Beer Review 0023: Red Oak Amber Lager

Red Oak Amber Lager is another beer local to this website, brewed in small town Whitsett, North Carolina, very close to Greensboro. The brewery traces its roots back to 1979, when it started as a local gathering spot called Franklin’s off Friendly, Inc. The “gathering spot” soon turned into a restaurant with a fully stocked wine cellar that received several awards from Wine Spectator magazine.

After a few years of expansion, the company decided to brew beer and start a brewpub, but it wanted to create lager style suds, and brew them according to the 1516 Law of Purity.

So, a quick word about the 1516 Law of Purity, or Reinheitsgebot (German translation: purity order): It’s basically a regulation that mandates the only ingredients that can go into producing beer are water, barley and hops. Red Oak takes this seriously: the purity and freshness are mentioned multiple times on the bottles, and every beer they produce does not violate the Law of Purity.

Two notes about the Law of Purity: nowhere in the original law does it state one can use yeast in beer. The reason why is yeast wasn’t discovered until the 1800’s by Louis Pasteur. Also, the Law of Purity is mostly used as a marketing device these days, meaning the Law of Purity is sort of like marking lemons and limes “organic.”

This website takes the opinion that one needn’t follow the 1516 Law of Purity. In fact, many beer companies (I’m staring directly at you, Dogfish Head) have basically took a gigantic crap on that law and have produced stellar, world class beers that are anything but traditional. However, we also recognize that the Law of Purity honors a time-tested beer tradition, so we’re cool with it. Basically, this is a roundabout way of saying although Red Oak and many other beers follow the strict guidelines of the 1516 Law of Purity, it doesn’t impress us nor effect its rating either way. Kind of like “organic” lemons and limes.

Red Oak grew in popularity and today has a modern and computerized brewery, while the brewpub has closed. In 2007, the company started to sell bottles of its beer (previously it could only be had on tap) but it’s only available in North Carolina.

One other point of note before I knock back a bottle of this amber lager: Red Oak is an unpasteurized beer (supposedly this allows for richer flavor), meaning it isn’t heated to a specific temperature to avoid spoilage. This beer must be refrigerated at all times or it will go bad. A medical note: A small number of people can’t drink unpasteurized beer without getting mind-splitting headaches. Those are the punches, I suppose, and I’m sorry if you’re one of those few unlucky people. (but you gotta die from something, right?)

One bottle of Red Oak Amber Lager on the wall, March 18, 2011, for review.

The beer poured a nice amber color indeed, almost copper in appearance with a reddish tint. The head was of average amount and quickly diminished into a thin but creamy cover over the drink. There were no particles or sediment detected although the beer was slightly cloudy but not cloudy enough to not be able to see clearly through.

The aromatics were overall very pleasant and highly malted; right off, a blast to the nose of toasted bread with lots of caramel. There was also plenty of yeast present, giving off aromas of bread and earthiness; in the background I detected faint hints of clove and even more disguised whiffs of banana and spice. Not a peppery spice, but just herbal spice. This amber lager is very sweet smelling, but I also found some hops present, leading me to believe this will be balanced decently.

On the palate, the taste buds are greeted with an initial hit of creamy caramel, followed by the toasted bread and clove. The finish is short but sweet — literally — and is somewhat reminiscent of A1 steak sauce. The short finish is somewhat sour but does not detract from this easy drinking and refreshing beer.

Red Oak Amber Lager is an all-around good beer for many reasons: it’s easily enjoyable, has good flavors and aromatics, and it’s a good starter craft brew. Got someone who wants to try a craft brew but is scared of beer that has a color darker than, say, pissy straw yellow? This might be the perfect one — it’s a few shades darker but drinks pretty light and refreshing.

Since Red Oak follows the 1516 Purity Law to a tee, I would call this a “conservative beer” (maybe “traditionalist beer” is a better term) that pairs well with most foods. I may be a bit biased since I’m usually in a restaurant when I enjoy a Red Oak, but I can tell you from experience that I’ve never had a meal this beer didn’t play well with.

Worthy of your time if you can find it.

Red Oak Amber Lager, 84 points. Price: $17.99 US for twelve pack.

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