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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Goodbye to Summer - Sealed With a Beer

OH, CANADA!
Once upon a time many of us who reside in the border states (that is the US/Canadian border) viewed Canada as a kind of Mecca of good beer. I attended college a short drive from the border and periodically my compatriots and I would jump into whichever car had gas enough to get there and back again and head for the Great White North (a term used to refer to the amount of snow up there, not the fact that the country is predominantly Caucasian; though, paradoxically, we here in Central New York generally get much more snow - residing as we do on the receiving end of Lake Ontario - than much of Southern Canada, so to them we should be referred to as the Great White South. Okay, come to think of it, that's not such a good idea). Anyway, once there, we would load up on cases of Brador, John Labatt's Export Ale, Moosehead Beer, Molson Export Ale as well as others. Were they better than the crop of mass produced beers we were stuck with in the States? Well, Brador was a bigger beer than most in the States, weighing in at a whopping 6% ABV. Most were actually ales as opposed to the same-old-same-old lagers we were getting south of the border. And to add insult to injury, American brewers foisted the dreaded light or lite beer on the world. It was as if someone said, "Let's see if we can we make American beers even more tasteless than they already are."

Then came the Great Craft Beer Revolution in the US. Suddenly American beers had flavor, aroma, color, panache. And soon those Canadian beers just could not measure up. But Canada, like much of the rest of the civilized world, is catching on to the craft beer craze. on a recent trip to Quebec City I was pleased to find a number of delicious craft beers that never make it to the States. We see plenty of Molson Canadian and Labatt's Blue. Not so much so with beers such as Red Racer from Central City Brewing or Nutcracker Porter from Black Oak Brewery.  The Canadian craft beer industry seems to be growing quickly and, at least in the urban areas, is catching on. We visited a number of brew pubs while in Quebec City and they seem to be thriving. The selection of beer styles is wide and varied so that whatever you crave, be it Sours, Stouts, Wheats, IPAs, German, Belgian, British, or American, you can find it. Happily for me, IPAs and Pale Ales were numerous, often unique and tasty.

   
SEALED WITH A BEER


Though we've got to say good-bye to the summer, here's our take on a few seasonal brews that will no doubt return next year.

LONG TRAIL SUMMER ALE
LONG TRAIL BREWING


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Summer Ale; BREWER: Long Trail Brewing Co., Bridgewater Corners, VT; ABV: 4.3%; IBUs: 32; MALT: Pilsner; HOPS: Citra

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "An unfiltered golden ale made to chill out summer's hottest days. Remarkabley light on the palate, with a soft Polsner malt character and a distinct citrus hop character... Each sip finishes with a refreshing bitterness that invites another. At 4.3% ABV, this golden beauty is a truly quaffable drinking experience."

COLOR: lemon-yellow straw, unfiltered

POUR: Decent head, white

AROMA: Soapy, lemon (Pledge?)

BODY: Toward the light side

TASTE: Lemon/citrus with Pilsner malt base

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "A little hoppier and more bitter than I would have expected from a summer ale; Lemon notes for sure; Quenches your thirst; Nice hot weather beer; Good golf cart/lawn-mower beer; Definitely more flavor than I've seen in most summer ales; Very drinkable beer, for sure."

BROOKLYN SUMMER ALE
BROOKLYN BREWING


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: English Pale Ale; BREWER: Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn, NY: ABV: 5.0%; MALTS: British Pale, German Pilsner; HOPS:Ahtanum, Willamette, Cascade, Amarillo

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Brooklyn Summer Ale is a refreshing, flaorful pale ale made to accompany you on all your warm weather adventures. 100% British 2-row barley brings its famed bready flavors, capped off with German and American hops to provide a snappy, clean bitterness and a bright aroma. It's a sunny pale ale, Brooklyn style."

COLOR: Pale yellow

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Grassy

BODY: Light

TASTE: Not a lot! Slight hint of citrus hop at the end, maybe. Some pale malt to it. But very thin and watery.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Leave it on the Shelf.

