Widmer Brothers Brewing
Drifter Pale Ale
I’ve only ever tried this brew in bars on the West Coast, so seeing it at the bottle shop, I instantly picked up a few bottles with the intention of reviewing at least one before drinking them all casually. I just barely made it.
A thin, off-white head makes a brief appearance before fanning itself out across the surface and all but disappearing.
The color is polished oak and copper. Fine, slow carbonation shows through the excellent clarity of the amber. The nose is all hops, but more sweet than tangy or bitter. Powdery orange and tangerine emerge like the spray from freshly peeled fruit.
The mouthfeel is full, but even. Soft citrus candy flows across the palate, turning tart with some lemon and water cracker malt snap. Green apple skin crackles toward the end – light with a slight tingle of carbonation. The finish is creamy and smooth and, with that effervescence, sort of like an egg cream. A true pale ale with the Widmer’s signature West Coast bent.
Mendocino Brewing Co.
Blue Heron Pale Ale
Mendocino was one of the first small breweries I tried when I was first getting immersed in the wonderful world of beer, so I have a soft spot in my heart for them. However, I will try to remain a disinterested and unbiased sampler.
A billowing pure white head immediately puffs up and sits at a half inch while fine carbonation swirls up the glass. There is a bit of haze, but light passes through, showing of a burnished golden blond hue.
The nose is mostly powder-soft malt, with tart tangerine following close behind. The mouthfeel is full, if a bit metallic – the overall sensation is more tart than expected from a pale that’s not an IPA, but it’s not unpleasant. Crackery malt start off smoothly, evening out the palate like a bedspread, only to have the lemon-tart hops jump all over the mattress. Chewy woodiness follows up at the end and, while this brew isn’t exactly even, there is enough going on to maintain interest and prompt another sip. At a shade over 6%, this beer perhaps gets overpowered by the alcohol.
Uinta Brewing Co.
Salt Lake City, UT
Four+ Wyld Extra Pale Ale
In honor of Earth Day, here’s an organic (USDA certified!) brew from Utah’s Uinta Brewing. Uinta has been making great beers in a state not known for its breweries. That’s not say that there’s no beer in Utah, but Uinta is making sure there are good ones. They make a lot of session brews (contrary to popular belief, they are allowed to make higher ABV brews. Their Labyrinth Black is over 13%), and this one weighs in at a quiet 4%
The pour is lively and immediately starts wafting pungent aromas out of the glass. The head is pillowy and full, slightly yellowed. Effervescence flies around the glass in a swarm. The color is a tawny honey blonde, and crystal clear.
The nose is lovely – cut grass and honeysuckle, wet pine and rose. This is a spectacularly balanced bouquet of hops and malt.
The mouthfeel is full and smooth at first. Grassy tartness kicks in immediately and those florals hit the roof of the mouth, adding aroma to the sip. The malt arrives as crisp bread crust and buttered rolls. Pine needles chime in at the end to add a bit of pop that cleans out the palate and prompts another sip, and quickly.
Proof that session beers can be complex and Awesome. Cheers to Uinta.
Chameleon Brewing Co.
Hop on Top
Labeled as an “Aroma Hop Ale”, Hop on Top uses Willamette, Tettnanger, and Cascade, but Chameleon doesn’t boast that this is a big hop beer. Tetts are Noble hops, but both Willamette and Cascade are Pacific Northwest varieties that usually make big IPAs. However, at only 11 IBUs, this beer is not meant to be a hopheads delight.
As I pour it, the beer offers up little in the way of a head – even a glugged pour yields little more than a wispy cirrus cloud. That soon evaporates, too. The clarity is excellent and slow but sparse carbonation ascends lackadaisically up the glass.
The color is polished bamboo or burnished gold, with a sheen that appears to have a hazy quality, though it doesn’t actually affect the clarity.
The nose is very floral, with lavender and honeysuckle rising above sourdough malt and maple sugar cookies.
