And now for something a little different…

I really have no idea when or how the idea for this beer came to me. I lived with it for a long time before finally deciding I’d better brew it or go mad… With some perspective, it’s really not that weird or unusual a beer, just not on a logical radar screen…

I’ve decided recently that I am just not a big fan of wheat beers, especially true-to-style hefeweizens. I can certainly appreciate a well-made one like the one my friend Ben gave me the other day. I do like a good Belgian Witbier from time to time, and I can appreciate a wheat-based lambic or other fruit beer. But the banana/clove/bubble gum aromas and flavors of the typical weizen or weissbier just don’t do it for me. I do feel the need to brew with wheat, however, and will on occasion make what I call an “American Wheat Beer” – which is basically a Pale Ale with a substantial percentage of wheat in the mash, hopped like a West Coast ale, and using a neutral (i.e. non-fruity) ale yeast. But this one is even less like a Hefeweizen. It’s amber to reddish, with some nice roasty notes, substantial hop bitterness but little aroma, and I decided to use an Irish ale yeast just to mix things up… It will be on the light side in terms of body and alcohol, so it will be a summer beer, but because of the color and malt flavors I expect it should still be my kind of beer…

Amber Waves Red Wheat Ale

5 gallons, all-grain


  • 4 lbs. lager malt
  • 2 lbs. dark wheat malt
  • 1 lb. light wheat malt
  • 1/2 lb. 120°L crystal malt
  • 1 oz. roasted barley
  • 1 oz. Styrian Goldings hop pellets (@ 7.0% aa)
  • 1 oz. Cascades hop pellets (@ 7.3% aa)
  • White Labs Irish Ale yeast (WLP004)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar (for priming)

Procedure: Crush grains. Heat 14 quarts water to 165°F. Mash in grains and hold at 154°F for 60 minutes. Heat another 14 quarts to 170°F, begin runoff and sparge. Collect 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to boil, add Styrian Goldings hops. Boil 75 minutes, add Cascades hops. Boil 15 more minutes (90 total), remove from heat. Chill to 80°F, take hydrometer reading. Pour into a sanitized fermenter, splashing well to aerate. Add yeast, seal and ferment at 70°F for 8 – 10 days. Rack to secondary, age 10 – 14 days at 65°F. Prime with corn sugar, bottle and condition 10 – 14 days.

OG: 1050

IBU’s: 40.6

Notes on style: There are none, as this is something I made up. Well, there are dark wheat beers and amber ales with wheat in them, but not like mine… I expect this will be like a medium-bodied “amber ale”, whatever that is, with a slightly breadier/more cracker-like malt profile… not much hop aroma, more focus on the malt in general…

Notes on brewing: Wanting to get a dryer, less full-bodied beer, I went with a higher mash temp than I usually do, as well as a shorter mash and a bit thinner consistency…

A tough job, but someone has to do it…

Frequently, I get customers asking me “How could I make something like…” and they point to a beer in the cooler, or name something they recently tasted. Right up my alley, no? And usually I can give them a fair approximation of style, strength, bitterness guidelines, on the spot, without much thought. Occasionally, though, there are stumpers. Beers I’ve never tried, or even never heard of, or that are just too difficult for all but the most experienced home brewers to do justice to.

A gentleman named Peter came into the store the other day and bought a case of the Amber Ale brewed by Peak Brewing, an organic brewery in Portland, Maine. I had tried the beer when it first came out a couple years ago, but didn’t remember it very well. This guy asked me “How could I brew this beer?” Turns out he had been a homebrewer back in the day (perhaps 30 or more years ago!) and hadn’t brewed in a long time – but was thinking about starting again.  A challenge, to be sure – how could I give the guy a recipe for a beer I didn’t know well? That was quickly solved – he handed me a bottle and said “here’s your homework”…

So here goes. Along the way to the recipe, this is how I generally approach the task of creating a clone brew, as I did during the aforementioned arduous research for my book.

