Beer Review 0586: Ballast Point Longfin Lager

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The story of Ballast Point (San Diego, California) begins with home brew. While in college, Jack White started to like beer, and wanted more from the drink than you can find in the grocery store. So he brewed his own, and he got good at it; but he also found that getting his hands on equipment and ingredients were hard.

Mr. White decided to open his own home brew shop, the Home Brew Mart, in San Diego in 1992. Not only did the store provide a one-stop for making beer, it also opened up communication between other home brewers — and Jack made a friend in Yuseff Cherney. These two men would start a brewery at the back of the shop, later destined to become Ballast Point Brewing.

Ballast Point officially began operations in 1996, but got big enough to move out of the Home Brew Mart and into a dedicated facility in 2004. Combining the love of beer and fishing, White and Cherney decided to name all of their creations after fish. Longfin Lager is named after the corresponding fish, which are also known as roundheads or spiny basslets (found in the Indian and western Pacific oceans).

Brewed year-round, Longfin Lager is brewed in the Helles style from Germany — it’s intended to be clean and slightly hoppy, and could find itself home in a German beer garden. Ballast Point intends for you to enjoy this one anywhere there’s an ice chest, which is to say…outdoors, in nice weather. Or the end of winter, which is when I’m sampling it. The beer is 4.2% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 18 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour produced a large, bright white, frothy head that had some lasting power. It was filled with large bubbles; color of the beer was pale yellow, even lighter than straw. The body was clear and had no particles or sediment, but it did have tons of carbonation bubbles that rushed to support the head. Lacing was confined to only a puffy pod here and there.

On the nose, this is a fairly typical lager, with notes of straw and grain. There’s a slight hoppy bend here, which takes on the form of floral and grassy notes. There’s a bit of cereal grain sweetness; other than that, there really isn’t much else going on. It’s not skunky and does smell refreshing.

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Refreshing, indeed: grainy with a subtle not to citrus and grassy hops. And sadly, that’s about it. The finish brings about lightly toasted cereal grain, some lemon peel, and a subtle touch of tartness. It’s very crisp and thirst quenching, but it’s not satisfying. Longfin is light-bodied, with a very thin, foamy mouthfeel.

I expected a lot more — this beer is quite comparable to your typical Bud, Miller, or Coors, just with real ingredients and not adjuncts. That being said, I’ve had lagers that had a lot more flavor than this; I just really don’t see the drinker that has advanced beyond even the most generic of craft lagers discovering any new ground here. I had high hops because Ballast Point typically makes full-flavored beers, and I was interested in what their take on this style would be. Unfortunately, it’s not memorable.

Ballast Point Longfin Lager, 66 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. can.

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