COMMENTS: "Thin body and thin taste; Not much hop presence - not much flavor, period; Tastes like a mega-brew beer to me; Could have been brewed by Bud; Disappointing, I like some of their other beers a lot."

SAM ADAMS SUMMER ALE
SAMUEL ADAMS BREWING

THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: American Pale Wheat Ale; BREWER: Samuel Adams Brewing, Boston, Mass., ABV: 5.3%; IBU: 7; MALT: Samuel Adams two-row pale malt blend, malted wheat; HOPS: Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Saaz Noble.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Same delicious beer, brand new look. Summer Ale returns for its 21st year with limited edition packaging that’s as exciting as a summertime adventure. From the blazing yellow of the afternoon sun to the fiery orange of an evening sunset to the electric blue tint of a summer night, the colors of Summer Ale and its crisp, citrusy flavor, are your perfect companion anywhere, anytime."

COLOR: Straw

POUR: Decent white head

AROMA: Hay

BODY: Thin

TASTE: Cloves, banana and lemon

OVERALL IMPRESSION:  I Could Drink This

COMMENTS: "No finish, no real hop to it; Nothing offensive; At least it's not a sour; sip with a straw; Kind of a weak lemonade taste to it; It's kind of what I expect when I see the words 'Summer Ale' on a beer, so I guess if that's what they were aiming for, they hit the nail on the head; It's just a kind of a meh beer."


CITRA SEA
HARPOON BREWING

THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Citra IPA; BREWER: Harpoon Brewery; ABV: 5.8%; IBUs; 45; HOPS: Citra

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Citra hops provide a juicy citrus character in this grapefruit peel-infused IPA. The malt blend adds depth and a touch of sweetness and gives the beer its bronze hue and medium body. The finish is all citrus, all day. This IPA is easygoing and ripe with citrus flavor. Happy summer."

COLOR: Golden

POUR: Decent though short-lived head

AROMA: Grapefruit peel

BODY: Between light and medium

TASTE: Grapefruit and citurs with slight malt backing

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Would quench your thirst; Real nice beer; I liked it; I'd buy it; Has a nice IPA bite to it, but very light on its feet; The citrus taste does have a nice summer feel without being bland or tasting like some boring mega-brew."



PORCHDICK CITRA PALE ALE
COPPER CITY BREWING



THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Pale Ale; BREWER: Copper City Brewing Co., Rome, NY; ABV: 5.9%; HOPS: Citra

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "A refreshingly ballsy pale ale! Lightly malted and dry hopped with Citra hops."

COLOR: Copper

POUR: Near Guinness-class head, big and long-lasting.

AROMA: Not a strong aroma, perhaps a bit metallic.


BODY: Medium

TASTE: Balanced with more malt presence than most of the others, bit of citrus. A little toffee and clove in there.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Darn near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "More of an English style than American; Really nice taste; Nice flavor - nice finish; A small alcohol bite at the end; Real nice 'after-taste' to it; Fills the mouth; Some clove and toffee going on in there I think; Nice beer."



NU SKOOL IPA
SOUTHERN TIER


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: India Pale Ale; BREWER: Southern Tier Brewing Co., Lakewood, NY; ABV: 6.0%; HOPS: IBUs: 55; HOPS: Combination of new American and experimental hops.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This beer shocases just how far we've come with alluring aromas and explosive flavors using only new American and experimental hops. There's no need to add anything else. It's time to graduate to the next level of hop flavors with Nu Skool IPA."

COLOR: Golden, pale

POUR: Big, white, nearly Guinness-class head,

AROMA: Citrus, grapefruit

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Piney up front with strong tropical fruit flavors laid over a sweet maltiness.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Perfect IPA; Nice bitterness with malt sweetness; Nice crisp finish; I like this tropical fruit hoppiness; This is a 'summer' beer that I can really warm up to; Much superior to the light beer styles many brewers seem to default to for a summer ale."


