With a veritable sea of beer descriptions and reviews available on rate beer and beeradvocate.com, my two cents on the locally produced six-pack seems somewhat less valuable by virtue of inflation. Thus inspired my search for beers available only in the tap houses of our lovely Boulder County breweries. This is the first installment in what I hope will be a series of articles that offer a slightly more rarified look into local brewing creativity. Here goes:
Walking into the Sanitas tap room I could feel that the impress of my former writing preceded me (queue skeptical glances from tasting rooms staff in response to my introductions, “I’m from the press”). As I reclined into my wrought iron chair in the elevated seclusion of the private conference room I was afforded for my tasting, I knew my words would carry weight. Ok so that’s an (drastic) exaggeration; the only available electrical outlet was in the conference room and I needed to charge my computer. But! it’s Sunday, so I’m going to indulge myself in a little vanity. I can’t say that the co-founder and marketing manager Zach Nichols was indulging in the same shimmering introspection this afternoon; we got down to brass tax. Zach along with Chris Coyne and Michael Memsic (both Boulder Beer alums) founded Sanitas Brewing back in 2012 and have their Black IPA and Saison in cans and available in town as of a month or so ago. And that’s all the background I am offering, this article is about BEER so lets see what this supergroup lovechild has to offer.
Today we play to the tune of “Special Cargo” a wet hopped (fresh hopped) belgian style red ale. Let’s break it down. “Wet Hopped” means that the brewery is using all fresh hop flowers (as opposed to industry standard dehydrated, ground and extruded hop pellets) to bitter and aromatize their beer. This means a cleaner, greener, grassier hop profile in the glass. Belgian style beer is fermented with specific strains of yeast (cultivated originally by belgian brewers). The beer is often aged or bottle conditioned in contact with the fermenting yeast (whereas other beers will filter out these dead cells). This aging process extracts aromatic chemicals from the dead yeast cells,“esters,” which are often described as banana-y, bread-y, funk-y, and, perhaps most appealing, “vomit-esque” (though I tend to steer clear of that particular descriptor unless absolutely necessary). It is delicious and must be experienced to understand. Red ale is a traditionally Irish brew that emphasizes dark malt flavor. Finally, the name “special cargo” was chosen to emphasize the expedition of hops (organic hops to boot) directly from their farms on the western slopes to the brewery in under 12 hours.
Caveat: before you ask, I am not on a crusade to extol the virtues of every brewer touting an organic malt bill (vocab word of the day kids, referring to the type and quantity of malt used in a brew). Sanitas uses organic ingredients when accessible and cost effective but, as Zach put it, “we aren’t going to compromise the integrity of the beer to be organic.” Suffice to say “organic” is a means not an end for this crew.
The magic of this beer is that every part of its description shows up but they don’t fight for the same moment on your tongue, leaving you in sensory overload at a loss for descriptors. It’s textbook in a craft brewing kind of way. So here is Joe Meilen’s idiot’s guide to special cargo.
- Sweet malt aroma
- …Wait…citrus…..sweet and grassy. I don’t quite know how to describe that because I have never made a lawn clipping smoothy, nor does that sound appealing, but this aroma is
- Tip it, and sliding through the tulip glass the color goes from Barq’s red cream soda to straight mahogany.
- Tongue it, hmm had something going with this root beer thing, sarsaparilla on Christmas, a root beer that doesn’t crystalize your tongue in corn syrup.
- Burped: ohh hello bready belgian yeast, thought you got lost in the shuffle. I’m glad joined me post-sip instead of the polyurethane skunky regret that usually shows up as a hop’s last stand. Its a weird and mysterious party favor that gives you a tiny rush hours after the party as you arrive home and slip gradually into inebriated muscle relaxation.
- Aaaaand sip again. This 6.6% is flying under the radar of 30 ibu’s. Its leaving me at a loss for words as I sip sip sip trying to get this beer under my thumb; trying to create a verbal semblance of this beer that is somewhat graceful. But then, the purpose of this mission was to find something that affords me a divergence from the common and widely available, the easily categorized. As the carbonation slips away the hop oils don’t aspirate off my tongue quite as quickly. They will stay and exchange dying whispers with the aforementioned bursts of Belgian esters, which is no terrible legacy.
Damn that was poetic!