The Smoky Side of Ale
It started with Liquid Bacon, the mouth-watering, mesquite chewy smoked copper ale from Hunter Beer Co. at the edge of Australia's Hunter Valley wine region that lived up to its name when I first tried it in 2009
. Then it moved to the smoked bock that the SandLot Brewery served the next summer, not as full of barbecuey goodness but still packed with smoke in a lighter-bodied beer.
Now, the welcoming club of smoked beers that aren't porters has a new member in the William Wallace Scotch Ale being poured down at Denver Beer Co.
And it is every bit as chew-worthy - and, according to its brewer, as polarizing - as the other beers that have come from this style.
The smoked porter, popularized by Alaskan Brewing
, is, at this point, a semi-common option for most breweries. The dark malt cloaks the smoke and makes it perceptible only as an add-on rather than a main flavoring, giving just a hint of spiciness to the common murky character of the style.
But lighter-bodies beers that have a flavor of smoke to them are riskier, as the smoke stands out far more prominently. And there you walk a think line between brews that taste like the liquid equivalent of a sumptuous rack of ribs and beers that taste like a fire fighter's uniform was substituted for hops as a late-boil addition.
William Wallace (think: "Follow me ... to the BBQ pit!") comes at you with a giant mesquite smoked flavor from the first sip, swaddling it in sweet Scottish malts but clearly letting it be the star of the show. As the beer warms, the sweet and the charred intermingle more, giving you a mouth-filling taste of such magnitude that even the brewery's GABF-award-winning Graham Cracker Porter
Brewer Charlie Berger stopped by the table to take my compliment on the beer but then mention that it might be the most polarizing beer that the 5-month-old brewery has concocted. (The comment seemed especially appropriate as The Beer Geekette, a Scotch ale fan, passed it off to me to drink because she couldn't take the smoke.) Yet, Charlie should take that as a compliment.
When you make a beer this heavy in flavor, some people are naturally going to turn away, asking for something that is plainly easier. Yet, I hope more breweries get the gumption to infuse mesquite smoke - or other flavors we as a beer community haven't yet thought of - to continually challenge our taste buds.
Labels: Alaskan Brewing, Australian beer, Denver Beer Co, SandLot Brewery