Beer Review 0538: Left Hand Fade To Black Volume 5 Black Rye Ale

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Longmont, Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing Company was started in 1990 after Dick Doore received a home brewing kit for Christmas. For three years, Doore passionately made batch after batch, eventually getting his college buddy Eric Wallace involved.

Doore brewed the beer while Wallace brought along travel experience of being exposed to great beers from all around the world. After passing their home brew around to friends and neighbors, becoming more confident in their craft, Wallace had an idea while drinking a stout they had made — “let’s start a brewery.”

The original brewery was called Indian Peaks Brewing Company, but after finding another company was using the name for a style of beer, they changed to Left Hand, in honor of Indian Chief Niwot, whose tribe lived in the local area. ‘Niwot’ is an Arapahoe word for left hand.

Each fall, Left Hand release a new beer into their “Fade To Black” series of dark, cooler weather beers — I’ve reviewed volumes 2-4, as seen here:

Left Hand Fade To Black Volume 2 Smoked Baltic Porter (2010), 89 points
Left Hand Fade To Black Volume 3 Pepper Porter (2011), 91 points
Left Hand Fade To Black Volume 4 Black Ale (2012), 88 points

This year’s brew is an experimentation with rye, an adjunct ingredient in beer, but known for it’s ability to withstand harsh growing conditions. Both crystal rye and chocolate rye are used in the malt bill for this 7.8% ABV (alcohol by volume) beer.

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The pour served up a small, light tan head that was creamy and quickly faded away. This is one of those dark beers that is pitch black out of light, but when held where you can really see, is actually a very nice shade of ruby red. This beer is clear as a bright sunny day, and has no particles or sediment. Lacing is good, producing very thin, soapy patches of foam. It’s reminiscent of cola.

On the nose, black coffee dominates, leading you to wonder where the rye is at. It’s all dark malt, all the time; there’s creamy dark chocolate, which gives the coffee some sweetness. Also providing sweetness: a big note of caramel, which takes on a burnt sugar scent as it warms. There’s just a smidgen of hops here; a light presence of grapefruit, which when coupled with the coffee gives off a dark berry. A puff of smoke rounds things out. Good stuff.

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Volume 5 of the Fade To Black series greets the tongue with mild grapefruit and pine flavors, but opens up in a big way when swirled in the mouth, bringing forth a punch of sugared coffee and thick dark chocolate. The rye finally shows up, with a pinch of bread crust, slightly toasted. But that’s about it as far as the rye goes; the finish is bittersweet with syrupy chocolate, fresh roasted coffee, and a mild, slightly acidic grapefruit bitterness. This brew is medium-bodied, with a medium, creamy (almost silky) mouthfeel.

Disappointing because the lack of rye? Depends on how much you like rye — myself, I was not let down by this beer; in fact, I really enjoyed it, but I also quickly put away my rye expectations and settled into more of a Stout mode. The chocolate and coffee flavors are really nice, and drinkability is high. Worth looking into, for sure.

Left Hand Fade To Black Volume 5 Black Rye Ale, 89 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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