GRINDSTONE SUMMER ALE
GRINDSTONE BREWING




THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Summer IPA; BREWER: Grindstone Brewing, Pulaski, NY; ABV: 6.3%; MALT: 2 Row and 6 Row brewers' malt; HOPS: Citra, Mosaic

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "It's this summer's brew. Enjoy it while it lasts!"

COLOR: Unfiltered Straw

POUR: Better than Decent Head

AROMA: Grassy

BODY: Between Medium and Full

TASTE: Hints of grapefruit and citrus with a solid malt that gives it a bit more body than most Summer Ales. Bit of breadiness and pine.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Fills the mouth; More complex than a lot of the summer ales, bigger bodied; Can't brew it fast enough? Why is he such a slacker?; Terrific beer!; Very tasty, nice change-up from some of the lighter ales of summer."


GHOST HAMMER SEASONAL ALE
STONE BREWING




THE BEER FACTS:STYLE: STYLE: India Pale Ale: BREWER: Stone Brewing Co., San Diego, CA; ABV: 6.7%; IBUs: 56; HOPS: Loral
WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "A fermenting beer never slumbers. Consequently, there is always scattered activity tending ou precious beers throughout the dark hours. In these late nights and wee hours that hallowed responsibility falls to the shoulders of the overnight Brew Crew...This IPA, liberally hopped with Loral (TM), honors our intrepid overnight team by naming it after their mischievous poltergeist companion - the Ghost Hammer."

COLOR: Unfiltered clover honey

POUR: Better than Decent Head

AROMA: A bit dank, grassy

BODY: A bit more than Medium

TASTE: Citrus, floral, tropical fruit, touch of lemon, bit of toffee

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Nice finish; Stone always knows what they're doing; Another nicely balanced seasonal beer that shouldn't be seasonal - would buy it year round; I really like this; Very few Stone beers I haven't liked - even their Pilsner is okay."

QUICK SHOUT OUT

We started the session off with a real nice "palate cleanser" - Roll Away IPA from Lost Nation Brewery out of Morrisville, VT. It was not a summer ale so we didn't include it in our reviews. But it was an awesome beer and a great way to start off the festivities.

WHO WEATHERED OUR SUMMER ALE CRITIQUE?

We ended with a rare three-way tie for first place. Our favorite three were:

Grindstone Summer Ale - a bit more body, somewhat maltier than your typical summer ale.

Stone's Ghost Hammer IPA - another well-balanced brew with a bit more complexity than one would typically see in a summer ale. Big, bold IPA with a lot of flavor.

Southern Tier's Nu Skool IPA - we felt this was what a summer ale should be like: bright, full-flavored with a big tropical fruit punch to it.

2. Copper City's Porchdick Pale Ale - we really liked this beer which had a decidedly British vibe to it - delicious beer.

3. Harpoon's Citra Sea - a definite summery feel to this one without being bland or tasting like a run-of-the-mill mega-brew lager. Very easy drinking with refreshing citus zing.

4. Long Trail Summer Ale - another good summery ale - light without being flavorless.

5. Sam Adams Summer Ale - an inoffensive, okay beer but not one any of us would actively seek out.

6. Brooklyn Summer Ale - we found very disappointing. Very little flavor, reminding us more of a mega-brew blah beer than a craft beer. Wouldn't buy it, period.

Up next: Buy local!

Sláinte,
The BOTB Guys

Thursday, August 10, 2017

New England Style IPAs



SUPER BEER

All great super heroes have an origin story: Superman came from Krypton, Bruce Wayne's parents are brutally murdered in front of him, Spider-Man is bitten by a radioactive spider (well, technically, Peter Parker is, but you get the idea). In much the same way, the India Pale Ale (IPA) style of beer (the superman of beers in my humble opinion) also has an origin story which, by now, any self-respecting beer geek is familiar with: basically the style was developed in England (not India) as a beer that would survive the long boat trip to India from Britain without getting skunked, so that the British officers stationed there could enjoy good beer. The regular soldiers could have the skunky beer - after all, rank has its privileges, and the privileged don't have to have the rank (beer, that is). The beer was a bit higher in alcohol and considerably hoppier, both of which helped to preserve the beer. 

