How Hazy IPA Revitalized Drake’s Amber Ale
Tours and Education Program Manager, Eric Ortega, penned a love letter to Drake’s Amber Ale, and in the process, explains how the rise of Hazy IPAs played a role in the redevelopment of this beloved beer.
I’ve never been very good at predicting trends in the brewing industry, but some things are too obvious to deny. The presence of Hazy and Juicy IPAs are growing ever stronger here on the West Coast, having now dropped the moniker “New England” style. Our HAYS series continues to turn out excellent examples of this style, and we frequently brew small batches on our smaller brew house to play with hopping rates, malt bills, and adjuncts.
We’ve also firmly embraced the other side of the IPA coin with our bone-dry Brightside Extra Brut IPA. Even within this new style category, we’ve brewed different permutations: Black Brut, Double Brut, Triple Brut, Cherry and Wine Grape Brut, and Triple Brut with Cranberries and Currants to name a few. We’re into the emerging trends as well as the established ones. But damn if we can’t make the hell out of a classic [a.k.a. boring] style too.
I wanted to write a love letter to these old standards, but especially our Amber Ale. Those of you who’ve been with us a while may remember bottles of Drake’s Amber Ale. It was a hard decision to discontinue the bottling, but back in 2016, we just weren’t selling enough to justify our production levels. We received many emails lamenting the loss of Amber Ale in bottles, but the poor beer just fell victim to a wider loss of interest. Alas, the loss of interest continues to this day. “Unsurprisingly, styles such as Amber Ale, Amber Lager, Strong Ale and Dark Beer are all down double-digits from the year prior,” according to Beer Connoisseur.
Our production of Amber Ale has dropped since the loss of bottles, but it never quite went away. Curiously enough, it was our initially begrudging acceptance of Hazy IPAs that led to an unanticipated revitalization of our Amber Ale recipe. When playing around with the style of these opaque and juicy brews, we decided to add a new yeast strain to our lineup, Burton Ale Yeast (White Labs #023).
Typically, Hazy IPAs are brewed with a higher portion of wheat or oats in the malt bill, which due to their higher protein content, cause opacity in beer (think Hefeweizens, Saisons, or Witbiers in particular). Hazy IPAs go a step further with their intense late hoping additions, which causes hop polyphenols to stick in suspension, binding with high molecular weight proteins from the wheat or oat additions. This opacity caused by hops and grain is known as colloidal haze, or non-biologically based.
Rounding out our Hazy IPA recipe formation, we use the Burton Ale Yeast strain, which has a lower flocculation rate than our standard ale yeast. Flocculation refers to the ability of yeast cells to drop out of suspension after active fermentation. Some yeasts are better able to clump together than others (e.g. clear, translucent Pilsners vs. opaque Hefeweizens).
In order to keep our inventory of yeast active, and as a matter of innovation, we’ve played with the Burton Ale Yeast in other recipes. Early on it found its way into an English Brown Ale, a Dark Mild, and one of my very favorite beers Drake’s ever made, a 3.2% Ordinary Bitter. None of these flew out of the faucet like our hazy IPAs, but each in their own way were love letters to an older brewing era.
Eventually we revamped our Amber Ale recipe to use the Burton Ale yeast, which expresses a subtle pear and honey sweetness, that plays wonderfully off the toffee and nutty malt flavors of the malt. When Amber was brought back as a regular part of our draft offerings, it wasn’t to fanfare or spectacle. It’s change was subtle, but brought new life to a classic part of our line-up. It also brings us a bit closer to our own history. The first beer ever brewed here in San Leandro, back in 1989, was an English Amber Ale known as Drake’s Ale.
Next time you’re at Drake’s Barrel House in San Leandro, chomping on one of our delicious burgers, or enjoying a basket of Papa Roy’s ribs at the Oakland Dealership, or munching on one of our Tri-Tip Sandos at the BARN in West Sacramento, try it with an Amber. It’s a perfect easy drinking ale with enough flavor to compliment any of these dishes.
Amber ales aren’t an exciting style any more, and I get that. We are now awash in beer that’s not only innovative, but well made to boot. But don’t forget your old stand-by beers. As long as they’re made well, they won’t be going anywhere.