Mac & Jack’s African Amber: Seattle’s Best?..Really?

Seattle has a lot going for it as a city.  I remember the first time I went there, it was for a conference all the way back in 1991.  I don’t even remember the conference, but I remember that it was a great place.  I stayed at the Westin Hotel in Downtown, and it is their flagship hotel, so it was very nice!  I stayed in a room on the 27th floor and I had a great view overlooking the Puget Sound and from the comfort of my room, I could look down and watch seaplanes taking off and landing on the sound.  It was very cool.  I had planned to go to the Space needle while I was there, because that is what you do the first time you go to Seattle.  One problem though, from my hotel room window I could look down on the top of the space needle, so I figured what is the point of going?  I already had the great view.  The City was great I went into a McDonald’s that had an aquarium with a Lion Fish in it, very cool, I bought a homeless guy a Quarter Pounder, and I was introduced to the world of Seattle Craft Beer.  All in all it was a great trip in a great city.

I remember having some very good beer, but what I had I couldn’t tell you.  It was almost 20 years ago.  But I remember they were good and flavorful.  Well with all the Washington Beer talk on the site over the last few days it was mentioned in one of the comments that Mac & Jacks African Amber is the best selling beer in Seattle and that it is only kegged.  I believe the claim was also made that it is the largest brewery to not bottle their beer.  So when I got the opportunity to have a Mac & Jack’s African Amber on tap last night with dinner I jumped at the chance.  After all I had to see how this uniquely Washington brew stacked up against so many of the others we have been discussing…

The first thing I noticed about the beer was the odd carbonation it had going on.  It is like someone set off a nitrous ball inside the glass.  Lots of motion and billions of tiny bubbles.  It is a unique color too, not really ambery but more of a straw color.  I guess amber is the color of straw in Africa.

The nose on this brew was relatively nondescript.  It kinda smelled a little bready maybe, possibly a little beery but there wasn’t much there.  The flavor of the brew, much to my disappointment, was like the nose, kinda bready and maybe a little bit beery.  It does have a big mouthfeel with all those bubbles so it drinks a little heavy, but it is sessionable too at 5.6% ABV.  I just don’t get what all the hype is about.  It didn’t deliver on flavor.  It was like I was expecting so much more than I actually got.  The flavor just kinda sat there.  It reminded me of a very weak British ale.

So while I will always love Seattle, and Washington is a pretty cool state overall I just don’t get their love affair with this brew.  I had a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale after this, and there was no doubt which was the better crafted more flavorful brew in my opinion.  I’m gonna have to say if this is the best Washington has to offer, there are a lot of better beer states out there.  Sorry Washington…


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42 Comments on “Mac & Jack’s African Amber: Seattle’s Best?..Really?”

  1. May 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    I was excited to hear you had a chance to try this one. Too bad this wasn’t more of a “wow” moment for you. Maybe it’s their “middle of the road” brew and it sells well because of its sessionable nature.

    Also, I like your use of “beery” as a descriptor here Don. It leaves little to the imagination. 😉

  2. Don
    May 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Hey I got that from Scott over at so I know it is a legitimate descriptor! Anyway It was disappointing after all the banter about great Washington beers that is was so blah..

  3. Evan
    May 27, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    Our best selling, yes… our best? not by far. Mac & Jack’s and Georgetown Manny’s Pale are on tap at every bar in this area… I’ll typically pass up the M&J for a Manny’s if there’s nothing else. But I wouldn’t say either are “wow” beers by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Don
      May 27, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

      Yes this is true Evan, but you have to say that it is somewhat telling the M&Js AA is the best selling brew in town. Yeah, its everywhere, but if there are better choices, you would think people would make them. Oh, well, at least I got a taste and now I would be interested to try some of the really great brews.

      • Evan
        May 27, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

        well, considering that Bud is the best selling beer just about everywhere else, I think it’s a fair trade. I’ve also noticed M&J to be extremely inconsistent. They brew 40k+ per year in a tiny 20bbl brewery, and I think it has effected quality consistency. I’ve had some glasses that were downright phenomenal, and other that were undrinkable. I live just down the street from the brewery, and they do a tour every sunday (it’s typically not open to the public) for free with a whole lot of free beer. That’s typically where I drink M&J, when it’s free 🙂

        • Don
          May 27, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

          Gotta love free beer.

  4. May 27, 2010 at 5:07 pm #

    Hey, nothing wrong with ‘beery’ to describe beer. Don and I know what we’re talking about. I got the term from my wife when I asked her opinion and she’s never wrong. About anything apparently.

    • May 27, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

      My wife was only wrong once. Apparently girls will say yes to anything sparkly.

      • Don
        May 27, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

        Yes, and she has spent the last 10 years trying to fix her mistake.

        • May 27, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

          Yes, but I won’t let her near me with the scissors, so we keep having kids despite her best efforts.