Fast-forward to modern times and the Great Craft Beer Revolution which began in the US. As brewers experimented with various beer styles, IPAs came back into vogue to become one of the more popular styles of craft beer. Craft brewers are nothing if not experimenters and they have continued to tweak and play with IPAs. As a result, we have not only the venerable West Coast IPA, but such variations as Black IPAs, Red IPAs, White IPAs, Belgian IPAs, Pineapple IPAs, Blood Orange IPAs, Double IPAs, Imperial IPAs as well as IPLs (India Pale Lagers). A growing style of IPA is the one we look at this month: New England IPAs (or Northeast IPA). 

So what is the difference between a West Coast IPA (sort of the American classic IPA, if you will) and a New England IPA? Both are hop-forward beers, after all. The truth is there is not really a clear distinction, but in general the New England IPA is usually unfiltered, utilizes hops that are more floral and citrusy and has a mild malt profile while the West Coast version has a bit more malt and relies on hops with piney and resinous notes. Often New England IPAs are a somewhat less bitter than their West Coast cousin. in fact many iterations have very low IBUs.

Having said that, the distinctions are becoming more and more blurred. Sometimes it's merely a geographical thing. The classic New England style was popularized by Heady Topper, a legendary Vermont beer so prized that stores often have to limit the number of 4-packs a customer can purchase. We have reviewed Heady Topper  in the past (you can read it here)so we did not review it this month. But we did find a number of great beers claiming to be New England Style. Our humble opinions follow. 



NEW ENGLAND PALE
EASTWOOD BREWING COMPANY


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Eastwood Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; ABV: 5.0%

COLOR: Very unfiltered apricot, almost orange

POUR: Somewhat decent head, not overpowering

AROMA: Big citrus aroma

BODY: Medium bodied

TASTE: Kind of sweet citrus up front with hoppy bitterness to follow. Big tropical fruit taste with hints of mango and papaya.

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Tropical fruit - tastes like a dollop of honey in there; Sweet on the front; Real nice summer lawn mower beer; Like the best pale ale you've ever had; Nice hops presence; Doesn't give up the bitterness, although sweet up front; Tastes better than it looks; I'm guessing this is a high fiber beer, high pulp; Really has a wonderful taste, real summery vibe to it; With that orange color, this should be the official beer of the Syracuse Orange."

ONE HOP THIS TIME
NIGHT SHIFT BREWING


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: Northeast Style IPA; BREWER: Night Shift Brewing, Everett, MA; ABV: 6.0%; HOPS: Aztecca only

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "One Hop This Time is a series of IPAs using a single hop each time."

COLOR: Wheat, lemongrass

POUR: Decent, long-lasting head

AROMA: Not a strong aroma but some pine and tropical fruit

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Smooth, piney, dank

OVERALL IMPRESSION: I Could Drink This!

COMMENTS: "Light tasting; Would go well with pizza; Would go well with another one; Good summer beer; Boat beer; Kind of reminds me of a shandy"

CLARITY IN THE FLX
NAKED DOVE BREWING

THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Naked Dove Brewing, Canandagua, NY; ABV: 6.2%; MALT: Oats; HOPS: Pekko and Azacca.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This is our first attempt at a New England Style IPA. Brewed with oats and Pekko and Azacca hops."

COLOR: Clover honey -  not really unfiltered though

POUR: Near Guinness class head with lots of lacing

AROMA: Bread, grassy, piney, bit of grapefruit

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Grapefruit, grassy, herbal, with a backend bitterness

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Really nice taste; Long lasting taste - really lingers; Perfectly carbonated; Delicious; Finishes clean and dry; Kind of a West Coast taste without the bitterness; Bright; It's not as cloudy or unfiltered as the classic New England IPAs; I'm a fan, it's got a really different taste here kind of hard to put my finger on, but I like it."