The mouthfeel is pretty good, with any hint of thinness quickly filled out by a surprisingly present effervescence. This is actually a very refreshing ale. Flavor emerges slowly and subtly – lemon seltzer and water crackers, along with a faint bit of parsley. Some very mild chewiness, but this beer is missing something. Certainly, it very closely resembles a proper English pale but there’s no thrill. I hate to be negative, and since I lean towards bigger (and usually hoppier) brews, I would say that this is a very drinkable session ale that does, in fact, remind me of some of low-ABV English pub pints.
Boulder Beer Co.
Cold Hop British-Style Ale
After a grand experience with Boulder’s Flashback, I have high expectations for the Cold Hop British-Style Ale. I like Ale, British style, and hops. I’m pretty much over the cold at this point, but three out of four ain’t bad.
From the get-go, this beer is promising – fine carbonation inflates a good half-inch of softly tawny head on top of a setting-sun orange with ruddy autumn blush.
Boulder Cold Hop
The nose is a mix of fresh grapefruit sprinkled with sugar, lavender, and some honey malt. The head has settled, but is still a dense, marshmallow soft quarter-inch.
The mouthfeel is good, with the fine bubbles providing a jittering environment for the flavor to emerge. After a slightly leafy jab, floral hops lead the charge. They are not as citric as the aroma augurs – the lavender remains however, along with a wash of chewy grain that shows its British heritage by minding its manners, allowing some peppery paperwhite to clean the palate.
The dirty-blonde froth leaves behind a series of furled-sail rings. This one is good from start to finish. Boulder has done it again – this brew’s style must be from Savile Row.
SweetWater Brewing Co.
420 Extra Pale Ale
This is a gorgeous beer – a golden orange, late summer sunset over a hayfield, with a slight haze from the lack of pasteurization adding to the effect. A crackly lemon sorbet head persists at over half an inch. That same foam catches at the edges of the glass and the ultra-fine carbonation is frenetic and constant.
The nose is sticky sweet like an orange Creamsicle. Some subtle pine needles emerge as slow and as sap, and with the malt coming through just as sweet with mild sourdough pungency. This is shaping up to be an elegant English pale.
The mouthfeel is good, though the start of the first sip is a bit thin. It kicks it up a bit though after a couple of sips and the warmth of my hand around the glass. There is no hop uppercut – everything here is subtle. The wash of hops is very green with lettuce and cucumber being the most distinctive tastes. The malt provides some breadth to the sip and expands out from the middle of the tongue with touches of honey and caramel malt.
Certainly a good session beer (though at a shade over 5%, I’m not sure if it technically qualifies) and if you don’t necessarily want a full-on assault on the palate, this beer is like the perfect blind date: beautiful, smells nice, and has a lot more character than you initially thought. There’s a funny simile about lace in there somewhere, too, but I’ll let it go.
Buzzards Bay Brewing Co.
This Pale Ale was a special edition brew that was specifically for BoTMC. It’s important to note that it is a true pale, not an IPA.
The color is hazy and coppery – orange and amber with more rustiness than ruddiness. A yellowish foam rapidly disappears, though an obligatory layer of film gets fed by slow and steady carbonation. Clarity is decent, but there is a bit of fog throughout.
The nose has a sweetness about it – gingerbread and a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar. Breathe a bit deeper and some oily, piney hop aromas emerge with a hint of tobacco and raisin bread.
A soft yet sparkling texture helps the hops emerge from behind the bready malt base. A subtle crispness hits the palate first – light pastry with just a touch of buttery sweetness and a bit of orange rind – followed by a nearly perfectly balanced tartness that rides on the coattails of the initial citrus flavors. The finish is not quite pristine, hoppy with less earthiness than the nose and more Goldings tang.
This is definitely an ale but a well-balanced one that is as close to an English pub ale as most any in the US and from a bottle. It’s not going to blow your mind, but it’s a good example of the style and a session ale with enough going on to keep you interested.