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Beer Review 0594: Pisgah Pale Ale

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Pisgah Brewing Company is located just east of Asheville, North Carolina, in Black Mountain, and they have placed an emphasis on using local and organic ingredients. Once designated a USDA certified organic brewery, the company recently lost that status due to the limited availability of organic hops. According to Pisgah, other, much larger breweries with more monetary influence gobble up the scarce amounts of organic hops, leaving them no other choice but to use hops from sources that aren’t certified organic.

Nonetheless, Pisgah soldier on, brewing a lot of their seasonal and limited release offerings with local ingredients, while still using organic malts. Pisgah’s flagship beer, their Pale Ale, accounts for 75-80% of its sales. The beer is brewed with whole leaf Chinook and Nugget hops, comes in at 5.1% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 31 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). Pisgah just began canning this beer in January 2014, which marks the first time they’ve canned a beer, let alone package a beer in a 12 ounce serving — the brewery mostly fills kegs, with occasional 22 oz.  and 750 ml. bottle releases.

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Pouring made for an average size, soapy head that quickly disappeared. The beer is orange-amber in color, verging on completely amber; the body had a slight hoppy-looking haze to it, even as the chill haze wore away. There are no particles or sediment. Lacing was excellent, leaving behind thin and even sheets as I sipped. It’s a pretty standard looking Pale Ale.

The nose is quite hoppy for a beer of this style, but you won’t hear me complaining — big notes of grapefruit, pine, and citrus, especially lemon, dominate the aroma. There’s a hint of malt backing with some sweet caramel, but this is mostly all hops. Smells fresh although there is no decipherable date on the can.

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But the taste sees those hops dialed down — mild ruby red grapefruit and lemon peel hit up front, and then a much larger malt backing than you’d suspect unwinds. Sweet notes of caramel with grain mix nicely with the faded hops; the finish is slightly piney, grapefruit and quite clean, with very little bitterness and an overall crisp, refreshing quality. Pisgah Pale is light-bodied, with a thin, foamy, dry mouthfeel.

I thought this to be a very mild Pale Ale compared to others on the market — but the upside to this brew is how drinkable and refreshing it is. I can see why this would be the top seller from Pisgah, as novice drinkers could cut their teeth and veteran sippers could even find balanced, hoppy delight. And I imagine straight off the bottling line, this beer is probably even better. Fits the style nicely and pleases the taste buds. You can’t go wrong.

Pisgah Pale Ale, 86 points. Price: $1.99 US for one 12 oz. can.

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Beer Review 0590: Fullsteam Cack-a-Lacky Ginger Pale Ale

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Fullsteam Brewery is located Durham, North Carolina, which makes it a local brewery for me. The craft beer world is going crazy here in North Carolina; not only have some of the big boys came to our backyard with east coast facilities (New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Oskar Blues), but we also have a ton of smaller, truly local breweries that are hitting home runs with their beer.

And while beer is exploding here in NC, Fullsteam are seeking to create an identity for beer created in the South: brews that celebrate the culinary and agricultural heritage of this area. Cack-a-Lacky Ginger Pale Ale is a collaboration with Cackalacky, a southern spice company, located in nearby Chapel Hill. The beer is described as a “zippy, hoppy ginger pale ale that’s enjoyable on its own and a perfect compliment to spicy food.” The beer is Fullsteam’s first ever canned offering, and the beer registers 5% ABV (alcohol by volume).

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The pour issued up an average size, frothy and lasting head. The beer was orange-amber in color, and had an exceptionally clear body, free of particles and sediment. It’s a typical pale ale; very clear, a little past golden, and with a fair amount of carbonation. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind solid sheets of foam.

You want some ginger? Well, it’s here on the nose, large and in charge. In fact, it nearly overwhelms everything else; but there are some subtle things going on: hints of lemon peel and herbal spice show the way to some light and sweet caramel malt. But otherwise, this is mostly really fresh ginger with a dusting of complementary lemon peel. Reminds me of a nice sushi plate.

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But the taste is much more than ginger; the initial notes ring out like a great Pale Ale, delivering dry and almost soapy grapefruit with a pinch of caramel. Then comes the ginger, along with lemon peel. The ginger is actually quite sweet in the middle of the mouth, but the hops tame it, crushing the tongue with bitter grapefruit and a touch of pine. In the end, the ginger wins out; the hops dry out the palate but the long, lingering finish of soft and sweet ginger remains. Cack-a-Lacky is medium-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.

Yes, I had my doubts: you see, I’m not the biggest fan of ginger to start with, but this is a very refreshing beer and the ginger plays the part of gentle giant. There’s a lot going on in this little beer, and I think you’ll be surprised by it. I’d love to taste the base beer without the ginger, and I’m not suggesting I’d prefer it without ginger, just that it tends to vanquish some of the softer hop flavors that I’m sure are here. This brew is a killer palate cleanser, and it’s no kidding that Fullsteam suggest pairing it with spicy food. I went in with reservations, but left really digging this one. Cool stuff.

Fullsteam Cack-a-Lacky Ginger Pale Ale, 89 points. Price: $1.79 US for one 12 oz. can.