DOWNTOWN IPA
MADISON BREWING COMPANY


THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England IPA; BREWER: Madison Brewing Company, Bennington, VT; ABV: 6.5%; IBUs: 70.0; MALT: Pale, Flaked Wheat, Flaked Barley, Oats; HOPS: Mosaic, Citra, dry hopped with Mosaic and Citra Lupulin Pellets."

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "DownTown IPA is a true Vermont IPA with a juicy hop saturation and little to no bitterness."

COLOR: Clover honey, butterscotch, hazy

POUR:  Decent Head

AROMA: Hoppy citrus aroma

BODY: Bit more than Medium

TASTE: Citrus, Grapefruit, juicy with just a little bitterness

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Juicy IPA; Absolutely delicious; Perfect date beer; Could drink and drink; If we could get this locally I would have this in my fridge all the time; Nice juicy IPA."



NEW ENGLAND IPA SINGLE BATCH 10
MIDDLE AGES BREWING



THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing Company, Syracuse, NY; ABV; 7.0%; MALT: Oats and Malted Wheat.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This version of our New England IPA features a grain bill of over 20% oats and 15% malted wheat. The hops are primarily a blend of new age fruity hops with a relatively small amount of dank and piney hops (over 3 LBS per bbl of dry hops alone). Fermented with a proprietary mixed culture of brewers yeast sourced from a brewery famous for their hazy IPA's. Nothing has been done to stabilize or clarify this beer in any way, it is very volitile. Please drink as soon as possible."

COLOR: Grapefruit juice, very hazy

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Piney

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Citrus, lemon bit of alcohol taste

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Complex; Damn - that Middle Ages makes some good beers; Very drinkable - not over-the-top, but soooo good; Definitely has that juicy taste you expect from a New England with a bit of the alcohol taste underneath; Nice beer; Middle Ages is able to stay true to their brand while expanding into varying styles, their British roots pair well with this American IPA."

NEW ENGLAND IPA SINGLE BATCH 11
MIDDLE AGES BREWING




THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England IPA; BREWER: Middle Ages Brewing, Syracuse, NY; ABV: 7%; HOPS: Azacca, El Dorado, Mosaic, Colombus.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This iteration of New England IPA is dry hopped with Azacca, El Dorado, Mosaic and a touch of Colombus. Fermented with an English Ale yeast that has become one of the most popular for this style."

COLOR: Grapefruit juice

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Minty/sweet/piney

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Pine, tropical fruit, hint of clove

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Even better than Single Batch 10 - a little better mouthfeel or something; New England IPAs are more complex than others, more difficult to brew; Tropics on the tongue; Nice full-flavored beer; Wonder if this will make it into bottles in some form or another the way Late Knight did eventually."


FRICKEN' WICKED
FULL BOAR BREWING




THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Full Boar Brewing, North Syracuse, NY, ABV: 7.2%

COLOR: Golden and filtered

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: A little bready, yeast

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Sweet up front, toffee/caramel, not as fruity as the others

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Very near "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "Certainly not the juice bomb you expect from a New England; Dangerously tasty though;  Frickin' good; No bitterness throughout; Nice bit of hoppiness at the end; Kind of a Pilsner taste; Lingering after-taste; Very pleasant."

BOOM SAUCE
LORD HOBO BREWING 




THE BEER FACTS: STYLE: New England Style IPA; BREWER: Lord Hobo Brewing Company;
ABV: 8%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Beer for the discerning drinker that appreciates quality and recognizes value."

COLOR: Cloudy orange-ish

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Pine, citrus

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Follows the nose: pine, citrus, grapefruit, hint of lemon and a subtle maltiness

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "I really like this beer; Big hop taste, nice pine and citrus flavors in there; Pretty easy-drinking for an 8%er; Little bit of malt gives it a bit more complexity than some of the others; Yeah, it's fairly balanced; Terrific beer, I've been keeping it as one of my regulars."


BREWERY BECKER



When we travel, my wife and I make a point of researching breweries and brew pubs near to our destination. At the very least we'll narrow down restaurants we wish to frequent based on their selection of craft beers. This despite the fact that my wife has no interest in craft beer. What a trooper! On a recent trip to Michigan, in the beautiful village of Brighton, I stumbled upon a place called Brewery Becker.

