Review: Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Samuel Smith Nut Brown AleAfter moving to Colorado, what many call the beer capital of the United States, I discovered something very upsetting: There aren’t true Multitaps in the mountains. The most extensive selection any non-brewery has out here on-tap: Five. Always, 2 of those are New Belgium’s Fat Tire (based in Ft. Collins) and Coors Light (Coors is located in Golden, CO, just outside of Denver). Sadly, in the state of more than 80 microbreweries, no one has any other micro on tap.

Alas, to sate my need for a beer with an actual malt flavor, and having no car here, I purchased a bottle of Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown; not regional, I know, but it was the best I could do.

Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale – 5.0% 31 IBU

This beer pours with a thick 3 finger head, but it fades fairly quickly. This head releases a nice, earthy, deciduous aroma. This lessens as the head fades leaving a light aroma that compliments the flavor while sipping nicely.

Even after the large head falls, the beer is a bit more carbonated than I like for this style. I’m not exactly sure if drinking this beer at 9k feet would affect that, but if I had everything in the world my way, I’d like a little less CO2.

It tastes like a typical Nut Brown does: a very woody and sweet malt flavor. The dark roasted malts you find in such beers are very prevalent and if you’re ever trying to teach someone what individual malts and roasts contribute to flavor, this would be a great way to isolate darker varieties.

Suprising me, this beer finished much cleaner than you average nut brown would. I find they tend to linger a bit longer than most beers, but this cleaned up quite quickly. The carbonation may have had something to do with that, but the effect was creating a very drinkable beer. and by the end of my imperial pint, I found myself wanting more.

This is a great example of an English Brown ale, more so, I think, than Newcastle BA. I enjoyed it and would love to try a draft of it.

Bell’s Hopslam Release

When Ashey’s Ann Arbor tweeted (@a2ashleys) Monday afternoon that they’d be releasing Bell’s Hopslam Double IPA at 4pm, I had no choice but to venture over there for a taste, right?

Bell's Hopslam

Bell's Hopslam

The description included with the pint (pictured) stated that the hops were chosen on the basis of being very aromatic, though I didn’t think there was a very strong hop aroma. The taste, on the other hand, was out of control. Tons of grapefruit and other citrus flavors from the hops, along with a decent taste of honey, with just enough malt to balance it all out. There wasn’t a strong bitterness either, this was a beer that is primarily hopped for flavor and little else.

I didn’t even realize when I started drinking that it was a 10% ABV beer, because there was no real heat from the alcohol, but it made itself apparent pretty quickly, as I was feeling it halfway through the pint. I typically associate strong honey flavors with high ABV in my mind, so that makes sense. One thing that I really liked about this beer was great color for a DIPA – it’s a little darker than many, but that’s because it had a nice malty body.

In all, this was a very good – though not quite great – beer, although it’s not my preferred style (more on the porter/stout end of the spectrum).

ROAD TRIP: Chicago

When our rag-tag trio of brewing and drinking compatriots split up and mostly departed Ann Arbor, MI (Nathan moved to Vail, CO, Paul to Chicago), it didn’t mean that our exploits in the beer world had come to an end. On the contrary, it opened new doors for our exploration.

The Route

The Route

I recently strode through one of those doors, taking a road trip from Ann Arbor to Chicago to visit Paul. The travel itself was about 5 hours worth of Interstate 94, but I had other plans. As you can see on the right, I planned to stop at nearly every brewery within a reasonable distance from the highway on my route – with detailed instructions written out (it’s always risky to put too much trust in cell phone navigation apps).

So, shortly after 11AM on one fine Wednesday, I left town heading West on the highway, hoping to make it to Dark Horse Brewery in Marshall, MI around noon. I got there shortly after my target time, and grabbed a Reserve Special Black Ale. I (quite foolishly) forgot to take any notes on it, or if I did, they’re long-lost by this point. It was back the the road.

Dark Horse Brewing

Dark Horse Brewing

From Marshall, it was a relatively quick trip to Battle Creek, where I stopped for lunch at Arcadia Brewing Company. Though I’d been there before, it had been a couple years, and much longer since I’d gotten food there. I was surprised then, that a place priding itself on the brewing of authentic Britsh-style ales would also have semi-authentic barbecue comprising a big part of their food menu (along with wood-fired pizzas). I ordered a pulled pork sandwich that came with a choice of several sauces, including chipotle BBQ, Carolina, and Kansas City.

Arcadia Nut Brown Ale

Arcadia Nut Brown Ale

Unfortunately, their beer selection was limited on that day, and I was unable to try something new, having to settle for a brew I’d tried on previous occasions. I went with the Nut Brown (fall seasonal), which was solid as always, but a disappointment because I was looking to expand my horizons.

After taking my time with the meal (and ordering water instead of a second beer, of course), it was back to the road, and I passed up the highway in order to take a back route to Kalamazoo, where I’d stop at Bell’s Brewing and the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange – which, while not a brewery, has “beer” right in the name, so I couldn’t pass it up.