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Beer Review 0568: NoDa Jam Session Pale Ale

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NoDa Brewing is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and began operation in October 2011. The brewery is named after its location, which is right in the NoDa (North Davidson) neighborhood. This section of town used to be home to a mill, but today is has been transformed into a place ripe with art galleries, music venues, restaurants, and yes, even a brewery.

NoDa brews on a 15 barrel brew house, and they recently began bottling and canning with a limited distribution. The brewery has a Pacific Northwest style; each Tuesday, they put a new beer on tap that is part of a series called NoDable, which they use for research and development.

We’ve previously reviewed one other NoDa beer; Hop, Drop ’n Roll IPA, which scored a very impressive 93 points. It was a tasty IPA — certainly one of the best to come out of North Carolina in a long time. Today’s review focuses on Jam Session, NoDa’s pale ale. Brewed to not sacrifice great flavor for drinkability, Jam Session uses Maris Otter and Caramunich malts with a triple team of Centennial, Citra, and Simcoe hops. The beer comes in at 5.1% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 31 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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Pouring issued up an average size, soapy head that quickly fades. The beer is an absolutely beautiful shade of golden-orange, and it’s brilliantly clear, featuring tons of bubbles that zoom to the top to support a remaining thin cover of foam. There are no particles or sediment, and lacing is good, leaving clumpy patches of thick suds.

The nose is well-balanced, but not boring with pungent citrus hops — grapefruit, juicy orange, and lemon peel. There’s some grassiness that sharpens things up. The malt backing is crisp, throwing off notes of grain, caramel, and bread. While the hops aren’t herbal, they do have a hop-tea like quality to them. The aroma does come off a touch sweet, which is aided by the ripe fruits delivered by the hops.

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The flavor very much follows the aroma; it’s hop-forward but not in an overwhelming way. The hops are fresh, delivering flavors of grapefruit rind, orange peel, lemon, and earthy grass, while the malts work magic in the background providing a crisp and gentle sweetness with caramel and grain. Jam Session is a crisp and clean beer, making its flavors known and then disappearing, leaving the mouth a bit dry and ready for the next sip. The finish plays out a grassy grapefruit bitterness coupled with slightly sweet cereal grains. The beer is light-bodied, with a thin, foamy mouthfeel.

As far as American Pale Ale goes, this one is a solid, no-frills can, and I mean that in a complementary way. It’s beer. It’s good, quenches my thirst, and keeps my palate intrigued. I love Pale Ale because the style tends to serve a purpose as a tasty everyday drink, and I would stock Jam Session in my fridge anytime.

NoDa Jam Session Pale Ale, 91 points. Price: $8.99 US for a four-pack.

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Beer Review 0526: Goose Island Matilda Belgian-Style Pale Ale

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Goose Island (Chicago, Illinois) recently began distribution here in North Carolina, and likely your neck of the woods, too. But here’s the rub: Goose Island is owned by ABInbev, the multinational brewing giant that produces Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois. With all those billions of dollars, ABInbev now produces many of Goose Island’s lower alcohol content beers themselves, and uses their massive distribution arm to get those bottles in as many markets as possible.

After seven months of sending NC their “classic” series of beers, Goose Island have finally began distributing their “vintage” line in the state, which are all offerings made at the Chicago brewery, not in an ABInbev-owned facility. Four beers in the vintage lineup have made their way to my neck of the woods, and I’ll be looking at one each Monday for the next four weeks. (Click this tag to see the other reviews from the vintage line: goose island vintage)

Celebrating 25 years in 2013, John Hall was the Goose visionary, and he was inspired by the beers he had tasted in travels across the country. He started the brewery with the notion that drinkers wanted to see their beer being made, so Goose Island began life as a brewpub. In 1995, a dedicated facility was built with a bottling plant to keep up with demand. The sale to ABInbev happened in 2011, with 58% of the company being immediately sold, with the remaining 42% still slated to be purchased.

Matilda is a Belgian-Style Pale Ale brewed with Super Styrian, Styrian Golding, and Sazz hops, and malted with 2-Row, Caramel, and candy sugar. The beer is 7% ABV (alcohol by volume) and only 26 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour produced a small, frothy and fizzy head that disappeared quickly. Color of the beer is golden-orange, and the body is very clear despite the bottle saying “contains live yeast.” I didn’t see any particles or sediment floating around, and the lacing was very minimal, leaving only a few sudsy bubbles stuck to the glass. Fairly typical for the style.

The aroma is nicely balanced, perhaps a bit too balanced; there’s sweet caramel malt up front, backed by a bready yeast with a dash of orange and herbal hops. There’s a slight spiciness here — but it doesn’t match the sweetness, which is dominant. As it warms, a bit of clove and bitter orange peel comes out. Pleasant.

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On the palate, Matilda is initially very sweet, bringing forth candied orange peel dipped in sugar and caramel. As it opens up, bready malt, still sweet, takes over before a touch of funk from the yeast cleans the palate and turns things somewhat musty. The finish is very dry, white wine-like, with bits of orange peel, light caramel, and a mild bitterness. This beer is medium-bodied, with a medium, foamy mouthfeel.