I wandered in one afternoon to check out their brews. As you can see by the beer menu at the right, this might not appear to be a hop-head's dream brewery. With styles such as Kolsch, Dusseldorier Altbier, Pilsner, Dunkelweizen, and Hefeweizen, it was easy to see that the brewery specialized in German-style lagers - not that there's anything wrong with that. Those just aren't the kinds of beers I'm most drawn to. Trust me, I am aware that there is a world of difference between an American mega-brew lager and a true German lager, it's just that my tastes run to hoppy ales. However there were a few names on that menu that intrigued me. Top of the list was a beer called Vargdricka. The brewery description of the beer says it is "A Scandinavian Farmhouse Ale. Based on the daily drink of the Vikings. A gruit ale, it is bittered with Juniper and Bog Myrtle. A Brewery Becker favorite." If you are wondering what a "gruit" ale is, it is basically any ale that does not use hops, but relies on other herbs for flavor and bittering.

Curious, I stopped in at Brewery Becker and ordered a Vargdricka. Right off I was impressed with the place by the generous pour.The beer was a kind of cloudy copper color. It is lightly carbonated with a pleasant aroma, though not one I could quickly identify so I assume it is the Juniper. The taste is initially sweet but rounds off into an interesting spiciness. It is absolutely a unique tasting beer, without being so far out there that it doesn't taste like beer. It really is quite a pleasant and very drinkable beer.
I asked if they had any IPAs and learned that normally they have one on tap but they were out. The interesting thing I learned about Brewery Becker is that they are dedicated to brewing beers based on traditional recipes - like the Vargdricka. Because the Vikings did not have hops they substituted various herbs to flavor their beers. I was then given a few (generous) samples of some of their other unique brews. Entire Butt, for example, is a beer from the Colonial era that is the precursor of Porters and Stouts. It was not uncommon in England for drinkers to combine beers. A typical combination might consist of  ale, which at the time was somewhat sweet, heavy and brewed with little or no hops, beer, which was much hoppier and therefore much more bitter, and Twopenny, a stronger ale. Thus the somewhat intriguing name Entire Butt, meaning the whole barrel. Brewed before the development of black malt, the beer is a dark brown and contains the nice coffee/malty characteristics you expect from a Porter or Stout. It is brewed strictly according to recipes of the time, using only ingredients available then. And it is delicious.
So, if you happen to be in the Brighton neighborhood, stop in at Brewery Becker. If you're a beer nerd like me, you'll find a fun and tasty experience.

Next month: Seasonal Ales

Slante,
The BOTB Guys

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Ambers"

AMBER WAVES OF FERMENTED GRAIN

What exactly is an Amber Ale besides a beer that is, well, amber in color? An Amber Ale is a form of Pale Ale. Think of a Pale Ale as a sort of broad category of beer. If it gets hopped up considerably, it becomes an IPA. If, on the other hand, it leans more toward the malty side of the beer spectrum you might have an Amber Ale, or possibly a Red Ale (a sort of blushing cousin of Amber). Amber Ales and Red Ales tend to be malt forward with varying degrees of hops settling into the background. But, like so many beer styles since the Craft Beer Revolution, strict adherence to a particular style profile is often tossed aside in favor of creating something that might set one's Amber apart from everyone else's. One of the things we (the BOTB Guys as opposed to the Royal We) discovered early on in our Craft Beer journey was the frustration with reviewing certain beer styles such as Octoberfests because they all were so similar it became pretty repetitious ("Yup, tastes just like the last three we tried.") 
 All this is to say: we dove into some interesting and diverse Amber Ales. Our humble opinions follow. I suggest you give them a try yourself and see how your opinion compares to ours. After all, when it comes to taste, the only thing that matters is how it tastes to you.


VALOR AMBER ALE
14TH STAR BREWERY



THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: 14th Star Brewing Company, St. Albans, VT; STYLE: Amber Ale; ABV:  5.4%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "14th Star Brewing Co. is a veteran-owned craft brewery in St. Albans, VT with a mission to brew high quality craft beer while enriching our community."

