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Beer Review 0585: North Coast Red Seal Amber Ale

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Red Seal Amber Ale is produced in Fort Bragg, California by North Coast Brewing Company. The beer is an award-winning Amber Ale that is often compared to Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (85 points) in terms of balance and substance. Red Seal Ale is 5.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and registers 42 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

North Coast opened in 1988, founded by Mark Reudrich, and quickly developed a staunch reputation for quality. Beers from North Coast have won over 70 awards in international competition. The brand features a core line, a California ale line, and “ultra premium” offerings. Red Seal fits in the core line, and is available year-round.

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The pour served up a beautiful beer, topped with an average size, slightly off-white soapy head that was built to last. The beer itself is a nice light amber color with golden highlights. It’s very clear, with lots of carbonation bubbles, and no particles or sediment. Lacing is excellent, and the glass is covered with thick and solid sheets of foam when I’m done. Exceptional!

On the nose, the hops win out overwhelmingly — there’s pungent notes of pine and grapefruit, but they do mix with a solidly yet subtle sweet caramel and lightly toasted malt backing. I was surprised by the hoppiness as this is described as an “Amber Ale” — it certainly smelled like a traditional west coast Pale Ale to me. As it warms, more hints of citrus and a bit of grass reveals itself.

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The flavor very much continues the Pale Ale theme; in fact, I’d just go ahead and call this one a full-fledged Pale. Piney and spicy hops blast away up front, immediately drying out the palate; there’s a rich, dark undercurrent of malt, but it’s no match for the hops. It’s bready and toasty, but those pine hops quickly turn resinous and bring in flavors of orange peel and grapefruit. The finish sees another kick of spicy hops, with exiting dry notes of orange peel, lemon, and grapefruit rind. Red Seal is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy, somewhat gritty mouthfeel. I also noticed a small touch of alcohol as the beer significantly (in the final sips) warmed.

Is this beer having an identity crisis? Maybe — North Coast classify this as an Amber Ale, yet the label says “copper-red pale ale” in the description. In my opinion, this beer is a classic example of a west coast Pale Ale, dry and hoppy, with just a kiss of malt backing; enough to make it NOT an IPA. And it has those classic spicy hop flavors going on instead of an all out alpha acid bomb. I can see exactly why this is often compared to Sierra’s Pale Ale — it’s astonishingly similar, if not a couple levels better. I enjoyed this beer and could see it pairing well with a variety of food options.

North Coast Red Seal Amber Ale, 89 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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Beer Review 0257: Clown Shoes Third Party Candidate Amber Ale

It’s Election Day here in the United States, and no, this website will not be getting political. Instead, we’re going to review an election inspired beer and encourage you to go vote. Then, come home and have a beer as the returns come in.

For this beer, Clown Shoes, which is contract brewed by Mercury Brewing Company out of Ipswich, Massachusetts, collaborated with Three Heads Brewing, located in Rochester, New York. Representatives from both breweries hung out earlier this year, and the idea for Third Party Candidate, an Imperial Amber Ale, was born.

In fact, it was also decided that Geoff Dale, the CEO of Three Heads, would be tapped to run for President. Both breweries are encouraging write-in votes for Mr. Dale, and that’s him pictured on the bottle. The third party he’s running under is called the “D-Bag Party.” You pick what the ‘D’ stands for.

Getting down to the beer, this is actually a blend of a Clown Shoes beer called Eagle Claw Fist, which is an Imperial Amber Ale, and Three Head’s Loopy Oatmeal Red Ale. The blend is an even 50-50 split. I can’t find any information about the Loopy Oatmeal, but the Eagle Claw Fist is brewed with Simcoe, Centennial, and Citra hops, and it is 8% ABV (alcohol by volume). When blended with Loopy Oatmeal, Third Party Candidate finishes out to be 10% ABV.

As the tagline says, “Ask not what your country can brew for you. Ask what you can brew for your country.”

On the pour, Third Party Candidate gave an average sized head, soapy and lasting atop a perfectly amber/reddish beer. Seriously, the color couldn’t have been nailed any better, and this was a beautiful liquid in the glass. The body was clear at first pour, but as I got further into the bottle, there was some yeast at the bottom that turned the beer cloudy toward the end of the drink. There were no particles or sediment, despite the small amount of yeast. Lacing was good from the start of the head diminishing, leaving behind thin sheets that resembled weepy alcohol legs.

