A lot of people will tell you that the American amber is an all-American style, that these beers sprang from nowhere, but don't you believe them. This is America, man, the land where nearly everything came from someplace else.
The style is actually an American take on the Irish red, a lighter version of the heavy Scottish version of the English nut brown ale — the malty version of its cousin, the pale ale. Got it?
It's enough to make a Brexit lawyer reach for a whiskey. But not a Kentucky bourbon because, you know, there is a trade war going on.
- Memphis Made Brewing Co. | Facebook
I was trying to sort all of this out on a very cold afternoon when I slipped into Bounty on Broad, feeling about as arts district as I ever do, since the universe and my bank account forced me into nonfiction. My blood hadn't quite thickened up for the winter, so I ordered a Memphis Made Fireside. I'd never tried it before and can't really tell you why, other than that the name puts me off: I'm too hot-natured to drink something called Fireside.
Fortunately, I can admit when I'm completely and totally wrong. Fireside does have a great toasty finish and feel, but if you are looking for a stout or a Scottish ale, this isn't it.
Amber/red is a style that sits somewhere in the middle — between the booming beers, like the heavily hopped ales and the big stouts, and the light lagers — especially the hot-weather lagers like the Mexican and Thai styles now appearing in local stores. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with the middle way; it certainly worked for the Buddha, and we could all use a little more of that. Fireside is a solid version of an American classic that has its origins across the seas. And it has the awards to prove it.
Fireside feels closer to the Irish red style, in that it avoids the aggressive hopping of many of the West Coast ambers. Ultimately light on the bitterness, it has a toasted medium malty bloom and sits at a drinkable 5 percent ABV. But, despite the name and all the warm flavor notes, it is a pretty light, clean beer. Other reviewers have called it "accessible" but I don't quite understand that, unless you've got a bartender who pulls you a beer and then sets it on a shelf slightly out of reach. What it means to me is that you can drink Fireside on its own and not be bored, but if you're hungry, it goes well with hearty pub-food favorites like burgers and pizza.
It's available pretty much anywhere in Memphis, in either cans or on tap. It wasn't on tap at Bounty — and if you're there, try it with the quail or the pork carnitas — so a word on cans: Unless you are on a picnic, go ahead and pour your beer into a glass. This doesn't much matter with the big-name pilsners, but craft beers are different creatures, and there is usually a lot going on (even in the ones not trying to be too clever). Your sense of smell plays a huge part in the taste experience — which is why everything tastes the same when you have a cold. You're likely to miss Fireside's aroma of toasted malt and light-caramel toffee finish when you're sucking the thing out of a can. So listen to your grandmother and pour it into a glass because drinking a good beer out of a can is like plopping down $9 at the movies only to watch it with the sound off: You'll be able to follow what's going on, but it's lacking.
Circling back around to another point of concern, if your bartender is setting your pints out of reach, then find another bar. Quickly.