          We did fix the dog though…

  5. Evan
    May 27, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    Hey Don, Idaho’s not far away. Why don’t you come up for the Washington Brewer’s Festival in a month?

    • Don
      May 27, 2010 at 6:28 pm #

      Because I have a Wife and 4 kids, and a budget, and a son getting married in August. Otherwise it would be great! Oh the practicality of my life truly sucks sometimes!

      • Evan
        May 27, 2010 at 7:10 pm #

        Yeah… I’m an laid off worker back in school full time and getting married in a few months. I live down the street and I’m rounding up change to attend.

  6. Clayton Olley
    June 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    Ahh that’s disappointing to hear Don… this is one of my all time favorite beers… you can find it all over Boise usually too including the small pub just down the street from me. (

    Anyway, I usually don’t like ambers, but this one is different. I think it has a very floral/fruity thing going on (slightly on the nose and very much on the taste buds) and I love how thick it feels, almost creamy. I really enjoy the breadiness of it as well. Liked it so much that I even had a keg of this at my wedding. 🙂

    For what it is, I think it’s outstanding. A big beer it certainly is not, and I know how hard it is to come down to these smaller brews after spending so much time in >10% ABV land. They often feel flat and boring… unidimensional perhaps. But this one has always been a mainstay for me and I also like their other offerings like the Serengeti Wheat and Black Cat Porter, but they are much rarer in these parts.

    I like that they keep things simple… only kegs, only a few selections etc. There are a couple hundred breweries in Washington and Oregon and most of them seem to operate in this fashion. I guess that’s the NW microbrew way of life though.

    • June 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

      You might be on to something with the floral/fruity thing, Clayton. When we were at Victory Brewing in PA, I really loved a pale ale they brewed with Smaragd hops for its light and sweet floral finish. I found it to be delicate and really enjoyable. It was lost on Don, who thought it was just “meh.” Maybe this is a flavor profile that doesn’t float his boat.

      But the way you describe African Amber makes me think I might like it. Maybe I’ll try to get a taste when I’m out in Boise this summer.

      • Clayton Olley
        June 1, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

        Chances are you’ll run into me at Brewforia. I spend much more time there than I probably should. 🙂

        • June 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

          I look forward to it. Brewforia is on the top of my must-see places in Boise!

        • Don
          June 2, 2010 at 11:31 am #

          Yeah, Me too.

      • Don
        June 2, 2010 at 11:31 am #

        Jim, You’re wrong…Again! I liked the Smaraged Hop CBC Beer, but I thought there were other better choices. The Mac & Jacks was nothing like the Smaraged, Which I would have drank all day long if it were available at Buffalo Wild Wings.

    • Evan
      June 1, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

      Excellent way to describe the beer scene in washington!

      And while M&J may not be a beer I go to unless it’s the only craft beer on tap at a place, I have had it at times when it did taste outstanding. But like I said in a previous post; I’ve found them to be extremely inconsistent. More than once I’ve sent my pint back to the bar for something else because it tasted so foul. I think it’s possible that Don got one of their off batches.

    • Don
      June 2, 2010 at 11:28 am #

      Not sure why I felt that way about it Clayton. Could be the inconsistency thing Evan talked about, or it could be that it was a little old. I had it at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Nampa, so I’m not sure how fast they tap out on their kegs. If it was hooked up for a couple of weeks it might have gone a little dull. This certainly didn’t have much of a nose, and was very lackluster on the palate. If it is because of inconsistency in the brew shame on them, they shouldn’t have let this batch out, if it is because it was old Shame on BWW for selling an old beer, and if it was just boring beer, not much I can do about that!

  7. Clayton Olley
    June 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    oh, and I like “beery” too. 😀

    • Don
      June 2, 2010 at 11:29 am #

      Beery is a very good descriptor!

  8. July 1, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    Bad review! Mac & Jack’s is the best beer I’ve ever had! The flavor is incredible! I live in Portland, and people here plan there nights by figuring out what bars serve Mac & Jacks! Amazing beer, amazing taste.

    • Don
      July 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

      I’m not saying the the Mac & Jacks was awful, just kind of average. I did mention that I wasn’t sure how old it was, and other chimed in that there are quality differences that are pretty noticeable between brewings. I probably just got an average one. I thought its taste was just uninspired.

    • Brad
      January 10, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      I agree! The beer you had must have been bad for sure(old). This beer is VERY popular around the NW for a reason Don!

      • Don
        January 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

        Thanks Brad. Old post, but thanks.

  9. Derrick
    July 17, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Perhaps you had a not so fresh keg. I’ve had a few terrible tasting pours lately. Perhaps it’s not selling as much as it once was. I’m not saying for sure that this was the case, but I wouldn’t doubt it. I’ve never had as good a pint from a bar/restaurant as I have when I get it straight from the brewery. Then it’s good to the last drop.

