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Belt’s Beer Garden: I think I’ll have a 2nd

2nd Shift’s Little Big Hop & Owl’s Brew The Blondie


This week instead of the heavier NE IPAs I’ve been drinking so much of lately I wanted to go a little lighter on the beers; so I have a radler and (because I can’t give up hops completely) a session IPA for you.

2nd Shift is the first beer I have for you today.

They’re one of St. Louis’ emerging breweries and have been around for a little while now, since 2009, with their home being New Haven, Missoui – a small city some 60 miles west of St. Louis. However, last year the brewery found a new home on the west side of St. Louis, right off I-44.

Today they offer seven cans plus two large format bottles year-round in addition to their slew of seasonal and specialty brews. You can find them throughout sporadically around the Midwest but mostly in/around St. Louis, Kansas City, Nashville, and now Chicago.

One of those flagship beers is Little Big Hop, a session IPA made with five different hops (Cascade, Columbus, Magnum, Simcoe, and Zythos) and clocking in at a mere 4.9% ABV. A pack of four 16-ounce cans is tad higher, but still pretty reasonable, at $12.99.

Little Big Hop poured a dark murky golden straw color with just under a finger of white head billowing up. The bubbles don’t last long though and, within a few moments, all that remained was a thin layer around the edge of the glass and a few clouds floating in the middle.

The aroma was hoppy, yet really light. There were hints of earthy pine and nuts as well as some floral and citrus note that popped behind the pine. Some light bready malt scents balanced it out but it certainly didn’t smell as light as most session beers.

When I took my first sip there was a rush of moderate carbonation that quickly gave way to some really big flavors.

The pine and nutty aspects of the aroma were almost gone and, instead, a big rush of citrusy hops flooded across my palate. Bursts of grapefruit, orange, and lemon zest hit my tongue and washed away the carbonation fizz.

Soft floral notes complimented the citrus nicely, creating a smooth and creamier mouthfeel. While bready malt add a semi-sweetness to the flavors and eliminate most of the hoppy bitterness.

All this works together so that all you’re left with is a very sessionable beer that’s big on flavor and somehow not on booze (which, if I’m honest, might be counter-intuitive for some).

After smelling how piney/nutty the aroma was it was more than a little surprising to then have those aspects of the hops not show up in the taste at all…but those big citrus notes that showed up instead work for me!

On the backend, there is a little hoppy bitterness that lingers as part of an orangey aftertaste but, all-in-all, Little Big Hop ends rather cleanly and leaves you wanting more. It’s a balanced brew with lots of nice hoppy flavors without the big hoppy bite or alcohol you’re used to in IPAs.

And, since Missouri loves company, I have a companion beer from a New York business that uses tea in all their drinks - The Owl’s Brew.

The Owl’s Brew began back in 2013 and sells the first ever “tea crafted for cocktails”. However, last year they began canning what they call “double brews” which are tea/beer combinations. Currently they’re available mostly east of the Mississippi River – the entire northeast and East Coast, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and San Francisco.

Today they offer four varieties of radlers: a wheat beer/white tea with watermelon, an amber ale/hibiscus tea with strawberry, a stout/chai tea combo with coconut and pineapple, and the one I have for you today – The Blondie.

This half wheat ale/half black tea concoction is also made with lemon peel, lemon and lime juices, and agave nectar. As a radler it’s light on the booze (just 3.8%) and a six pack of cans will set you back $10.99.

It poured a cloudy orange color with half a finger of purely white head that quickly disappears into a thin line around the edge. Inside the liquid is filled with a massive amount of sediment – most likely the tea escaping when being brewed.

On the nose The Blondie had the usual wheat ale aromas of coriander and spices. And, behind those, are the sweet and slightly tart notes of lemon, lime, and citrus as well as hints of black tea. I was a little surprised that the tea was hidden behind the beer/citrus juices…as I would have thought it would be just as bold as the beer portion.

My first sip began with just a dash of carbonation that fizzles out within an instant before the flavors really kick in.

It’s the English Breakfast that starts it all off with a light spice and sweet tea-like flavor that is met immediately by the addition of lemon and lime juice. It creates an incredibly sugary sweet flavor that luckily is cut into on the back half by the wheat beer characteristics of coriander and clove.

As the sip begins to fade away, there is a pale wheat and slightly bready malt flavor that carries this brew to the end. After all is said and done, there is a slightly sweet aftertaste as well as a sticky coating left across my tongue that lingers on for quite some time.

The stickiness isn’t nearly as bad as some fruit beers that use citrus juice but it is enough to want another sip of beer (or water) to finish it off.

Once The Blondie begins to warm up some the black tea begins to come out even more in the flavor and pushes the beer and citrus more and more out of the way creating a flavor that’s less sticky and more sweet and spiced.

While this brew is better as it warms up, it is still a little too sweet and sugary. Yes, I know radlers are supposed to be that way…but this one might need to come with a shot of insulin as well. Good flavors, especially if you enjoy hot tea, but just too sweetened.