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Belt’s Beer Garden: Reviewing the 250th Beer!

This week: beers #249 and #250!


After a little more than two and half years, we’ve hit another milestone...the 250th beer to be reviewed!

I love stats though and so, before I start with the reviews, I figured I’d share with you guys some of the numbers from BBG.

Of the 250 beers over half (127) have come from just four states - Illinois (47), California (46), Michigan (18), and Oregon (16). However, 39 of the 50 states have been represented on BBG, with the other 11 coming as soon as possible!

I’ve also had breweries from seven different countries on BBG, with Denmark appearing most often - nine times - and Canada coming in second with four appearances. Spain (2), New Zealand (2), Norway, Ireland, and Sweden are the other countries to appear.

As for individual breweries, Pipeworks from Chicago has been reviewed the most times (6). Green Flash (CA), Short’s (MI), and Arcade Brewing (IL, but sadly no longer exists) are right behind, showing up five times each.

Only five beers (.02%) received a grade of A+/9.5: Russian River’s Pliny the Elder, Odd Side’s Citra Pale Ale, Denver Beer Co’s Incredible Pedal, and Maplewood’s The Charlatan and Son of Juice. There have also been 19 A’s and five A- beers.

But enough stats and numbers...on to the beer!

#249: From New York City...a new sour ale.

Brooklyn Brewery has been around almost as long as I have. Starting in Brooklyn, New York in 1988 with their Brooklyn Lager, they have grown vastly over the past 30 years and are now the 11th largest craft brewery in the US.

If you live east of the Mississippi River, odds are you can find them (sorry Mississippi, Alabama, and West Virginia…you’re the exceptions). They are also available in Arizona, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas on the other side of the river.

They offer a wide range of beers across the full spectrum of styles. I found one of their newest limited releases that I was excited to try – Bel Air Sour.

Bel Air Sour is a sour ale made with Challenger, Mosaic, and Perle hops as well as the addition of lactose to sweeten the brew. Finally, it’s generously dry-hopped with Amarillo hops for good measure. The 12-ounce bottle comes with a 5.8% ABV (which is on the high end for sours) and costs the usual $10 for a six pack.

Bel Air Sour pours a bright golden straw color with about a finger or airy white head that, within a minute, fizzles up and quickly disappears into a light dusting across the top.

The extra steps of dry-hopping and adding lactose have given Bel Air Sour a more complex nose than most sours.

Yes, it has that tart bite but there is also a nice sweetness from the lactose that compliments the hints of lemon, lime, and other tropical fruits like mango and passion fruit. Then, lingering behind the fruit, are some floral notes like lavender and a grassy component that really intrigued me.

My first sip began with that sourness that I was expecting…but then, after just a second or two of puckering, there was a wave of carbonation that cleared away the tart flavor and washed a heap of other tasty notes onto my palate.

A mild mix of lavender and lime came first before notes of lemon and mango washed up, adding to the fray of flavors. The lactose adds a sweet component to the beer that really cuts into the sour (after the initial burst). The pale malts cap everything off with a nice balance at the end.

This is one of the softest sours I’ve had. By that I mean that there is no real harsh pucker (with the first sip being the exception) but there are plenty of easy going tropical and floral flavors and a nice sweet finish from the malt and lactose.

Even the mouthfeel is pretty smooth…which is weird for a beer with such a high level of tartness and carbonation. Bel Air really is quite the interesting sour. If you’re a fan of the style, check it out. It won’t disappoint.

#250!! From the deep south, it’s an amber ale from Alabama with a great name!

Fairhope comes to us from Fairhope, Alabama (on the coast, pretty close to Mobile). They’ve been brewing since late 2012 and now have five year-round beers to choose from. Unfortunately they don’t have a huge distribution network yet and are only available in the major parts of Alabama, the Florida panhandle, and along the Mississippi coastline.

As we all know I love a good pun so, when I heard the name of their year-round amber ale I knew I had to try it. Fairhope modified the great Descartes quote to come up with “I Drink Therefore I Amber”…I mean, how can you NOT buy this beer with a name like that.

I Drink Therefore I Amber costs about $11 for a six-pack, so it’s hovering right around the standard price point, and comes with a modest ABV of 5.4%.

This amber poured the color you might expect – deep amber – with just over a finger of tan head topping the beer. The head doesn’t last long and, with in a minute or so, there is just a small spattering of bubbles across the top of the liquid and a small buildup along the edge of the glass.

On the nose it’s quite sweet. There are some toasted notes and a hint of breadiness but it’s mostly caramel malt, banana, and some nuttiness that takes the lead. The hops, although well hidden, impart more citrus by adding some orange notes.

My first sip starts off with a mild rush of carbonation. From there the malts attacked my palate; imparting huge offerings of caramel and clove and banana. It’s quite smooth and has a pretty watery mouthfeel to it…at least for the first half of the sip.

But then the backend adds a bitter bite with a heavy hand of toasted pine and other nuts. The bitterness isn’t too bad or off-putting but it was an unexpected twist from the first few moments. And, as the sip ends, nothing is left lingering on my tongue…not even a slight dryness.

Even though it’s not a heavy hitter – at just 5.4% ABV – however, the alcohol is hidden entirely. As the beer was drained from my glass the few remaining bubbles wanted to stick together and not to the wall of my cup, meaning there was no lacing to be found what-so-ever.

As far as ambers go, I Drink Therefore I Amber is actually pretty solid for the style. I like the flavors and the sweetness up front and that there is nothing left lingering afterwards. That one bitter spike mid-sip is the only qualm I have with it.