Thursday, December 9, 2010

Custom Brewcrafters Canandaigua Lake Ale

I think I've said before that I appreciate ales which don't rely overmuch on extreme, bitter hopping.  There's a certain class of beer drinker, particularly in this country it seems, that believes that complex, highly hoppy beer is the only craft beer worth drinking.  Any other kind of craft beer is a bit of an anomaly to these people - they don't know what to make of it.  A sweet, malty brew with plenty of fruity or citrus notes?  Well, it's not Bud Light but it's not IPA either, and it's suspiciously easy to drink, so it can't be Good Beer.  Can it?

Needless to say, I don't subscribe to this view.  I have the utmost respect for brewers who make IPA, it's a craft which I hope one day I'll be able to emulate in my own small way with my homebrew kit (for which I'm saving my pennies).  However, as I've said before, some of my favourite ales are less bitter, and thus open themselves up to a whole range of other flavour profiles. 

CB's Canandaigua Lake Ale really did the trick for me.  The hops are evident, but used in such a way that the bitterness isn't overpowering; a lemon-citrus flavour pervades it, giving it a fresh springtime quality; and the overall feel was very much like an English Real Ale, which I really enjoyed. 

Aroma - This beer smells of springtime.  Citrus notes blend with a hop aroma which is fresh and not at all bitter. 

Appearance - Light golden colour, it poured with a modest head which dissipated fairly quickly.  This doesn't bother me too much as it's ale, not lager.  I did notice a significant amount of sediment floating around - as I've mentioned a few times before, this is due to bottle-conditioning and isn't anything to worry about.  It's just evidence of the freshness of the beer and a pleasant reminder that you're drinking a hand-made brew.  I'll happily admit to having a nostalgic moment on seeing the sediment; it's been a while since I saw a beer that could so easily be English Real Ale.  I mean that as a real compliment.

Taste - This really is a springtime beer!  I love how the hops are evident, but their character is much less bitter than with most American craft beer.  This is fruity, light, with a great citrus bite as it goes down.  It reminds me somewhat of the Witbiers the Belgians are known for.  Obviously it's rather out of season (as I write, there are at least 6 inches of snow outside, and more is probably on its way), but it can be nice to drink this kind of brew in the cold as a reminder that the thaw will come eventually. 

Mouthfeel - Very little carbonation is evident.  Although you see the sediment in your glass, you really don't feel it while you're drinking.  It's not entirely smooth, though - it does effervesce slightly in your mouth with a delightful lemony quality.

Finish - Definite citrus taste, with a lingering, slight bitterness which is just subtle enough to be pleasant.

I think this beer deserves a 4.5 out of 5 - clever and subtle use of hops created a nice, fresh ale which I'll be drinking plenty more of in the springtime.  And I really appreciated seeing the bottle-conditioning in evidence again.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Custom Brewcrafters English Pale Ale (EPA)

Fresh from my first foray into the world of Custom Brewcrafters beers, I decided to crack open the second variety in my sampler pack.  This one declares itself an 'English-style Pale Ale' - given the fact that I'm a limey myself, I had very high expectations for this one.

As I've explained elsewhere, British ale is a different beast from American beer - it's not carbonated to the same extent, and it has to be pumped from the cask - in fact, if you go to an authentic British pub you'll see the bartender literally 'pulling pints' into your glass.  Ale also tends to be slightly sweet or malty, and in my favourite examples the hops are less prominent, giving way to a whole variety of fruity, spicy or otherwise unusual additions. 

Aroma - Fruit and hop aromas are prominent, but not overpowering like an IPA.  

Appearance - This ale has a deep amber colour, and a cloudy appearance, similarly to my previous encounter with Custom Brewcrafters.  I'm pretty sure now that this is due to bottle-conditioning, a process whereby a little yeast is retained in the bottled product to essentially keep the beer fresh.  As for the head, it was very modest, but it was there - slightly more present than it was with the Scotch Ale.

Taste - A delightful malty hit mellows into a mild hoppy bitterness.  There isn't as much 'oomph' in this beer but that's not a bad thing - a milder or more subtle taste makes for a great session beer, in my view.  These sorts of beers are also usually a better accompaniment to most food, as they won't crowd your palate when you're enjoying that amazing marinara sauce, or swordfish steak, or sushi, get my point. 

Mouthfeel - Like CB's Scotch Ale, very little carbonation is evident.  This is a smooth English-style ale, true to its name. 

Finish - A bitterness lingers, reminding you of the malt in the aroma.  It's not a strong, toasted-barley taste, but a more pleasant, subtle flavour.  Very enjoyable.

I'll give this a 4 out of 5 - it's a very good, solid session beer, which satisfied this Englishman's high standards.  Like I said, I prefer less hopped English ales, which did affect my judgement a bit, but still - I can thoroughly recommend it.