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7 - Amber Hybrid Beer
7 - Amber Hybrid Beer

Amber Hybrid beer styles

Know the difference between Northern German and Düsseldorf Altbiers? Want to find out about the history of California Commons? Read on to find out…

Previously we examined Light Hybrid beer styles, in this article we will cover BJCP Category 7, Amber Hybrid Beer, which includes the following Beer Styles:

First we will cover the history of the category, then take a look at the specifications of each style highlighting the similarities and differences. We then sample commercial examples of each style.


7 - Amber Hybrid Beer
7 – Amber Hybrid Beer

Amber Hybrid beers covers two similar German styles, the Northern German Altbier and Düsseldorf Altbier, which originate from the north of the country and a truly American style which originates from the west coast, a California Common Beer.

Most Altbiers produced outside of the city of Düsseldorf are Northern German Altbiers. ‘Alt’ means old in German and here refers to the old way of brewing ales prior to lagers becoming popular.

California Commons originate from San Francisco with Anchor Steam being the first main commercial example. These beers were fermented using Coolships which are large open vessels with a big surface area to take advantage of the cool Bay area temperatures in the days before refrigeration.


According to Jamil Zainasheff in his book, Brewing Classic Styles, these beers should all be as follows:

  • Northern German Altbier – a very clean beer with a smooth malt character, often with touches of toast, biscuit, and caramel. The hop aroma and flavor should be low and only of Noble hops varieties.
  • California Common Beer – a malty but dry beer with toasted, grainy, and caramel notes. Hop bitterness is quite firm.
  • Düsseldorf Altbier – a full, rich, and complex malt character. Flavor and aroma are full of dark bread with spicy or floral hop notes. The beer should finish dry after a moderate to high hop bitterness.

The following table* shows how the 3 styles of Amber Hybrid Beer vary:

Characteristic Northern German Altbier California Common Beer Düsseldorf Altbier
Original Gravity: 1.046 – 1.054 1.048 – 1.054 1.046 – 1.054
Final Gravity: 1.010 – 1.015 1.011 – 1.014 1.010 – 1.015
ABV (alcohol %): 4.5 – 5.2 4.5 – 5.5 4.5 – 5.2
IBU’s (bitterness): 25 – 40 30 – 45 35 – 50
SRM (color): 13 – 19 10 – 14 11 – 17

The above table shows that all three styles have similar starting and finishing gravities as well as alcohol percentages. With IBU’s the Düsseldorf versions of the Altbier are generally more bitter than the Northern German versions and the California Common Beer sits pretty much in the middle. Color-wise the Altbiers tend to be a little darker than the California Common but only slightly.

In the following sections we will look in more detail at each of the above Beer Styles.

Northern German Altbier

Alaskan Amber
Alaskan Amber

Commercial examples of this style include DAB Traditional, Hannen Alt, Schwelmer Alt, Grolsch Amber, Long Trail Ale, Otter Creek Copper Ale, and Schmaltz’ Alt. We decided to sample Alaskan Amber and Full Sail Phil’s Existential Alt.

Alaskan Amber has the following characteristics which is slightly too high for alcohol content, a little too low for bitterness, and the color is a bit darker than it should be for this style:

  • ABV = 5.3% (max for style is 5.2%)
  • IBU’s = 18 (min for style is 25)
  • SRM = 22 (max for style is 19)

This beer is amber in color with a head that turns to a film of foam pretty quickly. The aroma and flavor are malty with some caramel. There is little hop aroma, flavor or bitterness. Carbonation is moderate with a medium mouth-feel.

Full Sail Phil's Existential Alt
Full Sail Phil’s Existential Alt

Full Sail Phil’s Existential Alt has the following characteristics which is within style for alcohol content but a little too high for bitterness:

  • ABV = 5.1%
  • IBU’s = 43 (max for style is 40)

This beer is dark amber in color and has a head that disappears quickly. The aroma is malty and the flavor is of hop bitterness with some maltiness. The mouth-feel is medium with moderate carbonation.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include the following according to the BJCP Style Guidelines:

  • Typically made with Pilsner malted barley as the base and colored with roasted or dark crystal malted barley.
  • May include small amounts of Munich or Vienna malted barley.
  • Noble hops.
  • Usually made with an attenuative lager yeast.

California Common Beer

Anchor Steam Beer
Anchor Steam Beer

Commercial examples of this style include Southampton Steam Beer, and Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber Lager. We decided to sample Anchor Steam Beer.

Anchor Steam Beer has the following characteristic which is within style for alcohol content:

  • ABV = 4.9%

This beer is amber in color and clear with bubbles rising through the beer. The head lasts and contains coarse bubbles. The aroma is a bit fruity and of light hops. The flavor is caramel with some hop bitterness and a medium to high level of carbonation.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include the following according to the BJCP Style Guidelines:

  • Pale ale malted barley.
  • Small amounts of toasted and/or crystal malted barley.
  • American hops (usually Northern Brewer, rather than citrusy varieties).
  • Lager yeast.
  • Water should have relatively low sulfate and low to moderate carbonate levels.

Düsseldorf Altbier

Commercial examples of this style include Zum Uerige, Im Füchschen, Schumacher, Zum Schlüssel, Diebels Alt, Schlösser Alt, and Frankenheim Alt. Unfortunately we were not able to obtain an example of this beer ready for writing this article because they are very difficult to obtain in the USA, especially in Winter as they are often released in the Spring. We will however keep searching and once found this section of the article will be updated accordingly.

Typical ingredients used when brewing this style include the following according to the BJCP Style Guidelines:

  • Grists vary, but usually consist of German base malts (usually Pilsner but sometimes Munich malted barley).
  • Small amounts of crystal, chocolate, and/or black malted barley are used to adjust color. Occasionally some malted wheat will also be included.
  • Spalt hops are traditional, but other noble hops can also be used.
  • Clean, highly attenuative ale yeast.
  • Moderately carbonate water.
  • A step mash or decoction mash program is traditional.

What next?

Our next article will look at BJCP Category 8, ‘English Pale Ale‘, where we will examine the three styles making up this category.

If you have any questions or comments about this article, please do not hesitate to contribute to the discussion below.

* Beer Styles’ data is courtesy of BJCP.org.

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