounds. To bump up that biscuit, cracker-like quality we'll add one pound of Munich and half a pound of Victory malt. Finally, half a pound of British medium crystal (65L) gives a good light caramel flavor (and also a bit more of that British-y toasted character). I normally don't hammer this that hard, but ingredients matter here - we want a clear set of flavors, and whether it's the purported more-uniform kilning of crystal malts or something else, when I've subbed-in 60L caramel malt here the result is just not the same.

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Hopping is pretty simple, with a 30-IBU addition of just about anything at 60 minutes, and then a one-ounce whirlpool or flame-out addition of Cluster. "Wait, Cluster? I thought this was an International lager?" It is - and what could be more "international" than a European hop cross-bred (we assume) with North American hops varieties? It's perfect for the style, too - floral and woodsy, but with a touch of grapefruit and pine needle.

Finally, I ferment this with my good old Wyeast 1007 German Ale yeast, which leaves the beer really clean and bone-dry - what little esterification there might be will be minimal and complement the hops, but there's really not going to be much there.

PROCESS

Mash a little longer than usual - 75 minutes - to get yourself a slightly more-fermentable wort, then lauter, sparge, and boil. You should always use a healthy-sized yeast pitch, but it's especially true here - we want clean and complete fermentation. When brewing I usually split a 2L starter between two five-gallon batches, but with this recipe I give it about 1.2L of that starter, just to be on the safe side.

Fermentation is going to start cold here, for an ale: 55F for the first 4-5 days, after which you can let it rise to whatever it wants to go to, up to about 70F. If you're fermenting in a particularly cold spot, move it to somewhere warmer after that initial 4-5 day fermentation: the 1007 can probably complete the job at those temps, but it may take a while. Total fermentation time, assuming you can warm it up a bit, shouldn't be long, though! I can turn this one around in ten days, easily, which isn't bad for something that passes as a lager.

Carbonate to 2.5 volumes of CO2 to add crisp bite, and you're good to go!

IN CLOSING

I know it's not technically a lager, but it sure tastes like one. I've also used this as a base beer for some holiday season-themed experimentation with fruit, mulling spice, and more. In addition, it ages well if you can keep the oxygen at bay, especially at packaging. Give it a go, especially if you're new to lagers, and I think you'll be pleased. It's more than "just" an amber lager!

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