The Research
Before opening and tasting any beer I hope to replicate, I do my homework – read the label, read the six-pack or case box, go to the website. Rarely does a brewer fail to give some hints about his or her beer – some list grains and hops used, some talk about their yeast, most give at least the % abv and the IBU’s. I was able to find out that Peak Amber is brewed to 4.9% abv, has 37 IBU’s and gets its color and complex malt flavor from crystal malt and “generous” amounts of Munich malt. That’s not a complete recipe, by any means, but to the discerning home brewer it’s a pretty good start.

Next I open the beer. I evaluate it as if I were judging it, looking at color, clarity, head, then aroma, then body and flavor, maltiness and bitterness, aftertaste and overall impressions. I try to figure out, as best I can, which hops or which general style of hops were or could be used, which malts are necessary to get the color and body I am tasting, and especially I try to detect any traces of a distinct yeast profile. There are certain commercial yeast strains that jump out at you, if you’ve tasted them.

Finally I begin to plan the brew – I know the final alcohol content I want, I know roughly the final gravity the beer must have (based on the fullness of the body, the residual sweetness of the malt, etc.), so I can figure out how much fermentation needs to happen and from what approximate starting point. I proceed to calculate how much of the main ingredients, especially extracts, I will need to reach that OG, tweak it a little for color and body, determine how to arrive at the IBU level I want with the hops I have decided to use, and then compare yeast profiles with what I have (or haven’t) detected in the beer. Usually I make up both an all-grain and an extract-based version of the recipe – the first for me, the second for customers who, like Peter, are not ready to step up to all-grain brewing just yet.

I’m going to leave this sounding arcane and mysterious for the time being, but I promise I will return to this and talk about recipe formulation, gravity and IBU calculation, etc. in a later post.

The Recipe (extract-based)
Steep 1/2 lb. medium crystal malt (60°L) and 1 lb. toasted Munich malt (toast on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes at 375°F) in 2-1/2 gallons of cold water. Raise temperature gradually to 160°F, hold for 20 – 30 minutes. Remove grains, rinse into kettle with 1/2 gallon hot tap water. Heat kettle contents to boiling, add either 5 lbs. light dry malt extract (DME) or 7 lbs. light malt extract syrup. Stir in well to avoid sticking and burning on the bottom. When the wort returns to boiling, add 5 AAU’s of a bittering hop (such as Galena, Nugget, or Northern Brewer). Boil 30 minutes, add 5 AAU’s of a different bittering/flavoring hop (Columbus or Challenger, perhaps). After another 30 minutes, 60 total, remove from heat and chill. Add to a sanitized fermenter along with enough chilled, pre-boiled water to make up 5-1/4 gallons. Take a hydrometer reading. Make sure the wort is between 65 – 80°F, pitch an American Ale yeast (White Labs WLP001) or 15 g. of a clean dry ale yeast, such as Cooper’s. Primary fermentation should take about 10 days, then rack to secondary and age & clarify for about two weeks. Prime with 2/3 cup corn sugar, bottle and condition for two weeks.

OG 1050
TG 1012
abv 4.8 – 5.0%
37 IBU’s

Note: Peak brews their beers with 100% organic ingredients. If you can find organic malt extracts, grains and hops, you should use them to stay true to Peak’s mission. You can, however, brew a similar beer with conventional ingredients.

All-Grain version
Mash 6 lbs. lager malt, 1-1/2 lbs. Munich malt, 1/2 lb. medium crystal malt (60°L), 1 lb. toasted Munich malt (toast 15 minutes at 375°F) in 14 quarts water at 152°F for 60 minutes. Runoff and sparge with 14 quarts of water at 170°F. Collect 26 quarts sweet wort. Bring to a boil, add hops as above. After a total boil of 60 minutes, chill to 75-80°F, pour into fermenter, pitch yeast and ferment as above.