Tiller is Rising Tide’s new spiced amber lager. Photo by Carla Jean Lauter

I’m sure you’ve all heard some beer fans complain about the overabundance of IPAs in the marketplace. Although I sometimes agree, I find that the people lodging these complaints often are looking for more perfectly crisp lagers or straightforward stouts and porters, whereas I’d rather see a resurgence in another neglected style: amber and red ales.

American amber ales and red ales are darker than pale ales, but sit in a middle ground between yellow and dark red. Depending on the malts, they can have a toasted or toffee flavor, often with notes of caramel. The “body” of the beer (essentially, its perceived thickness) in these beers is heartier than most, and the experience of drinking a good red ale can be uniquely satisfying. Some brewers have taken to hopping red ales to bring their bitterness levels up to those similar to a pale ale, but the more classic and malt-forward versions are what I crave the most.

Thankfully there are some notable ambers and reds across the Maine beer scene that can satisfy that itch, and I ran into some new beers and classics that hit the spot this month.

Rising Tide Brewing Co. brews a wide variety of beer styles and I visit there specifically because of that. On the tasting room tap list you can find IPAs, sours, gose, fruited beer, porters and lagers, and they aren’t just experimental one-offs.

In fact, Rising Tide’s first beer, Ishmael, was a copper/amber ale, not the typical flagship pale ale, and remains a year-round staple. Still, for some reason, Ishmael always reminds me of fall. Maybe it’s the malty backbone that’s reminiscent of harvest time, or the rich orange color reflective of the falling leaves. Either way its taste is especially satisfying as the days begin to cool down. If you haven’t had Ishmael in a while, or if you’ve temporarily forgotten about it, now may be a great time to get reintroduced.

The newest of Rising Tide’s growing canned beer lineup is Tiller, described as a spiced amber lager. It’s a deep mahogany color, a little bit darker than Ishmael, but has a flavor profile that has widespread appeal. Unlike Ishmael, which contains no added ingredients, Tiller is gently enhanced by the addition of cardamom and sweet orange peel, contributing a spiced yet not heavy-handed flavor. Its combination of spices, with a smooth underlying flavor of caramel and a tiny bit of citrus, is a winning one for this time of year. Tiller also solidified in my mind that a beer can feature fall flavors other than pumpkin or pumpkin pie spices.

When talking about this style, I must mention one of my favorite Maine red ales of all time: Fore River Timberhitch. It’s not a seasonal beer but a straightforward and satisfying English-style red ale that hits all the right notes. Fore River uses an English yeast strain and some European hops to achieve an authentic old-world taste. In practice this means the hops are subdued, the beer is a deep red color and that malt is the star of the show.

Red and amber ales have become less common, though I think that might be for the same reason it’s difficult to find an unadulterated porter or a simple lager: They’re not necessarily exciting beers. They don’t have a whimsical twist, feature experimental hops or have the highest ABVs. As a result, they are often the second or third beer that someone might order at a brewery, or maybe even not make the cut.

I’d argue that beers like Timberhitch, Ishmael and Tiller are more than worth your attention. Their classic, satisfying flavors can be an antidote to hop fatigue, but they’re also simply delicious and hearty at a time of year when we’re all seeking a little more warmth and comfort.

Carla Jean Lauter is a freelance beer writer and blogger who lives in Lisbon. Follow her beer adventures at:

Twitter: beerbabe

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