Monday, September 01, 2008

River Horse 12 Pack

Every time I had ever bought River Horse Hop Hazard, it has been an older bottle, and has gone a bit soft. Although liquid butterscotch doesn't sound like all that horrible a beverage, the Hop Hazard incarnation is not exactly the best way to experience such a confectionary delight. I blame the distrubutors and stores from which I had picked it up rather than the brewer themselves.

So when Wegmans started carrying left-of-center beers, one of the surprising offerings was a twelver of River Horse, which I had not seen any specialty beer store in the area, let alone a grocery store.

The four beers in the twelve-pack are a Special Ale, Tripel Horse Belgian tripel, the aforementioned Hop Hazard and River Horse Lager. Each was given an interrogation by Officer Taste Bud, whose office is in my mouth. I apologize for that last sentence for several reasons.

First up to bat was the SPECIAL ALE, which they call and ESB but seems to be a bit more than that. The color is a light cranberry red. It's clear except for that hazy fog on the glass. A half-finger of foamy off-white head sits atop the bubbly brew. Nice to look at.

Though the label categorizes this beer as an ESB, it smells like a barleywine, with that strong aroma of alcohol, as well as lots of dark berry and raisin. It has that "leathery" quality that so many darker beers give out. In a blind sniff-test, I wouldn't have pegged this as an Extra Special Bitter.

The taste is strong barley malt, and also gives a puckery sour flavor. Some leathery malt in the flavor here as well, almost like a porter in how dark the malt is. There is some sweet-n-sour dark berry here as well, as well as hints of roasted caramel. The hops are of the English variety and very subdued. The malt is strong and thick, as is the consistency; it's full-bodied on the palate like a cream ale.

So far so good, this is a "special/select" ale with some bite, but it's quite drinkable. It's substantial for just one but okay if you feel like snagging another one.

The next one came up a little later in the evening, and in retrospect was probably not the beer to finish off with. It's not that it isn't a fine beer, it's just that the TRIPEL HORSE packs quite a wallop. I mean it's only 10%, so who wouldn't have thought it's the one to have right before nighty-night time.

Out of a tall weizen glass, this beer pours a massive puffy head. It's clear and glassy, but ... there are some wonderful chunks of yeast (I hope) floating about. The head goes down eventually, but the floating sediment and carbonation remain.

Ironically, the thick head hides some of the aroma by blocking it from escaping. What little I am able to extract from it nasally is that of a trademark spicy Belgian yeast and malt. There is a tad of chlorine in the aroma, but I'll pretend I didn't smell it.

The first sip gives some sharp crystal malts but that come handcuffed to some sharp crystal malts with some caramel. There is a strong alcohol bite that I probably should have expected. Otherwise, it's actually deceptively mild. It doesn't at all fetishize the spicy Belgian aspect of it, which also makes it easily drinkable. It's very smooth for a Belgian tripel, especially one that's 10% abv. The feel is butter and honey, rather than champagne or orange juice pulp.

This one surprised me, a really easy-drinkin' Belgian, and though it's strong, it's not at all extreme. Nice curve-ball.

Ugh! I'm only halfway through this difficult slog? I decided to save the remainder for a few days later. I finally decided to give a shot to the beer which I had always previously caught at a bad time -- HOP HAZARD. The look, to paraphrase the Talking Heads, is the same as it ever was: nice, very cloudy dark orange. The head does disappear almost immediately, which is a bit of a downer. It is the color of apple cider, and would be gorgeous if it could just retain a little bit of head.

The aroma gives off some decent woody hops, and with the dual hints of butterscotch (not overwhelming this time) and sour apple. This is how it's supposed to smell. The smell is actually pretty complex, because further down the line, we get some nutty, toasted malts, as well as alcohol-soaked raisin, and all under the woody pine hops.

As for the taste, the first sip gives a nutty bitter malt, similar to a dry amber ale. Hints of raisin and black licorice (I'm not usually a fan but it works here as an accent). It's a darker brew than expected. Some caramel comes out when it's about half gone, and warmer. And there is the most unusual aftertaste of peanut?

Hop Hazard feels dry and a little bit ashy, but the thickness is nice. It's a very nice, toasted and complex ale. Sure it could be considered a pale, but a dark one -- if that's even possible.

Last but ... well, least, is the RIVER HORSE LAGER. I don't mean to crap on this beer, but when are brewers going to realize that there is really only so much you can do with lagers.

I must say, it seems that a lot of brewers are trying to have it both ways, in that they load up their mixed 12-packs with nine solid offerings, and then add one for the "non-beer drinker" or commercial beer drinkier. Magic Hat does it with "#9," Ithaca Brewing does it with the (in my opinion) undrinkable "Apricot Wheat," and Dundee does it with "Honey Brown."

Well, it's here so I might as well pound it. It pours a decent sunny golden color with a mass exodus of carbonation bubbles. There is a thin layer of head that resembles Italian ice. It's very clear, as is typical for the so-called "lager" style.

The aroma is lagery, but clearly made with real barley and not adjuncts. It's a fresh, biscuity malt, with just a touch of that sour apple. It's middle of the road, but inoffensive as many lagers can often be.

The taste is a very solid lager flavor, and we all know what that entails. It does have a slightly citrusy taste, but not from the hops, oddly enough. The malt is slightly bready. The sour apple and butterscotch that were present in the Hop Hazard also make an appearance here. And there is a welcome, tangy bubblegum flavor toward the end. It's actually quite pleasant for a summer lager.

The consistency is pretty predictable, with a thin and watery body. It's not unpleasant but there's not much to say about it. All told, it's not a bad lager by any stretch, it's just kind of run-of-the-mill with some extra flavors thrown in. Highly drinkable but not a skirt blower-upper.

At any price below $15, this is a pretty decent twelve-pack, with two very good beers, and two other good ones. Do what I do and bring it to a party and give the lagers out first. But do see that you make sure to get it somewhat fresh as it seems to go bad quicker than most.


Bojangles said...

The thing you have to remember about lagers is that you can't hide all those flaws like you can in those dark beers. But seriously folks, incredible things can be done with lagers - you just need the skill and the time and space for lagering, and the shelf life tends to be a little shorter.


I had one of those River Horse mixed 12 packs about a month ago, and it was O-L-D. Too bad, really.

The Foaming Head said...

You guys are now linked on our blog. Also being that we just moved to Albany maybe it would be fun to meet over a pint somewhere?

The Foaming Head