I was quite unimpressed with this beer, unfortunately. It’s decent enough, but very dry, and the alcohol seems to be a bit high for the flavors it contains. Filed away in the “decent, but not memorable” department. Glad I had it, but probably won’t return.

Goose Island Matilda Belgian-Style Pale Ale, 80 points. Price: $3.49 US for one 12 oz. bottle.

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Beer Review 0523: Dogfish Head American Beauty Imperial Pale Ale

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It’s been over a year since Milton, Delaware’s Dogfish Head have released a new beer in their music-inspired series. The latest offering pays homage to The Grateful Dead — named American Beauty, after their classic 1970 album, the beer is a limited release and is brewed with ingredients suggested by loyal fans. Earlier this year, Dogfish solicited ideas for ingredients to go into the beer; with over 1,500 different ideas, organic granola was the top choice. The beer itself is classified as an Imperial Pale Ale, and is brewed with all-American hops.

If you’re new to the Dogfish music series of beers, I have reviewed all of them. Here they are in order of release:

Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew Russian Imperial Stout, 100 points in a redux review
Robert Johnson’s Hellhound On My Ale, 92 points
Pearl Jam Faithfull Ale, 73 points
Dogfish/Dan The Automator Present: Positive Contact, 94 points

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I’m a big fan of the Dogfish music beer series — with Miles Davis and Pearl Jam being two of my favorite musical artists, you can see why. Grateful Dead kind of fall where Robert Johnson does in terms of my listening habits; I like The Dead and respect them, but probably don’t turn them on as often as I should. If you’re unfamiliar with The Dead, the group formed in 1965 and became known for their incredible live performances. The group performed over 2,300 concerts in their thirty years as a band, and promoted a strong sense of community among their fans. They had many followers, affectionately known as Deadheads, who would follow them on tour for weeks and months on end. The Guinness Book of World Records estimates that The Grateful Dead played to around 25 million different people, with audiences of up to 80,000 attending a single show. The Dead, like fellow music series brew group Pearl Jam, varied their setlists nightly so no two shows were the same, and culled their song lists from a group that exceeded 500 unique tunes. A long, strange trip, indeed.

And with that, it’s time to turn on some Grateful Dead and check this beer out. A couple of other vital stats: American Beauty is 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) and hits 55 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

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The pour produces a large, dense, creamy and soapy head composed of both large and small bubbles. The head has long staying power, hanging out atop the beer all throughout sipping. American Beauty is beautiful indeed, showing a nice deep golden-orange color, exceptionally clear, and free of particles and sediment. Lacing is excellent, leaving behind thick, puffy wads of foam. This glass will require some scrubbing to clean.

On the nose, I’m instantly hit with a grape jelly note. Is this yet another Dogfish beer that has hints of Midas Touch, another beer brewed by Dogfish that is a herb/spice beer? I’ve written about this phenomenon before; it seems like several Dogfish releases lately have been based on Midas Touch, which I rated in January of 2011 and gave 83 points. But, back to American Beauty: it’s got significant hops, but balance is definitely the name of this game: the hops are grassy and herbal, pairing nicely with moderately sweet bready grain and caramel. The dash of grape jelly adds to the sweetness, but there is some astringent grapefruit, and… key lime pie! This aroma might sound crazy, but it’s not, just unique. And nice.

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The first flavor I picked up on: grape jam. It also initially has some grapefruit and alcohol, before opening up to a deeper, more bitter grapefruit in the middle that is laced with soft grassy notes and some caramel. The beer kind of goes back and forth, bitter to sweet, before settling in on a bitter finish, drying out and concluding with grass, grapes, and dry herbs. As it warmed, the final notes were like hoppy grape bubble gum. I found the beer to be medium-bodied with a medium, creamy texture, which is likely thanks to the granola. While the granola is not present in taste, this beer has an almost silky body, which doesn’t crumble next to the large presence of alcohol. I wouldn’t call this boozy, but you do start to feel the 9% ABV after a few sips.

This is a nice beer, and I do think it is worthy of The Grateful Dead. However, a couple of things: maybe it’s just my palate, but is Dogfish using Midas Touch as a base beer for a bunch of other beers? Here’s a list:

DOGFISH HEAD BEERS THAT SEEM TO CONTAIN THREADS OF MIDAS TOUCH
Dogfish Head Sixty-One IPA, 75 points
Dogfish Head Ta Henket, 71 points
Dogfish Head Pearl Jam Faithfull Ale, 73 points
Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu, 87 points

The reason why I make a big point about this is The Grateful Dead are all about off-the-cuff, improvisation — come on Dogfish! Surely I’m not the only one noticing this. Also, while American Beauty has enough body (which I am crediting to the granola) to support the 9% ABV, it’s a little much in taste. These Dogfish music series beers take on a certain spirit that beer drinkers have to love — to quote The Dead, “Reach out your hand if your cup be empty; if your cup is full may it be again.” Seek it out, pull out a vinyl, pour a glass, and turn it up.

Dogfish Head American Beauty Imperial Pale Ale, 89 points. Price: $12.99 US for one 750 ml bottle.

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