Up until now, I’ve been speaking of lagers in the stereotypical sense. Gold or yellow in color, light on the tongue, crisp to the taste.
But Lagers can get a bit of character to them as well. “How?”, you ask.
Simple. By roasting the grain before you put it in the mash. Roasting grain is a standard process in the world of both grains and seeds (chocolate or coffee, as examples) and the end result is nearly the same due to our ever loving friend, the Maillard Reaction.
The Maillard Reaction is the sequence surrounding the reaction of a carbohydrate molecule (think sugar)and an amino acid (think protein) typically induced by heat. The results? Everything from aromatics being released to the browning of the product being heated (creating nitrogenous polymers and melanoidins), to even altering the taste of whatever is being roasted. What the final taste is depends on what’s being roasted.
In the case of Amber Lager what’s being roasted is the barley malt. Using roasted grain instead of non roasted grain can lead to quite interesting results. Primary examples include Vienna Lagers (made popular by Anton Dreher in the 1800′s), as well as Märzen Brews often found at Oktoberfests.
In simplistic terms (as well as being a gross generalization), it seems a quick way to think about this is that stours are to ales as amber lagers are to lagers. We’ll see how well this fits when I get further into porters and stouts.