Tom Becham on Novelties

Some craft beer lovers get a “fix” out of weird, novelty, brews-PGA

Courtesy www.syringepens.org
Courtesy www.syringepens.org

Written by Tom Becham

Spring and Summer seem to be the times of year when brewers get a little more whimsical with their releases. They experiment with flavors of fruits and spices, in what many people might call (and this is the most polite term I’ve heard) “girlfriend beers”.

Well, fruit has a long tradition as a beer ingredient, and as to experimental beers, well, that’s what pushes the envelope. It’s good to have an open mind about what constitutes things like patriotism, a family, or even beer.

Okay, my first two beers are both from The Bruery, in Placentia, California. Something one can *never* say about The Bruery is that they do anything normally, average or “to style”. Every single brew they produce is drastically unique in some way, and these two certainly fit that description.

orxata-167x480First is one called Or Xata. The idea behind this one was to make a beer that tastes like the Mexican soft drink, horchata. For those who aren’t familiar with it, horchata is a sweetened rice drink, spiced with vanilla and cinnamon. The Bruery started with a base of blonde ale; a smart choice as blondes can be very bland and somewhat weak in flavor. In short, if you want to flavor a beer, starting with a blonde can allow you to overlay almost any tastes over it.

Or Xata is a bright gold yellow in appearance. It pours with a light, fizzy, swiftly dissipating head. The nose is amazing, and the vanilla and cinnamon reach out and virtually slap your nose into submission. There is nothing of beer in the aroma.

On the palate, Or Xata is dead-on for horchata. Rice is also added to the brew kettle (as it is the base of actual horchata), and lends a subtle graininess, while the vanilla and cinnamon duplicate the sweet, spiced flavors of the drink on which this is modeled. This pairs ideally with Mexican food.

My only issue with this beer is the 7.2% ABV tends to show through too easily when it warms, destroying the illusion of horchata. However, if you don’t mind novelty or gimmick beers that are extremely well made, this one will suit you.

lderacola-167x480The second offering from The Bruery is L’Deracola. This one is another unique concept: an attempt to make a beer that duplicates a cola drink. It doesn’t work quite as well as Or Xata.

L’Deracola gets points from anyone who is a fan of the movie Super Troopers, due to all the inside jokes from the film on the back label. As well, the appearance of L’Deracola is a ringer for a cola, as it shares the same dark brown/black color and ephemeral fizzy head. The brown ale base of 7.1% lends much to the resemblance.

The nose also works, with the usual cola spice smells one is accustomed to in certain brands which must not be named.

It’s the taste where things don’t work quite so successfully. L’Deracola on the palate certainly has cola flavors. But the carbonation one expects in a cola largely disappears after five or ten minutes, and the cola flavors rapidly give way to dark stone fruits like plum, date, etc. Overall, the effect is one of a slightly flat, even fruitier Dr. Pepper. Not bad, but rather lacking in what was being attempted by the brewer.

Next up is the very first attempt at a sour beer from Mission Brewery in San Diego. It’s called Maiden Voyage, appropriately enough, and is called by Mission “an Imperial Berliner Weisse with cherries added”. A curious hybrid, that. A Berliner, by definition, doesn’t work as well at higher ABVs, and this one is 6.1%. Also, Berliners traditionally don’t have fruit in them.

Well, in any case, Maiden Voyage pours with a big, cloudy, but short-lived head, as one would expect of a wheat sour. It’s pale yellow to gold in color, with the tiniest tinge of pink from the cherries.

On the nose is a slight cherry-whiff, with notes of freshly baked bread and funk from the wild yeast/bugs used for souring.

2014_10_BMBC-6557-300x449Maiden Voyage is light bodied, befitting its style, but the cherry flavor is rather weak, and the sourness is overcome by funk, which means more wild yeast (brettanomyces, or brett) than lactobacillus or pediococcus. A mistake for this style, I believe. As well, the alcohol is a bit too insistent for the style, upon warming.

Overall, not a bad effort by Mission in their first try at a difficult style, but also plenty of room for improvement.

I have saved the best of this group of beers for last. It’s called Not Your Father’s Root Beer, and comes from a brewer previously unknown to me, Small Town Brewery. They hail from Illinois, and as far as I know, while they have made this brew for a few years now, it only recently appeared on the West Coast.

beers-yearround2I simply was not prepared for this astonishing brew. In appearance, it precisely duplicates soft root beer, from the dark color, to the aggressively fizzy, swiftly dissipating head. The nose is pure spice; sarsaparilla and everything else one expects from a root beer.

The flavor is also spot-on for root beer. And it never really fades or strikes any false notes. It’s only if you let this brew warm for a considerable amount of time that the 5.9% ABV will – ever so faintly – make itself known. If you like root beer, and also occasionally want an alcoholic drink that doesn’t taste like beer, and won’t knock you on your butt like the hard stuff, you MUST try this. I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Small Town in the future.

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