If you like craft beer, then I am guessing you love variety. Most brewers worth their salt are on a perpetual mission to do something new, keep things fresh and hopefully innovate. This has made craft beer one of the more exciting drinks scenes, however, as a result, the outlandish has also now become the norm. You know what I mean, the crazy adjuncts and mash-up beer styles that keep the folk at the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) on their toes. So, I thought today we’d step outside of the new-normal and look at something less cutting edge and arguably more “traditional” - an amber ale from Smog City Brewing Co, a brewer-owned and operated craft brewery based in Torrance, California.
Despite having a penchant for the more traditional, I’ll be honest, this isn’t the sort of beer I would typically be drawn to and the can artwork isn't overly enticing either. Yes, I know, never judge a book etc., but in an era when cans typically look as good as they taste, it’s hard not to bear this in mind when purchasing.
A further perusal of the can reveals it’s 7% and describes itself as hoppy. After consulting the aforementioned BJCP guidelines on American amber ales I learn that, “Hoppy and bitter versions should not have clashing flavors with the caramel malt profile.” Let’s get it open and see if it will pass muster...
If the can wasn’t enticing, the colour in the glass certainly is; a beautiful deep orange with burnt sienna hues. It certainly looks sweet and malty and the nose confirms this with evident caramel and candied orange peel. Hell, it’s bordering on fudgy, but with hoppy bitter undertones that keep it fresh and which have me thinking of tinned mandarins. The nose would indeed make the BJCP proud, and the palate follows suit with waves of sweet roasted malt that meld into the hops once again, keeping things light and lively and leading to a modest alcoholic warmth on the finish.
This is everything a big amber ale should be; maltier than a pale ale and less hop-driven than a red IPA. It’s smack bang in the middle and would work well for any lovers of those styles or as a warmup beer to a glass or two of something genuinely dark (see our beers above).
So, proof that it’s always good to get out of our comfort zones, even if this actually means a return to something that is arguably safer and less risqué. Besides, who needs adjuncts when you’ve got clever malts and hops?