Friday, April 27, 2018

Something Old and Yet New from a Colorado Craft Brewing Veteran

Over its 24-year history, Left Hand Brewing has never been one to follow trends. It took until 2016 for the Longmont brewery to roll out its first year-round American-style IPA, for example. And while everyone else was testing the limits of hops or bacteria in their beer in the early 2010s, Eric Wallace and crew were pushing the limits on smoothness by getting nitrogenated milk stout into a bottle.

So, it should shock few people that Left Hand's two newest year-round offerings are throwback styles - a porter and a golden ale - but with the brewery's classic twists. What is a bit more surprising is that while one of the new offerings really nails its unique place in the Colorado beer world, the other seems a bit lost and looking for a defined personality.

Death Before Disco Porter and Juicy Goodness Dry-Hopped Golden Ale are appropriately drinkable beers as we get ready to enter the summer months. The porter carries with it just a 6 percent ABV hit, while Juicy Goodness registers at 5.5 percent ABV and only 29 IBUs. Both are appropriate for an afternoon backyard barbecue.

Brandishing five different malts, Death Before Disco blends them perfectly and creates a rich, slightly roasty body with a hint of chocolate. But what jumps out is its strong background hits of dark berry - really, it has an air of cherry - that give it complexity without making it feel like a fruit beer. That all combines into an excessively easy body, in a good way.

It is, to put it simply, a more interesting porter than most of what is out on the market. It's accessible and slightly sweeter, but not in an kind of unnatural way. And the hints of dark fruit that permeate it make you want to swirl it around on your tongue to get the full range of kilned and bright flavors, permeated with a slight hint of coffee and hop bitterness. It's a fascinating beer for something that can fairly be described as hum-drumly as a classic porter.

Juicy Goodness also seems to be reaching to be something more than just a golden ale or a lighter-bodied offering with a significant hop influence. And while it doesn't taste like anything that Left Hand has produced before, it also doesn't feel like it ultimately knows what it wants to be.

The Mosaic hops used in the dry-hopping don't lend their usual tropical flavoring here so much as a Pixie-Stick-like burst of sweetness that is offset by a slightly acidic overtone. While there is a somewhat subdued hop presence upfront, there is a lasting bitterness that goes along with it. And you're left with a surprisingly aggressive bite for a light-bodied beer, and a strange combination that doesn't fit easily into any flavor profile.

Brewing outside the box certainly is not a bad thing, and Left Hand has done it well over and over again, taking a classic style and putting a twist onto it to make it more interesting - like, say, adding lactose to a nitro stout. But while that unique dark-fruit overtone that takes Death Before Disco and turns it into a beer for people who want originality in porters works exceedingly well, the dry-hopping of a lighter style feels slightly odd in Juicy Goodness, making you want something more classical and less daring there.

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