The aromatics offered a beer that smelled much like a big and chewy Imperial IPA, not an Amber Ale. This beer had a huge hop profile that was yummy — big notes of pine and resin coupled with an assortment of juicy fruits; grapefruit, peaches, and then a hint of garlic. Ever cut the end of a clove of garlic and pressed it to your tongue? Your sinus gets a hot garlic hit — this beer reminded me of that. Try it if you haven’t…it’s a unique flavor that might surprise you. The malt base was light and sweet, giving way to some bready aromas, sweet caramel, and a general roasted note.

Putting beer to palate delivered some soft fruity hops up front, followed by a brisk hit of pine that ushers in some moderate bitterness. The middle of the taste presents rich caramel, a touch of bread and leads to a finish that rips another wave of pleasant bitter, and a slow alcohol warmth. I thought the texture of this beer was rewarded with the half blend of the Oatmeal Red Ale — it’s not exactly creamy; moreso foamy, but there’s a smoothness that couples with the brisk hop profile that creates a winner.

Is this an Imperial Amber Ale or an Imperial IPA? Honestly, I lean more toward the IPA side, but I don’t exactly rate beer 100% according to style, either. This is a good beer, one that you could sip over an evening and totally enjoy. That being said, it is my least favorite Clown Shoes brew to date, and I’ve rated their beers very high so far.

I have to give them credit for making an Election Day beer. GO VOTE!

Clown Shoes Third Party Candidate Amber Ale, 89 points. Price: $9.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

Beer Review 0107: Lagunitas Censored

Lagunitas (prounounced LAH-GOO-KNEE-TUSS) Brewing Company is located in Petaluma, California, after being founded in 1993 in, where else, Lagunitas. This is currently one of the fastest growing breweries in the United States, and they are expanding operations at a quick pace.

Censored Rich Copper Ale is an Amber Ale. What are they censoring? Well, the word “Kronik” is underneath the censored banner. I don’t know much about this beer and information on the brewery website is limited; they only really say this is a malty and sweet beer enjoyed by hop heads but especially loved by those who aren’t.

I like the fact that Lagunitas puts the key stats on the bottle of every beer they make. This one is 6.75% ABV (alcohol by volume) and has a scant 25 International Bitterness Units.

The pour produced an amber beer with orange highlights, topped by a large head that diminished faster than expected and was very frothy. There were a heavy amount of particles floating in the beer, which settled to the bottom of the glass a few minutes after the pour. Otherwise, the beer was clear after the chill haze subsided. The lacing on this one was extremely nice.

On the aromatics, Censored was complex and highly malted, introducing some caramel and grain notes along with some toasted scents. Dig a bit deeper and a bread-like aroma comes out, along with a slight herbal hop presence. There’s a bit of darker fruit, maybe a raisin, and just a hint of orange peel. The scent seemed rich and creamy, and quite sweet. I enjoyed the aromas and gave a perfect score on my point sheet.

I wish I could say the flavors were as complex, but they aren’t. There’s a rich caramel to start out, some rough graininess, and not much else. The finish comes in slightly bittersweet and toasted, with a very faint orange peel as it concludes. This beer is extremely light and has a slick mouthfeel, and is not creamy like suspected. That being said, what’s here does taste good, and is refreshing…

The finish lasts for a long time, which caught me off guard considering the lack of flavor. This is a great beer, and my rating reflects that, but I just don’t see myself going back to this one. Lagunitas produces some heavy stuff that will twist your tongue out of your mouth, and I think this would be an excellent starter beer for the novice drinker — tasty yet light, with flavors that don’t bonk you in the head with a brick.

And for the Amber Ale style, this one is right on.

Lagunitas Censored, 89 points. Price: $1.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

Beer Review 0085: Stone Levitation Ale

Stone Brewing Co., located in Escondido, California, are known for their potent beers, made with a no compromise approach when it comes to ingredients and flavor. With beers like “Arrogant Bastard” and “Ruination,” Stone are brash when it comes to your palate, saying you might not have much of one left after having one of their beers. They’re not for the meek.

Enter this beer into their lineup, Levitation Ale, a 4.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) Amber Ale. Hmm.

