When I was first getting into the industry a decade ago, the standard draft list at any given brewery looked a lot different than it does today. Most “neighborhood taprooms” opened with a mix of beers on tap that included a west coast IPA, a wheat beer, a dry stout and, arguably one of the most “medium” beer styles of all time, an amber ale. You don’t see this lineup very often anymore and when you do it tends to be written off by modern consumers as un-inspiring or behind the times. With amber ale in particular, I’ve heard many people, over the years, reference the style, and the breweries making them, with a regard that’s antithetical to innovation, but it hasn’t always been this way.
In Colorado in particular there is actually a pretty significant history with this style - Avalanche Amber has long been a top selling beer for Breckenridge Brewery, eclipsing even their IPA sales. Fat Tire from New Belgium absolutely blew up back in the ‘00s and spread across the nation like wildfire. When I came out here in college to climb and fly fish, Odell 90 Shilling was high on the list of beers I was seeking out to get a picture of what “Colorado beer” really looked like. So what happened that took this style from such a prolific height to where it is now? Sitting quietly in the corner, if even in the corner at all. Well, this isn’t a new trend, we watched the same thing happen with witbier, gose, hefeweizen, pale ale and even the classic west coast IPAs, but as many have told me over the years, beer is cyclical and styles tend to resurrect themselves given enough time.
So fast forward to now, it’s 2022 and the market is stacked with hop saturated, hazy IPAs, gigantic imperial stouts, literal smoothie sours and seemingly pastry everything. Not coincidentally, you probably recognize this list as a lot of what New Image is known for. This has been where we’ve trended towards for several decades now in craft beer, through the IBU wars with beers like Green Flash Palate Wrecker, the ABV push with the likes of Sam Adams Utopias and I’m sure you can think of about a million examples of pastry stout and duodecuple (yeah, I had to look that word up too) dry hopped IPAs, but recently we’ve seen, and maybe you’ve noticed, a shift. All of the sudden every brewery is making a lager again, we’re seeing rauch (smoked) beers not only offered, but actually selling well, and while hazy IPAs are still dominating draft lines and liquor store shelves as a top selling craft style, there has been a noticeable up-tick in the sale of easier drinking beers.
On a personal level, I’m actually pretty stoked about this. While we love pushing boundaries and producing extreme beers, we also love diving into the minutia of what makes a seemingly basic style become remarkable and that brings us to this week as we unveil a new addition to our lineup, Remastered amber ale. I can hear your groans as I write this, echoing alongside the groans of every sales team member who’s indulged my recent rants about how I’m determined to make this a thing again, but hear me out. While this style may have developed the reputation of being unremarkable this actually leaves us with a lot of room for creative freedom, so when I was doing research for and creating this recipe I thought to myself “what would it look like if American Amber was created for the first time today”. All the same metrics are there, low ABV, easy drinking, malt forward and, of course, amber colored, but the structural approach is quite different from how the style was built up in the 80s and 90s. Looking back across everything we’ve learned brewing big stouts and barleywines over the last 6 years, I wanted to try and capture that same level of flavor depth but package it into a low ABV beer that I could session any time. I poured over the carefully constructed water profiles, specialty malts that had been specifically selected over years of trying hundreds of options and brewing techniques that have added nuance and distinction to our malt forward beers. The result is a beer constructed from Colorado grown 2-row and Munich malts, 3 different varieties of our favorite crystal malts and a touch of kilned wheat. The water profile selected supports the robust malt flavors from the grains while finishing relatively dry, albeit not too dry. We employed one of our favorite brewhouse techniques, decoction, to add further depth to the layers of caramel and roast developed by boiling a portion of the mash and structured our fermentation to emulate the approach we use for big stouts and barleywines. The result of all this is our “remastered” amber ale, named as such because the goal here is not to revive something that’s fallen out of vogue, but to take inspiration from the origins of the style and create something new that holds up to modern standards for craft beer.
So this week we’re excited to introduce you to this new beer that captures the essence of our biggest, most layered beers but comes packed in a format that requires no special occasion to enjoy. But wait, there’s more! We are who we are and we can’t help but to try and take our innovation with this beer a step further. So while this fresh version launches this week we have stored away a significant portion of this first batch in a selection of bourbon barrels that we plan to harvest sometime later this year. At this point you may be thinking “okay, now we’re totally off the rails” and you may be right, but this choice comes with a very intentional purpose. We love barrel aged beers, they're some of our absolute favorite beers of all time but drinking 15% ABV, sugar rich beers is something we try to save for special occasions. Our hope with this project is to create a barrel aged beer that is not only session-able enough to drink any time but also more accessible. Barrel aged beers are expensive, limited and, for many people, unapproachable due to their massive ABVs and intense sweetness. As has always been our mission, we want to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to serving our community and to share the wonderful nuances of barrel aging with an even larger audience than we’ve been able to reach before.
As I sit here writing this, I really can’t convey how excited I am for this new series. Ask anyone on our staff, I won’t shut up about it… It’s yet another adventure that we’re embarking on here to see if we can’t change peoples minds about a style and we couldn’t be more stoked to share the journey with you.