During a lengthy chat I had with The Olympic Tavern general manager Zak Rotello for my story on beer loyalty, he mentioned that his Rockford, Illinois bar sells—I’m paraphrasing here—a crapload of Bell’s Amber Ale. This was mildly surprising, because amber ales hang there with brown ales and Irish reds in terms of today’s unsexy, untrendy beer styles. (Naturally, I love those styles and will choose them over, say, a maple-marshmallow stout most days.)
Anyway. We diverted from my prepared questions to wander down a garden path about how much we both loved Bell’s Amber. But my praise for the beer was inflected with nostalgia, because I realized I hadn’t enjoyed a Bell’s Amber in at least three years. Having moved out of that brewery’s distribution area, I sharply longed to revisit a beer that I recall enjoying very, very much. On a trip to Bell’s original Eccentric Cafe in Kalamazoo, Michigan, maybe eight or nine years ago, I gorged myself on Uberon, Expedition Stout, Two Hearted, and other delicacies, only to end the night with my tried-and-true Amber.
Through some bizarre machination of the universe, a box of Bell’s Amber arrived at my doorstep last week. Was it just part of a #FlagshipFebruary campaign, or had someone from Bell’s tapped my phone? Do Larry Bell and I share a similar telepathic frequency? (If so, I’m transmitting a message that says Montana should be Bell’s next distribution market. You get that, Larry?) Overjoyed, I placed the Amber Ale in my fridge, looking forward to revisiting an old friend that evening. But I had a few beer butterflies, too: What if it wasn’t all I remembered?
Thankfully, it was. I hate the term “beer porn,” but I relished the pouring of this beer, its burnt orange liquid capped by a mousselike, khaki-colored foam. (Taking time to admire a beer’s appealing appearance and aroma, friends, is one of life’s great pleasures.) A sniff inside my tulip glass yielded the familiar aromas of Munich malt: toast, light honey, pastry dough, with a dollop of caramel malt sweetness, too. Beyond that, I picked up a quiet floral and earthy hop hanging in the wings.
The sip followed course, with smooth and doughy dinner roll malt flavors, accented by a toastiness that teeters on roast but never crosses that line. Munich malts are prized for offering bready richness without heavy sweetness; it’s a delicate balance that comparatively plain American two-row barley can’t even approximate. Hops don’t enter the picture until a few beats after the sip, contributing a noticeably firm bitterness that’s not harsh in the least. For all the complexity of its malts, the beer’s medium body and restrained sweetness make it super easy-drinking.
So often, people gushingly recommend beers to me, effusively praising them so that once I try them, I can’t help but be let down. A part of me feared that the reverence Rotello and I had heaped on Bell’s Amber would seal its similar fate. I’m thrilled to report that’s not the case, and now here I am, gushingly recommending this beer to you all.
Bell’s Amber Ale is available year-round across Bell’s distribution territory, which includes most of the East Coast, Midwest, South, and parts of the Southwest.
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