Monday, November 14, 2016

Rambling Reviews 11.14.2016:Long Root Ale, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale, and El Camino (Un) Real

Well, we survived the election. Sort of.

I suspect you, like me, have had enough of Hillary's e-mails, building walls, groping accusations, Russian hackers and all the other nonsense of this year's election. There was plenty of twists, turns, salacious details and wild accusations but precious little actual policy discussion. I try to avoid getting political on this site and just stick to beer. But as one of those environmentalists alarmed at President Trump's plans to roll back environmental regulations, slash alternative energy funding, and opening up previously protected federal land for coal mining, oil drilling, and fracking, I decided this latest round of reviews would feature beers from breweries which support environmental sustainability as an integral part of their business.

We'll start with Long Root Ale from Hopworks Urban Brewery in Portland. Long Root Ale is brewed using Kernza, a little known grain that was likely never used for human consumption until very recently. Kernza has long roots that grow deep into the ground, and unlike most grains, grows perennially rather than annually. That means it's a net sink of carbon from the atmosphere, as annually grown crop like barley or wheat create a net carbon increase due to the energy required for plowing the soil each year. As for the beer itself, it's comforting. The soft, light earthy character feels like an old jacket. It's a little light in the body, maybe from the 15% Kernza in the mix.  There's a light savory coriander spiciness to the brew, with grapefruit notes emerging at the finish. I just love beers that are effortlessly unique and complex like this.

Next, we come to Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale, a collaboration between New Belgium Brewing and Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. Now if you ask me, a chocolate chip cookie dough beer doesn't sound like such a good idea. But these guys pull it off. It's brewed with chocolate, vanilla and brown sugar with a Blonde Ale base. And yes, it does taste like a Blonde Ale with a barely noticeable cookie dough note, with the chocolate rather absent. Thankfully, there's not much sweetness, as I can imagine a beer like this could quickly deteriorate in a heavy syrupy monstrosity without the right balance. It's not a flavor explosion, but it does a good job of replicating cookie dough in liquid form in this light golden brown ale. New Belgium and Ben & Jerry's brewed it as part of a partnership with Protect our Winters, an outdoor sports organization devoted to raising awareness of climate change, which will receive a portion of the sales proceeds.

Finally, we'll end with El Camino (Un)Real, a collaboration release between 21st Amendment, Stone Brewing and Firestone Walker, three breweries that have long supported various environmental causes. It's a strong, dark ale brewed gobs of hops (75 ibu), dried mission figs, pink peppercorns, fennel, chia seeds and quite possibly the kitchen sink. I wasn't so sure about this one, there's always a risk with a long list of different ingredients that they don't play nice together. The idea behind this eclectic blend of ingredients is that they all grow along the El Camino Real, a historic mission trail that linked California's 21 Spanish Missions which became California's Highway 101.  But does it all work?  Mostly, yes.  It's a rich, dark complex beer, the figs complementing the dark malt nicely, with all those hops finding their voice under the heavy layers of malt to add their herbal earthiness, with peppery accent to the whole affair. Maybe they could've just stopped at the mission figs, but what's the fun of that?

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