Of course, there’s a long story on the bottle, as is the case with most beers from Stone. This one tells about why the beer is called “Levitation Ale,” which is to say that this beer defies gravitational forces found currently within the fizzy yellow lager beer industry. This beer promises more flavor and character than one thought possible with a mere 4.4% ABV, which is on-par or slightly less alcohol than all those mass marketed adjunct lagers.

This is a bold statement — one I am eager to put to the test with a tall glass of Levitation.

The pour came up with a large head, creamy in texture and long lasting. The beer was perfectly amber in color, with a slightly cloudy body that revealed a nice light amount of sediment throughout the drink. The lacing left on the glass was excellent in quality and amount. It’s very pleasing to the eye.

Levitation Ale proved to be very hoppy in the aromatics, quite a departure from a typical Amber Ale. The hops added a freshness to the beer you don’t often get; bright, lively notes of Christmas tree pine and citrus burst from the glass and made themselves known, while a nice but subtle caramel aroma added texture underneath. The hop scent almost reminded me of a wet hop beer.

Touching beer to tongue, initial notes of caramel transition into a hop bitterness featuring grapefruit and pine. There’s a hint of orange peel in there, before the finish comes on strong with some baked bread balanced by a smooth and drying bitterness that is never too much or too little.

For such a low ABV beer, what Stone has done with this Amber Ale is incredible. To my palate, Amber Ales have a tendency to be boring beers that are seemingly all flavored alike — but this one stands out from the crowd, in a very good way. And the best part about it being low ABV is that this would make a fantastic session beer. It’s got all the great and complex flavors Stone is known for, just without all the alcohol.

Take that, fizzy yellow lager!

Stone Levitation Ale, 88 points. Price: $1.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

Beer Review 0084: Thirsty Dog Hoppus Maximus

Hoppus Maximus, an American Amber Ale, is brewed by the Thirsty Dog Brewing Company, located in Akron, Ohio. There isn’t much to be found about Thirsty Dog on the Internet. Their website isn’t incredibly detailed and there is no company history. As per the beer, it’s described as “crisp and refreshing,” and a beverage that blends American hops and caramel malts together to make a winner.

Winner, indeed. Take one look at the bottle, and you’ll see the silver medal they won at the 2001 Great American Beer Festival. It’s front and center, and is hard to ignore.

Which brings me to two points: 1) I’ve always been weary of people or things that bragged excessively about awards; 2) If this is an Amber Ale, why is it called “Hoppus Maximus?”

Anyway, I like the name of the company, Thirsty Dog, and I like that they use dogs on the bottle. That Caesar lookin’ dude on the bottle though, well…

I suppose we should just get to the beer and maybe answer some of these questions.

As soon as I opened the bottle, this beer was aching to be poured and to make a head. Transfer to glass produced a large, creamy, and lasting head that billowed over top of the glass — always nice to see. The beer itself was orange-amber in color, with a very hazy body that contained a light amount of particles and sediment. Both the lacing and head retention were excellent, and Hoppus Maximus kicks things off on a very high note.

The aromatics were just as advertised, and typical of an American Amber. This beer was very well balanced to the nose, with both hops and malts playing equal billing. The hops are there in the form of citrus, specifically grapefruit, and the malts are heavily caramel, with a slight grainy note. As mentioned, typical for this style, but maybe slightly hoppier than you’d expect.

The taste starts malty, showing off a roasted bready character that transitions into some sweet caramel. The middle of the taste is where the hops begin to show, in the form of grapefruit, and at first transition, it’s a very sweet hop presence. That turns more bitter on the finish, but never exceptionally bitter like some India Pale Ales can be. The mouthfeel is creamy and pleasant, with the finish lasting a reasonable time. I marked the carbonation as “average,” but at second blush, it’s probably a little higher than average, and makes the drink more appealing.

Yes, let this be a lesson: Sometimes what one might consider goofy on the bottle doesn’t lead to goofiness inside of it.

This is a very quaffable, downright good beer with nice flavors. Hoppus Maximus screams “session beer,” and at just 5.9% ABV (alcohol by volume), that’s doable. This is a nice Amber Ale with a slightly shifted focus on hops, hence the name. Worth a try, I will come back to this one!

Thirsty Dog Hoppus Maximus, 88 points. Price: $2.29 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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