Friday arose with the first bit of nice weather in weeks. It wasn’t raining! … yet. With a few bucks in my pocket thanks to a bit of overtime, I threw on my hoodie and glanced with disdain at the 4-inch-thick Carhartt that was hanging nearby. Enjoy the weather while you can, I thought. Hell, Illinois weather is so unpredictable that it just may snow furry next Wednesday, who knows?
The cab of the Mighty Tundra was actually hot from facing into the sun and I gladly cracked the windows down halfway. Can a ride on the Intruder be far behind? Off to the Four Seasons for another episode of wandering up and down one aisle of warm craft beer and one aisle of cold. I had no idea what was in season, what was in style and what I was in the mood for.
I checked all the sections: Goose Island, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog, Ommegang and noticed along the way that summer seasonals are now appearing on the shelves. New Belgium had one I hadn’t heard of, Somersault. There was a stack of Sam Adams’ Noble Pils on sale for 9 bucks a twelve-pack. More wheat beers were populating the shelves and the usual array of pale ales and IPAs by known and unknown breweries.
One beer grabbed my interest, it was a beer called Éphémère, the word having a slew of diacriticals hovering over three of the four the ‘E’s. In typical Unibroue form, the beer was described as “Ale on Lees” as was all their other beers. Further label reading revealed that it was a seasonal ale made with the taste of apple. I figured I may as well ease myself into the world of fruit beers sooner than later.
Off to the cooler and lineup of the Lagunitas, Great Lakes and Brooklyn members. I tarried a bit in all the sections with the four-pack of Unibroue in hand. I wandered over to take a quick glance at a few of the beers made by a Chicago brewery, Metropolitan. One name in their lineup caught my eye.
The beer was called Iron Works Alt (all of their beers refer to some mechanical part or system such as Flywheel and Crankshaft.) What made this one special for me was the style of the beer. It was an altbeer. I have never tasted that style of beer although I read here and there that there was such a style as “alt.” What did it mean? Alternative? Thoughts of old Usenet visits came to mind with their alt. sections.
I grabbed a cold sixer of Alt off the shelf and made my way to the register. Pause. One last glance at the stack of Noble Pils twelve-packs. Ah, what the hell. Arms full with 22 beers, I went and checked out.
Back at the Manly Garage the loot was stashed in the beer fridge. Hmm. It’s starting to fill up again. Still plenty of room, though. I decided that the Alt beer would the chosen one for Saturday night before I closed the door.
The alt style of beer goes back a ways to Dusseldorf, Germany. Regardless of what the preferred method of pronunciation is, this article gives an excellent background on altbeer. On the other hand, the Metroplitan Brewing Company is a different story. They are a small brewery in Chicago, making beer for the locals and nearbys. The video at the end of this review gives an excellent background into the brewery with a staff of 4 people.
Saturday came with temps in the middle 60s and after a good meal, it was about 62° in the garage. I started a 2×4 fire in the Sotz just to take the chill off. Now RateBeer recommends this beer be drunk out of a Kölsch glass. The one that I have is too small for my tastes so I chose the Sam Adams Willi glass as the next best thing. A good question is, does the style of glass affect the taste of the beer? Basic Brewing Radio is doing a project on that exact same topic with results coming soon.
Enough about unanswerable questions and get down to answering the question, “What does an altbeer taste like and is this Iron Works Alt worth it?” I grabbed the first bottle and armed myself with the opener.
The cap popped with a bit lesser of a Tsst! than I had expected. Not to worry, I’ve had homebrews that had less carbonation. The beer filled the glass with a nice copper color and two-fingers’ worth of off-white foam. The carbonation was vigorous as millions of medium sized bubbles raced towards the top. The beer had a very slight aroma but nothing grabbed me as any particular smell.
Even before I swallowed the first sip, I could detect a bit of sweetness coming in. The liquid had a good body to it, not thick, not thin. A nice malty flavor permeated the middle of the taste and the swallow was a bit crisp and somewhat dry. It made me want another sip.
I found it hard to place this beer in my memory of tastes. It’s a bit like an ESB but sweeter. Like a brown ale, but less bitter. Perhaps more like a steam beer, but what do I know about beer styles? What I have learned is that this altbeer style is brewed using traditional pale lager malts and fermenting the batch with ale yeast.
The deeper I sipped into the glass, the more of the flavors came forward. The malts played well with the sweet but there was a discernible tweaking of the tongue in odd areas. A wisp of bitterness in the malts came up as well as some cack at the back of the throat. A very little tartness along the sides of the tongue. The beer itself left a nice lacing along the inside of the glass.
There was no obvious hop flavor detected by this drinker although I know it’s there. The slightest rasp at the swallow made it hard for me to believe that the beer had 45 IBUs. During some sips, I almost expected to receive a little bit of spiciness of some form, but none came. The beer kept me off guard with almost every sip.
Even into the second glassful, the sweet introduced itself and stepped back to let the maltiness come in. A muffled closing of the door when they left, leaving behind great taste memories of each individual sip.
It would be easy to tip back a few of these bad boys on a warm summer evening. At 5.4% ABV, it may or may not be considered a session beer, but I would certainly understand running out of stock at some point during the evening. The beer has just enough of everything in the taste department to make one wonder of the origin of the style, the ingredients used in brewing and what other beer this one tastes like.
It’s exactly a beer like this one that makes you think about the whole art and science behind making beer and then thinking that, with beverages that taste this good, you can understand why beer’s been around for thousands of years.
Taste: A- > A taste mystery with a pleasant ending.
Smoothness: A- > Will make you think your throat is chrome plated.
Drinkability: A > You’ll remember this beer when you run out of them.
Bang for the buck: B+ > Typical price for a non-typical beer.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: (Sip) Foamy. (sip) The very first foam sip seemed bitter, but the next one wasn’t. (sip) Can’t really say it’s mild but it’s not heavy. (sip) I kinda like it. (sip) I could probably drink one of those. (Just one? C’mon!)
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