One does not generally drink a turtle, but there I was. The time was last Friday night, and the place was the beloved and reborn Georgia Theater in Athens, Georgia. The night's entertainment was the newly formed Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and the beer was a local Terrapin. The confluence of warmth, fellowship, location and good brews was that delicious kind of overload which tends to put one in a trance like state. Trances are not conducive to note-taking. Er, sorry about that. But do try a Terrapin or a Dale's on the rooftop bar at the Theater next time you happen to come-to in Clark County. You won't regret it.
I was surprised to find such a great selection of good beers at my old haunt, but I guess I shouldn't have been. There really are few civilized locales in the U.S. where one can't find great beer these days. We're spoiled for choice, overloaded with options, but that's a good thing. I recently got to sit down with several examples of Berkshire Brewing Company's finest, like their Steel Rail E.P.A. The boys at BBC consider this Extra Pale Ale their flagship brew, and it has a very earthy hop scent, unusual and funky, an aroma not unlike what one might smell in the air at a Chris Robinson Brotherhood show, actually. The flavor isn't quite "rich," but rather noticably well crafted from quality components like an Ascari KZ1.
The malts retain their character as grain and lend an almost bready taste to this ale. In the pie chart of this beer's flavor profile, those malts are the largest piece, but Steel Rail is given character by the delicate tracery of hops, which are overlaid on the malt profile like the tracery of dark lines on a tartan. Without them, this would just be a man in a red skirt. Thankfully this young brewery from North Deerfield, Mass. (est. 1994) has avoided that fate and produced a nicely deep beer.
The next pint to be placed in front of my indelicately grasping fingers was the BBC Lost Sailor IPA. There is a full head and a nice ruddy color to this one with a mild piney aroma. It's a dense IPA, and very full bodied, but without being very hoppy - it only clocks in at 40 IBUs. If this sailor was lost in a hurricane, it would be more Irene than Andrew. It's almost like a British or older American IPA, back when a Mike Tyson knockout punch of hops wasn't expected of the style. The body comes from the malts, which stick to the glass in rings of foam down the narrowing cone of your pint glass. This is a mild IPA in terms of its alcohol content, as well, at 5.5%, so it's really a fine session beer. Mild, rich and rewarding, this is the rookie signing bonus of brews.
I actually started off the evening with a Sebago Saddleback Ale, just to begin with something light which wouldn't unduly exert the taste buds too early. I like to have a kick down the home stretch, y'all. There's a light head and no real aroma to this Maine brew, but the complexity comes into play with the flavor. Pleasing malts and hops bite the tongue and become more aromatic as the beer warms in the glass. I don't remember which beer's tag line was "The beer to have when you're having more than one," but it's true here, and this New England brew is probably better. Fizzy and straw colored, with Cascade, Mt. Hood and Saaz hops, but only 20 IBUs, I wouldn't mind having a cooler full of these the next time I'm cooking over an open flame.
Writing this piece, I'm reminded of that classic of the early 90's, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. A small child walks up to Azeem, Morgan Freeman's Moorish character and, having never seen a black man before, asks "Did God paint you"
"Yes," he smiles.
"Because Allah loves wondrous variety," he replies. And don't we all.
Azeem turns down a drink offered to him by Friar Tuck at one point, saying he isn't permitted. Tuck's reply?
"Fine, then. You talk, I'll drink."