Thursday, April 14, 2011

New Glarus Brewing Co. - Unplugged/Smoked Rye Ale

Well, gang as that not two weeks ago I made a beer run to New Glarus, WI with some dear friends of mine, there are going to be a few (ok, more than a few) New Glarus brew reviews coming in the near future.  However, I will try to spread them out.  This will keep you from getting bored, me from drinking all my New Glarus at once, and will keep me trying different beers.  Win-win-win.

This week's selection is from their "Unplugged" series.  To paraphrase from their bottle, this is where they let their brewmaster do whatever the heck he wants and see what happens.  This particular bottle is from his "Smoked Rye Ale" doings.  I like smoked beers and I love rye (the hard alcohol AND the bread) so I am pretty stoked to sample this.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 10/12
Smoke greets the nose first.  It is not the sweet smoke of mesquite, nor the dark smoke or a darkly roasted malt, but the smoke of campfire.  Just regular woodfire smoke, I do not say "regular" to put it down, only to give an accurate description of the beer.  There is also a sour smell that comes from the rye and some spices.  In fact, if you "smell the forest for the trees," these scents all combine to make the smell of, well, chaw.  If you've even opened a fresh tin of non-flavored chewing tobacco, this beer smells remarkably like that.  I personally do not care for chewing tobacco so I am a bit wary of the rest of this beer.

Appearance 2/3
A dark copper color with shades of red pours easily from the bottle.  It produces somewhere between a small and medium amount of beige-colored head.  It dissipates quickly but does leave a small amount of lacing on the glass.  Even toward the end of the pint a collar remains.  The effervescence of the head was interesting to watch: loose bubbles hung low underneath the head, but eventually rose and became part of the tighter-knit whole.  I know most beers function this way, but this beer's did not all happen at once.  The effect was almost like a lava lamp or those old water toys people used to keep on their desks where the drops of color would fall down ramps or spirals or turn wheels.

Picture is my own.

Flavor 17/20
I could see this category varying for different people.  Not everyone likes smoked beer and not everyone likes rye.  I happen to love both.  The first taste is the tartness of the rye, it fades very nicely (and quickly) into the sweet roasted malt flavor.  The sweetness of the malt is the primary flavor, and if held in the mouth long enough will even turn sugary sweet for the finish.  The sweetness is not overpowering thanks to the unfamiliar flavors of the rye.  My first sip finished buttery which then revisted the sweetness before settling into a bit of a dry aftertaste.  The buttery flavor was hard to  discern the rest of the pint, but did result in an "Oh my gosh!" during that first sip.  Thankfully, the chaw flavor was absent, but occasionally makes itself present during an exhale.  Fascinating drink!

Mouthfeel 3/5
Nothing jaw-dropping here, but nothing distracting either.  A medium-light body is accompanied by a higher level of carbonation than the style demands.  Keeping in mind that this beer is a sipper, the high carbonation may be necessary to have an adequate level by the end.  Smooth.

Overall Impression 8/10
A tasty brew!  This addition of unique ingredients makes for a very interesting experience.  The mature flavors sacrifice drinkability, but not for a hefty price.  The taste of actual sugar was an especially interesting moment.  It is a bit malty in the balance, but overall a flavorful, rich, smooth, unique, and worthwhile beer.  

Total 40/50 (Excellent)
It is a cruel irony that it is hard to review a beer that does not have a particular style, but I love drinking beers that experiment and vary from styles.  This beer certainly provided that challenge.  Talk about a chord of unusual flavors, especially in a beer!  Having just written that sentence, I cannot imagine the challenge that it must have been to not only incorporate these strong, different flavors into a beer, but to do so accurately and without overwhelming the drinker is quite a feat.  Long story short?  I love smoke beers, I love rye, I love Reuben sandwiches, and the sugar was pretty cool too.  Big kudos to New Glarus on this one for the technical creation, the imagination to create it, and for having it all come together nicely.  Cheers!

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