Part 3 of the Experimental Lagers Series
The Amber and dark lager family are of normal alcohol (4.5-6.0% ABV), well-attenuated Amber (dark gold to light brown and light brown to black) beers that range in the bitterness and hop flavour. However, the malt flavour tends to be more in the bread, toast and depending upon the style, some caramel and toffee notes. The amber family includes Vienna, Märzen, international amber lagers, Rauchbier, some Dunkles and hybrid lagers like Alt. The dark lager family include Schwarbier, Munich Dunkel and international dark lager.
As we now move into the darker styles, the range of malts used becomes much broader the inclusion of malts like crystal/caramel/toffee, biscuit, red malts and small amounts of chocolate and add to this the German technique of decoction mashing, increases the range of perceived malt flavours even further.
The hops that are generally used in these styles are of the Nobel varieties, but depending upon what you are trying to showcase in the particular beer many earthy hops would highlight some of the flavours from the specialty malts. The use of new world hops is a good experiment with amber lagers. I like to use a single hop that has stone fruit notes, which because of the low ester profile of lager yeasts the resulting fruit flavours in the finished beer have to come from the malts and the hops. It is a great way to showcase either the hops, the malts or both.
While with the lighter coloured lagers where fruits and hops are probably the most suitable additions to compliment the beer and the way that they are normally consumed (warm sunny weather). However, these darker coloured lagers are more suited to the fringe and colder seasons and therefore suit a lot of the flavours associated with those seasons like hazelnuts.
When accentuating another flavour in a beer look for very clean lager strains, this will ensure that those highlighted flavours stand out.