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Belt’s Beer Garden: Pale and Red

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A St. Patrick’s Day tribute to the people we all love; featuring a pale ale and an imperial red!

neon3

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you all!

Unfortunately I didn’t have any green beers or Irish style ales to showcase this week. However, I did want to honor those people from the Emerald Isle...and what better way than with a pale and red ale.

I’ll begin with the red (because...why not?).

A friend of mine went to Mardi Gras this year and was kind enough to bring me back some beers from down south, including one of Southern Prohibition’s year round brews – Mississippi Fire Ant, an imperial red ale.

Southern Prohibition (or SoPro) has been brewing up beer in Hattiesburg, Mississippi since 2013. They love dry-hopping and barrel aging brews to go with their five main stays. Right now they are available in six states – Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and…Michigan (how’d they get way up there?).

Mississippi Fire Ant packs a wallop with an 8% ABV and 80 IBUs. A single 16-ounce can was a very reasonable $2.99, so it’s got a great price point.

This imperial red ale poured a dark amber hue with a massive amount of head. More than three full fingers of dense khaki-colored foam blocked the entrance to the beer…and it did not want to leave. The fortress of bubbles very slowly faded down, leaving thick lacing marks as it did so (and this was before I had even had a sip!).

Malts mostly dominated the aroma with some strong caramel and bready notes. There was also a sweeter dark fruit quality to it, like that of plums and figs. But there is also a hoppy presence on the nose that adds a light citrus and pine to it.

My first sip started out with a smooth, creamier mouthfeel and very little carbonation – which I was really surprised by since there was so much head.

When the flavors emerged, it almost copied the aroma exactly. The bready and sweet caramel malt started off the sip with a bit of a toasted quality to both. There is the dark fruit sweetness, mostly that of plums and a hint of cherry (but not much).

The hops come in on the backend of the taste and added some earthy pine, a light orange zest, and a long low bitterness to the beer. And even though they were late to the party, the hops make sure you notice them.

Mississippi Fire Ant has 80 IBU and each and every one resonated on my palate for quite a while after everything was said and done. I’m a big fan of hops and bitterness but even I needed to take a sip of water after awhile to wash away the remaining bite.

At 8% ABV it also packs a big hit of alcohol…but the boozy quality is hidden completely behind all the flavors in the beer.

As I could tell from the initial rush of foam, the remaining bubbles did well to lace the entire surface of my glass as the beer disappeared. There was very little clean space remaining by the time I had finished the brew.

Overall, this was a pretty decent red ale. There was a nice balance of hops and malt and some nice flavors….but that bitter sting just lasted too long for me to really enjoy this beer all the way through. I liked it up until the aftertaste. Be warned; Mississippi Fire Ant definitely has a strong bite you need to be careful about.

Continuing with beers I received from the south, I have a pale ale from Alabama.

Alabama hasn’t always had a great craft beer scene…in fact, it seems like they did everything to stop craft breweries from existing until a few years ago. Before 2009 it was illegal to produce or sell a beer in the state that exceeded 6% ABV, you couldn’t server in containers larger than 16 ounces, and operating a tasting room at the brewery or selling beer directly to the public was also illegal! WTF Alabama!

Luckily, things have since changed. And, because of that, we have Back Forty Beer Company.

Back Forty began selling beer in 2009 with their first brew being Naked Pig pale ale and is the first Alabama brewery to be featured on Belt’s Beer Garden. They call Gadsden, Alabama – a smaller town located in northeastern Alabama (about the midway point between Birmingham and Chattanooga, Tennessee) – home and are now available in four states: Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

I wanted to try their initial offering, so I was able to find their Naked Pig. It’s made with Cascade and Columbus hops, Munich and Two Row malts, and comes with a 6% ABV. A six-pack will run you the usual $10, so it’s decently priced.

This pale ale poured a bright, slightly hazy golden straw color with just over a finger of head billowing upwards. The shockingly white bubbles don’t last too long though and, within a few moments, all that was left was a small dusting across the surface and a small ring around the edges.

On the nose Naked Pig has a very balanced aroma to it, with both the hops and malt accounted for. There are lively citrus notes (mostly orange and grapefruit) and a backing of pine from the hops. The malts added a slight bready and sweeter caramel scent to smooth everything out.

My first sip began with a moderate rush of carbonation before the flavors began to subtly emerge. Like the aroma indicated, there was a burst of orange but it was surprisingly short lived. After that the beer seemed to be controlled by the malts instead. The sweet caramel led the way for the remainder of the taste, with hints of bready malt peeking out every once in a while.

As everything subsided the beer ended on a crisp, slightly dry, note with no real aftertaste to it.

I was surprised at how sweet this beer ended up being. Initially when pouring Naked Pig it had that really balanced aroma to it, so I didn’t think the malts would end up overpowering the hops in the way it does.

As the beer is excavated from my glass the dusting of head left sitting on top of the beer does very little to lace the glass. There are two or three sporadic cloud formations that slide down the edge after each sip, joining their friends and leaving my cup clean.

Overall Naked Pig is a great starter beer for those trying to get into IPAs. The sweetness compliments the hoppy bitterness (which there isn’t much of, at just 43 IBU) really well and evens everything out. For me though, it was just too much malt. I would have liked to see more of the hops come out in the taste as well as the smell…but this beer wasn’t made just for me, so I can’t really complain. Really solid pale ale with a maltier base.