COLOR: Unfiltered amber

POUR: Slight head with some lacing

AROMA: Mild, bit of bread

BODY: Light

TASTE: Balanced, malty, bread

OVERALL IMPRESSION: I Could Drink This

COMMENTS: "Not much of a nose - sort of malty; Neutral, easy drinking beer; Not objectionable; Nice refreshing feel; Solid bitterness at the end; Refreshing beer; A solid beer; A bit fruity up front; Tastes like what I think an amber should taste like; Not real hoppy."


ASHLAND AMBER ALE
CALDERA BREWING


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Caldera Brewing Company; STYLE: Amber Ale; ABV: 5.6%; IBUs: 24; MALTS: Premium two Row, Crystal; HOPS: Centennial, Cascade; AWARDS: Gold Medal Amber Ales - 2016 World Beer Cup.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Caldera's Ashland Amber is a crisp refreshing amber, balancing premium imported malted barley and Cascade whole flower hops. Simplicity is the key to this recipe."

COLOR: Deep copper

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Yeasty, bready

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Balanced - malty, nutty bready with some hoppiness

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Just shy of Can't Get Enough

COMMENTS: "That's got a lot of flavor; Could drink this along the Oregon Trail; This is a good beer; The picture of the hops on the can is a bit misleading, to me it tastes like thin flavored water; Oh man, I like this beer; Full-flavored; I really like the brewery so I expected more; Sort of the star of the day for me;"


FULL SAIL AMBER
FULL SAIL BREWERY
Ne 


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Full Sail Brewery, Hood River, Oregon; ABV: 6%; IBUs: 31; MALTS: 2-Row Pale, Crystal, Chocolate malt; HOPS: Mt. Hood, Cascade.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Anyone remember the grocery store cooler back before it turned into a kaleidoscopic fantasy world of beer options? You pretty much had two choices: Regular or Light. In 1989, when we brewed our first batch of Full Sail Amber ... two things became immediately apparent. It wasn't Regular and it sure as heck wasn't Light. Our amber is a sweet, malty, medium-bodied ale with a spicy, floral hop finish.


COLOR: Copper

POUR: Decent Pour

AROMA: Caramel

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Malty with strong flavors of bread, nut, toffee and caramel

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Between "I Could Drink This" and "Can't Get Enough!"

COMMENTS: "British!; It's got that kind of Pilsner taste; Really nice; I like this; You could sit down and have several; Very smooth; It's definitely got that British vibe; Evening-on-the-deck beer; Good boat beer; Fruity nose, lacks hops; Kind of typical amber."


FAT TIRE AMBER ALE
NEW BELGIUM BREWING


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: New Belgium Brewing Co., Fort Collins, CO; ABV: 5.2%; IBUs: 22; MALTS: Pale, C-80, Munich, Victory; HOPS: Willamette, Goldings, Nugget.

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Fat Tire's unique flavor profile originates from the late 1930's, when local Belgian breweries aimed to satisfy the tastes of visiting British soldiers. English floral hops, subtle malt sweetness and spicy, fruity notes from Belgian yeast made for a balanced yet magical combination."

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Malt, hint of clove

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Balanced with malt and clove, bit of banana

OVERALL IMPRESSION: I Could Drink This

COMMENTS: "It's not bad, Kind of British thing on this one too; Some caramel; Definitely can taste the Belgian yeast, very distinctive flavor - I like it much better when paired with a big hop presence; I'm a fan of most New Belgium beers, but this one isn't my favorite even though it's their most popular; It's okay, but not my first choice."


EAST COAST AMBER ALE
EMPIRE BREWING COMPANY



THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Empire Brewing Co., Syracuse, NY; ABV: 5.6%

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "East Coast Amber is clean and refined, with just the right balance of English Malt and American Hops. It's not too sweet and not too bitter, just like our beloved East Coast brewers."


