Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Quartet of Beer Reviews

Hello again from the Last Frontier. Still waiting on Mt. Redoubt to blow, but in the meantime I promised to review several of the beers I picked up on my last visit to Anchorage, particularly a couple of new (at least to me) British ales.

First up, I had a bottle of Nightmare Yorkshire Porter, brewed by Nick Stafford's Hambleton Ales. This brewery was started in an old barn in 1991 and its name references a giant white horse carved into the Hambleton Hills. The beer weighs in at 5% ABV and has the creamy, roasty flavors you'd expect from a classic porter. Unfortunately, I found it a bit bland and somewhat thin tasting. OK, but not worth the price when there are so many better (and cheaper) examples available.

I also picked up a bottle of the Manchester Star Ale from J. W. Lees Brewery, located-- oddly enough-- in Manchester, UK. I was already very familiar with some of their other beers, such as their wonderful Vintage Harvest Ales, especially the ones aged in Lagavulin Whisky casks. I'd never heard of Manchester Star Ale, but the label statement "First brewed in 1884" caught my eye, so I decided to give it a try. I wasn't even sure what style of beer it was, until I poured it into a glass. The dark black color with the good tan head left no doubt that what we had here was another porter. Great roasted aroma, coffee mixed with some fruit notes. The taste is complex, with lots of roast malt and some sweetness, finishing fairly dry. Excellent mouthfeel, smooth, almost oily. An outstanding beer, very drinkable, even at its hefty 7.3% ABV. A wonderful example of a robust porter, well worth the price.

Next, I departed the UK and returned to the New World; to Full Sail Brewing Company of Hood River, Oregon, to be specific. Continuing the current spate of Scottish/Scotch Ales, we have Keelhauler, part of the Brewmaster's Reserve 2009 series. I've been wondering if the large number of new ales of this style are fallout from the much-ballyhooed hop shortage last year. Regardless of why, I'm enjoying this plethora of examples of my favorite style. Keelhauler is a pretty middle-of-the-road example of this style, coming in at 6.8% ABV & 45 IBUs. It has a nice maltiness up-front, with enough hop bitterness for balance. It was a good beer, but not quite up there with some of the more exceptional examples, like Oskar Blue's Old Chub.

After three nights of drinking dark, malty ales, I was ready to try something completely different, so I opened a 750ml bottle of Ommegang's Biere de Mars. This beer continues their daring experiments with the notorious Brettanomyces bruxellensis, the source of so much of the "funkiness" in Belgian and Belgian-style beers. Love it or hate it, you can't ignore the Brett! Biere de Mars is a copper-hued brew, with a lovely and long-lasting white head. It weighs in at 6.5% ABV and has a fairly assertive hop profile, including dry hopping. The Brett gives it a bit of funkiness, which plays well with the spicy, peppery notes from the primary yeast. I'll be interested to see how the flavor profile will change with some cellaring, so I plan to grab another bottle or two and stick them in the back of the beer fridge to see what happens. Meantime, it's a wonderfully crisp and refreshing beer, that would be great with some summer BBQ or grilled foods. Buy a bottle and give it a try.

In local beer news, Zach Henry of St. Elias Brewing Company here in Soldotna tells me that the Mild Ale that I have been badgering him (and the rest of our local brewers) to brew is finally in the fermenter and should be ready in a week or. Hopefully I'll get a chance to grab some soon and tell you all how wonderful it is. Prior to that, I'm back up in Anchorage for a couple of days, so perhaps I'll get to try something else new and interesting up there.

Until Next Time, Cheers!

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