In my effort to stay sober, I decided to make Bell’s a carry-out only stop, and I popped into their general store for a 6-pack of their Batch 10,000 – the last in their numbered batch series. The store itself was pretty cool as well, with Bell’s souvenirs such as T-shirts and hats, along with a cooler stocked with Bell’s beers, and even a homebrew section. I regret not walking around the corner to visit the Eccentric Cafe, but I didn’t have the time.

Going around the corner the other way led to the Kalamazoo Beer Exchange, which had opened just a couple days earlier. Without really knowing what it was (you should really have made it a bit more clear on that since-updated website, folks) I was pleasantly surprised to find a really cool setup for a multi-story restaurant and bar inside what was otherwise an office building.

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange

Kalamazoo Beer Exchange Entrance

Kalamazoo Beer ExchangeKalamazoo Beer Exchange Interior

Since I would be unable to stop into The Livery in Benton Harbor (which didn’t open until 4PM), I planned to get my fix of one of their beers at KBE, but some sort of snafu led to ending up with something else – it tasted like a Belgian Dubbel or Tripel – that didn’t meet the description of anything that The Livery brews. I had no problem, as it was delicious, but I’ll never know which beer I actually ended up drinking there.

From Kalamazoo, it was a long trip before another stop, which I finally made a mere 6 miles from the Indiana border at a tasting room for the Round Barn Winery and Brewery. Not wanting to do any tasting of my own, I was intrigued by their house-made spirits, and since they didn’t have a great beer selection available for purchase, I picked up a half-pint of their Whiskey.

Shoreline Brewery Setting

Tommy used to work on the docks...

From there, it was on the Michigan City, Indiana, where I would eventually end up at a brewery that looked like it was set in a Bon Jovi song. With lakeside factories pumping out exhaust in the background, Shoreline Brewery sits near the banks of Lake Michigan. The building itself seems to be some sort of defunct factory, and it was tricky getting to the taproom area.

Shoreline Brewery

Shoreline Brewery

My intention was to pick up a growler from Shoreline, but since I didn’t know what they had available, I inquired with the kind young lady tending bar what was available. Once she told me they had a barrel-aged series on special, I was hooked. That one of the choices was a barleywine only sealed the deal. I purchased a growler of the beer, and got back on the road.

After an ill-fated stop in Indiana to visit a brewery that had shuttered its windows for good (thanks for mentioning it on your website, guys, or at least disconnecting your phone), I made my way to the final brewery stop of the day: Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana.

Three Floyds

Three Floyds

Three Floyds

Three Floyds

By this time, I has grown pretty weary of my travels (and as you can see, night had fallen since the ast time I stepped foot inside a building), so I made quick work of purchasing a 6-pack of Robert the Bruce, a Scotch Ale that I’d never had, despite it being one of the more popular offerings of Three Floyds. With a couple quick pictures of the pub area and one of the brewery, I was ready to finally get on to my destination: Chicago.

In all, it was a good time, and though I had planned it well, there were some hiccups along the road. If I were to to it again, I’d certainly try to ensure I wouldn’t be flying solo the whole time.

Review: New Planet’s Tread Lightly Gluten-Free Ale

New Planet Tread Lightly Ale

Gluten free and everything

While craft beer can be enjoyed by anyone, demographically, it’s generally puchased by the middle to upper class. Breweries are a business, and the guys (or gals) running them do market research. A not-insignificant chunk of these people (particularly those of the 12-Tribes-of-Israel persuasion) suffer from Celiac’s Disease, preventing them from being able to eat (or, more impotantly, drink) glutens.

This has spawned a new niche market for gluten-free beer. Buckwheat, sorghum, corn, soy, and many other non-standard grains are used to provide the fermentables in these beers.

I decided to give one of these beers a try. The one I found was New Planet’s Tread Lightly Ale. New Planet is a brewery just opened this year based in Boulder, CO. They are committed to enviromentally conscious beer production. While they currently sell just the Tread Lightly, they aresoon to release two other beers. A portion of each beer style’s profits gets donated to a certain non-profit enviromental organization, Tread Lightly’s being the Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, a group that does trail maintenance in the Rockies. Hippy, but a cool ideal.

New Planet’s Tread Lightly Ale – 5.0%

This beer pours quite light, with a very modest head  (read: non-existant). The aroma is sweet, almost apple-y. This may come from the large portions of the fermentables coming from corn, or possibly the sorghum (having never brewed with it, I honestly couldn’t tell you what it tastes or smells like, feel free to let us know in the comments). There was little to no hop presence in the aroma, which is fairly true to style.

The texture was a suprise to me, being as lightly colored as it was I was expecting something close to an American-style lager, but I was impressed to find it had some weight to it. The hop flavor here is light, its presence is about equal to the orange zest also present. The beer is sugary-sweet, with traces of honey, though, not to the point of being ‘sickly-sweet’ (a condition I have an issue with, even dry ciders turn my stomach a bit).

While not my favorite style of beer, Tread Lightly certainly raised a few questions for me, particularly about the native African grain sorghum. I’d like to expirement with it as the base for a beer, and possibly various roasted versions of it. Please, if you have any interesting insights into its use, please let us know.