COLOR: Amber

POUR: Decent Head

AROMA: Malt, bread, yeast

BODY: Between light and Medium

TASTE: Somewhat sweet, malty with clove

OVERALL IMPRESSION:  I Could Drink This

COMMENTS: "Kind of light; Not a lot of flavor; Some malt, hint of cloves, not much of a hops presence."


SWITCHBACK ALE
SWITCHBACK BREWING


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Switchback Brewing Co., Burlington, VT; STYLE: Amber Ale; ABV: 5.0%; IBUs: 28

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "Switchback Ale was developed as a flavor concept, not adhering to any style guidelines. Using only traditional ingredients, Switchback Ale is an unfiltered, reddish-amber ale which is particularly well-balanced, allowing for complexity of flavor coupled with an unusually smooth and refreshing character."

COLOR: Unfiltered honey wheat

POUR: Better than Decent head

AROMA: Bready

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Balanced with malt, bread, nut and clove, some toffee sweetness

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough

COMMENTS: "British yeast; Nice backend bitterness; If i go out to dinner in Burlington, I always start out with one of these; Really good beer; Kickback to the old Genesee bottles; Not terribly hoppy, but really tasty beer; I like a lot; Could drink several; I also like the retro, squatty bottle."


BLAZING WORLD ALE
MODERN TIMES BEER


THE BEER FACTS: BREWER: Modern Times Beer, San Diego, CA; STYLE: Hoppy, Dank Amber; ABV: 6.8%; IBUs: 85; MALTS: Two-Row, Munich, Midnight Wheat; HOPS: Nelson, Simcoe, Mosaic

WHAT THE BREWER SAYS: "This beer is the stickiest of the icky. It's a luxuriously hoppy amber loaded up with intemperate quantities of Nelson, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops, which are some of the fruitiest, dankest hops sweet, sweet money can buy. Despite its amver hue, Blazing World is pleasingly dry, sproting a lightly bready malt backbone that serves as platform for the huge and complex hop profile."

COLOR: Amber

POUR: Decent head

AROMA: Big grapefruit aroma

BODY: Medium

TASTE: Grapefruit, pine, with solid malty base

OVERALL IMPRESSION: Can't Get Enough!

COMMENTS: "Best nose of the day; Awesome; That's like an IPA; Right next door to an IPA; I am impressed; Nice pine finish; Delicious; Fantastic; Nicely hopped without having the 'edge' of an IPA; Sooo drinkable; Nice and hoppy without sacrificing the basic Amber-ness."

THE RESULTS
While we are admittedly fans of hoppy beers, we found these Ambers to be pretty enjoyable, easy-to-drink beers. After sipping these amber waves of fermented grain, our collective opinion of how they fared is below:

1. Blazing World from Modern Times Beer - Admittedly, they had us at "It's a luxuriously hoppy amber loaded up with intemperate quantities of Nelson, Mosaic, and Simcoe hops." It was by far the hoppiest of the beers and therefore appealed to our bias toward those lovely flowers.

2. Ashland Amber from Caldera - By no means unanimous, one of us rated it toward the bottom, but it garnered enough 1's and 2's to land it in second place. It's a balance brew with a nice nutty, bready taste.

3. Full Sail Amber Ale - The first American brewer to bottle an Amber, Full Sail is one of the early craft beer driving forces. Full Sail Amber is solidly a British inspired Amber - very good.

4. Switchback Ale - A very tasty, wonderfully drinkable beer. The equivalent of a really nice table wine in that it goes well with a meal.

5. Valor from 14th Star Brewery - We felt this was pretty much exactly what one should expect from an Amber - malt forward with a hint of hops. Nice beer.

6. Fat Tire from New Belgium - An Amber with a strong Belgian vibe - hints of clove and banana. Wouldn't be any of our first choice, but drinkable. We all have other New Belgium's we much prefer.

7. Empire Amber - We felt this suffered from being a bit light, without anything to really make it stand out. 

Next Month: New England Style IPAs (AKA: Northeast Style)

Sláinte,

The BOTB Guys