    • Don
      July 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

      Interesting comment Derrick. My brother Jim and I went to Victory Brewing in Downingtown PA for a visit, and we got beer directly from the bottling line! It was awesome. The Mac & Jack’s wasn’t bad, just kinda flavorless.

      • Derrick
        July 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

        To each his own I guess. Have you ever had any of the Brasserie de l’Abbaye du Val-Dieu Belgian brews? I’d be interested to get your opinion of some of their beer. Out of left field, yes. So excuse the randomness.

      • Dave
        March 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

        Yeah, something was definitely wrong with your beer, Don. MJ AA is far from flavorless when it’s ‘good’. Normally it’s very fruity and malty with some vanilla and even a bit of chocolate. And a nice hoppy nose.

        Unfortunately it does seem to be rather inconsistent. Hell even the color varies from one batch to the next. And I mean a lot. Just google image search “Mac and Jacks African Amber” to see what I’m talking about. Sometimes they’re straw, sometimes they’re deep red.

        Too bad you don’t live here in WA. It’s a truly great beer..most of the time.

  10. August 19, 2010 at 4:20 am #

    I’d agree with the previous statement above, best selling, yes…best overall, not by a long shot. It’s widely available and I would say that most people looking for a sessionable, malt forward ale are typically aiming at M+J or Manny’s. Both brands are the Seattle area’s knee-jerk, conditioned order from patrons. But people are huge beer nerds in the area so breweries like Elysian, Black Raven, Fremont, Big Al and others hold their own as tap options. Don’t believe the hype, ask a local!

    • August 19, 2010 at 7:38 am #

      I think it’s the same everywhere – the most popular beer isn’t the best, it’s the one that appeals to the widest audience or is marketed best. Take St. Louis. Is Bud better than Boulevard? Not by a long shot.

  11. Brett
    September 29, 2010 at 4:44 am #

    I’ve tried the mack ‘n’ jack’s african amber on numerous occasions with different results. I had it about 6 months ago and the bitterness was harsh. I was in seattle again last week and it was a revelation – which was what i remembered from my first try. There’s something very unique about the bitter assault – almost asphalty, day at the grand prix hit you in the face – but not unpleasant. Bready, yes, but then balanced with a lingering malty sweetness. Unique.
    I wonder if they brew inconsistently or it was handled badly by the. Anyway, the last one was so good, and such a unique taste i’m planning to brew one.

    • September 29, 2010 at 11:29 am #

      That seems to be the knock on this beer – inconsistency.

      I hope you brew the good one, Brett, and not the stinker. If I was brewing, that’s exactly what would happen.

  12. Kevin Gedney
    February 27, 2011 at 2:21 am #

    I’ve had this beer at several locations, and gotta say, still one of my absolute faves, however I’ve noticed at one particular location when I fill my growler there it seems to lose all the zazz it normally has…although I’ve tried other beers at this location and the situation remains the same, no real magic to be had, sorry if you didn’t like Mac N Jack, maybe it’s not your thing (understandable we all have our opinions) or perhaps it was bad taps or whatever, but thus far, I haven’t had anything that tasted quite like it and I try to drink it a couple times a week at least, I’m definitely a growler fillin fan and will remain so til I find more delicious beers to be had…that being said though I feel as though this will always be a classic for me

    • Don
      February 28, 2011 at 10:06 am #

      Kevin, I think I experienced the Mac N Jacks AA after it was past its prime, or perhaps their lines were dirty. I had it at a local Buffalo Wild Wings, and if it doesn’t move fast, it just hangs around on the tap. I probably had an old one.

  13. Lauren F. Warren
    April 28, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    First of all, that doesn’t look at all like the African Amber, are you sure you got the correct beer?This beer got me into homebrewing, I’ve been all over the world, and the beautiful amber in seattle will always be the best

  14. Tyler
    May 22, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    It is very true that the it is inconsistent. Some places the mac n jacks is very bitter, and others it has that smooth, wholesome, slightly sweet body that you can drink by the growler.

    I drink Mac n Jack’s everywhere I go. Here’s some places that I’ve been in the last week:

    Famous Dave’s in Everett by Everett mall **** pretty good, slightly bitter maybe on co2 too long

    Bob’s Burgers and Brew Tulalip ***** Absolutely perfect full flavor, satisfies every corner of the tongue

    Applebees Bothell **** Average again

    Claim Jumper Alderwood *** not a good batch right now

    T.S. McHugh’s Downtown seattle 1 block from key arena ******** The best I’ve tasted in a long time

    The inconsistency is definitely there, but you also have to take in account the food you’re eating.

  15. tony
    August 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    Sorry to here your disapintment of this beer. It doesnt look anything like the mac and jacks I had years ago.

  16. Travis
    May 16, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Not going to the right bar/having expectations too high can crash a party. Maybe it was your expectations, and not the beer. Sorry everyone you talked to hyped it up so much.

    • Don
      May 16, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

      I’ve actually had it in Portland before, and as I recall it was far superior to the swill I had here in Idaho.

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