For those of you who haven’t figured it out already, American craft brewers have no shame. They brew up something that tastes good and then sort of arbitrarily call it something. “Hey, look. Our 84 IBU, 7.9 ABV beer is kind of yellow colored. Let’s call it an Imperial Blonde Ale.” “What’s an Imperial Blonde Ale?” “Hell if I know.” This trend would get a little aggravating if the beers didn’t turn out so damned delicious.
As it stands, you can’t really fault these guys for bucking tradition and swaying way the hell off course of the conventional recipe. As craft beer drinkers, it’s sort of what we expect from our brewers in the first place. But every once in a while, you get a couple of beers on tap that you just don’t know what to do with. At first, you decide you’re not going to like them, because they aren’t what they say they are. You’re all ready for a pilsner and then you sip it and it tastes like a stout and it just gets you so angry you want to run to your blog and tell everyone not to drink it because those brewers fooled you again and you’re feeling embarrassed and betrayed and vengeful all at once.
But then you take another sip of it and, damn it, you can’t help it. Okay, so maybe it looks like a pilsner, it smells like a pilsner, and it’s called a pilsner, but it tastes like a brilliant stout. At that point, you need to just close your eyes and drink the beer and forget you thought you knew what you were getting yourself into.
That’s the case with two of the beers we’ve got on tap right now. The first is the Fort George South, a beer that’s been described to us as a Witbier (or white ale) aged in barrels with raspberries. Now, there are all sorts of things wrong with that statement. Namely, what the hell is anyone aging a white ale for? And why are they doing it in barrels with raspberries? Then you actually taste the beer and you’re about to do a spit-take, because, well, damn it, it doesn’t taste anything like a white ale. It’s light bodied, sure, but none of the normal subtleties of the white ale style are coming through: where’s the coriander, the orange, the spices, the wheaty backbone? It’s a beer that has more in common with a sour beer or lambic than a white ale. There’s a big raspberry punch to the face which mellows out and smoothes into a cidery, carbonated, slightly bitter finish. It’s sweet and sour, a little bitter, but ultimately clean. And for my money, it’s really delicious and a great thirst quencher. But is it a white ale? No way.
We’ve also got the Heater Allen Schwarz on. A Schwarzbier is another name for a dark lager; it should have an initial roasted quality that fades into a slightly sour but mostly clean lager finish with barely any hop presence throughout. It’s refreshing, mostly clean… but dark. I sometimes say that it’s like a light brown ale, if a brown ale were a lager. So why is it is that this Heater Schwarz tastes almost entirely—but not exactly—like a porter? There are huge chocolate notes in the beginning of this beer and the body is far chewier and thicker than the style permits. It totally breaks your lager prejudices in half. If you’d told me it was a porter, I would have said, it’s got kind of an odd lager-like finish, but okay. Yeah. I like it. Good porter! But telling me it’s a Schwarzbier just makes me question my memory, my sanity, and my taste buds.
Take it from me, beer fans: it’s best to leave preconceived notions at the door. The next time you drop in, keep an open mind and check out these beers and see what you think. The first test should be, does it taste good? Only after that should you then ask, does it taste like what it says it is?