One of the remarkable aspects of today’s craft beer market is that there’s such variety and abundance of breweries out there and yet still so much sameness in their offerings. Go ahead and pick a random can or bottle off the shelf of your local beer shop. If it’s not a hazy IPA – and there’s a very good chance that it is – it’s probably something nearly as trendy, like a big, dessert-flavored stout or a light, refreshing sour beer with fruit in it. Sure, there’s been an admirable resurgence of lager brewing in the last few years, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that as far as craft beer goes, there’s been an overwhelming tendency toward the hoppy monotony of hazy IPAs – along with a handful of other fads – for the better part of a decade now.

So, it’s nice to take a step back from all that with a good, approachable, everyday beer like the American Amber Ale from Bell’s Brewery, Inc. of Comstock, Michigan. It’s an American craft beer from one of the nation’s most respected breweries (we reviewed their brown ale way back in 2017), so it certainly boasts a good dose of hops, but it’s not a crushing wallop of tropical fruit flavors like so many of today’s hazy IPAs. Instead, there’s a gentle hint of herbal, citrusy hops nicely balanced by rounded aromas of caramel and bready malt. The flavor is rich but easygoing, with a nice undercurrent of tea, apricot, and biscuit, with a dry, clean finish accented by a trace of marmalade. Bell’s Amber Ale isn’t anything flashy, but it’s an undeniably well-made and enjoyable beer that should appeal to even the most IPA-jaded drinkers.

And the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) that adorns the label of Bell’s American Amber Ale is a perfect fit as a mascot for this modest, unassuming example of brewing excellence – a common and familiar giant of North American waterbirds that always manages to impress no matter how many times you see one. The label depicts a perfectly tranquil scene with a stately Great Blue stalking the shallows of some idyllic forest lake – exactly the view I’d want to have while enjoying this beer on some warm, summer evening at dusk.

Good birding and happy drinking!

Bell’s Brewery, Inc.: Amber Ale

Four out of five feathers (Excellent)

Written by Tristan Lowery
Tristan Lowery’s busy homebrewing schedule took a hit in 2010 when he discovered birding and found that scanning the waterfowl at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on a frigid midwinter morning could be just as much fun as standing over a steaming mash tun in a sweltering Queens apartment in August. While his growing commitment to birding has undeniably diminished his brewing output of ales - fine and otherwise - Tristan finds that birding still affords him plenty of excuses to at least keep drinking beer, especially when celebrating life birds, lamenting unsuccessful chases, and capping off an exhausting Big Day or Christmas Bird Count. After leaving behind a hectic cooking career in New York City’s fine-dining scene, Tristan moved inland to the New York's Capital District, where the relative abundance of Pileated Woodpeckers almost makes up for the fact that he’s only seen a single Sanderling in Albany County ever. When he isn’t birding his local patches in urban Albany, Tristan works in energy regulation for the State of New York.