Amber Hybrid Beers

NOTE: New 2015 Guidelines

Category 7-Amber Hybrids, no longer exists as such in the new 2015 style guidelines.  Category 7 in the new guidelines is called AMBER BITTER EUROPEAN BEER.  This category groups amber-colored, evenly balanced to bitter balanced beers of German or Austrian origin.  This category includes:

  • 7A Vienna Lager
  • 7B Altbier (Dusseldorf) or 7B Altbier (Northern German)  
  • 7C Kellebier used to fit in Category 23 Specialty Beer.  Kellerbier is somewhat ambiguous as a style and mostly designates a serving style (very fresh) rather than a beer style.  When entered in a competition, the beer must be specified as a pale kellerbier (based on Helles) or an amber style kellerbier (based on marzen).  Other style kellerbiers may be specified (such as a pils, bock, or schwarzbier) but entrant must supply a style description to the judges.

Amber Hybrid Category From the Old Guidelines

From the 2008 Style Guidelines:

The Amber Hybrid style category is a diverse grouping of beers which share several things in common. They are amber, and they are brewed using non-conventional methods. Two styles are old, and one is new. Two are traditional German ales (although Northern German Altbier is often made as a lager), and the other is a lager and one of only a few true American styles.

All of the amber hybrids are fermented cool, between 55°F (13°C) and 62°F (17°C). The altbiers are ales brewed with a special yeast that does well at cool temperatures, the California Common is a lager which is brewed at temperatures as cool as the brewers could attain using coolships (shallow open fermenters) without refrigeration. All three feature a rich amber malt flavor. All have good hop backbone, but the Northern German version is brewed more balanced between the malt and hops.

Beers in the Amber Hybrid Category

The beers in this category are:

The area around Düsseldorf is one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world. In fact, Neanderthal man was found in one of the suburbs of Düsseldorf, about 10 miles east of the center of the city. While the Neanderthals weren't making the Altbier style arguably one of the oldest continuously brewed beer styles in the world. Before lagers were first brewed in the 1600s in Bavaria, the Altbier was simply known as "bier". It has only acquired the name "alt" since the 1800s when the style was threatened by the new lagers which are now the most popular beer in the world.

The history of California Common is a bit more ambiguous. The only beer which survives from the 19th century San Frisco area is Anchor Steam. No one really knows how close this beer is to the original "steam beers" brewed in San Francisco, but it has become the model for most modern versions. Because of the lack of refrigeration in any form, brewers in the San Frisco area had to rely on coolships with a large surface area to dissipate the heat of fermenatation. A lager yeast is used but at warmer than normal temperatures for typical lager fermentation. The word "steam beer" was probably derived from the German style, also called "steam beer" or Dampfbier. Dampfbier was fermented at warm temperatures with a Weizen yeast which produced unusualy active fermentations, which appeared to be boiling or "steaming". A couple of other possibilities for the name came from the idea that the high amount of carbonation in the style caused the kegs to whistle when tapped. Or, that the coolships gave off clouds of steam.

The Amber Hybrid category of beers is definitely one that all brewers should try.

References: Information for this page was adapted from the 2008 BJCP Style Guidelines, the page on Altbiers from The German Beer Institute, The German Beer Portal for North America, Brewing Classic Styles, 80 Winning Recipes Anyone Can Brew, by Jamil Zainasheff and John J. Palmer, and the article in Home Brewing Wiki about Steam Beer.

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