Saturday, April 2, 2011

New Glarus - Unplugged/Apple Ale

After a road trip to New Glarus Brewery and picking up some unusual bottles I headed home excited about the reviews that were to come.  This is one of those reviews.  It is from something that New Glarus is now apparently calling "Unplugged," though I have seen this Apple Ale in its own packaging before.  There are now several brews in this "Unplugged" label, usually accompanied with a red foil top.  Initially, I thought it was to save costs for limited releases (each unique beer would not require its own label), but on the side each one still has a description of the beer.  So that theory is down the tubes.  It does have the following paragraph on each Unplugged bottle before that unique beer's description.

"Some people pain, some sing, others write... I brew." -Daniel Carey
A few times a year we will cut Dan loose to brew whatever he chooses, uncensored, uncut, unplugged. Always handcrafted, the bottle you hold is brewed for the adventurous soul.  This is a very limited edition and we make no promises to ever brew this style again.

This is right up my alley and I'm sure most other craft beer drinkers as well.  Limited supply, encouraged brewer creativity, "adventurous soul," maybe never brewed again... what more do you want?!?  This description plus the distinction of New Glarus Brewery has me very excited to crack this brew open.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 8/12
There are some very good things happening in the aroma.  Initial inhales instantly imply apple.  Much like their other fruit-based brews, it is an authentic fruit smell, and not artificially sweet.  After the initial effervescence slows down, an extremely faint, biscuity malt shows through, and is then overcome again by the smell of apples.  The reprise of the apples is more cidery than the initial aroma, bearing both the sour and the spice characteristics of true apple cider.  One could definitely compare it to sparkling cider, but with more authenticity.  No are hops detectable.

Appearance 2/3
The pour creates a medium-sized, white head that collapses quickly.  The appearance of this ale seems to mix the clarity of apple juice (completely translucent) and the color of apple cider (dark rust).  A nice nod to its namesake and combines nice elements of both.  There was no lacing left on the glass.

Flavor 14/20
A tasty beer, but it is difficult to discern the 'ale' in this 'Apple Ale.'  The apples are certainly present.  Their sweetness is the first sensation and very pleasant.  It transitions quickly to the slightly spiced/bitter cidery flavor and stays there until the finish, which is fantastic.  It finishes with a buttery(!) note, but without completely losing the sweetness of the apple.  Very neat and very complimentary sensation!  However, any malt presence is beyond my palate to detect unless it is blended with the sweetness of the apple.  This beer states it has a brown ale base, but it is completely lost in the cidery/goodness.  As it stands, this beer is extremely flavorful, but not true to style.

Mouthfeel 3/5
Extremely light in body and "Woodchuck-esque" in its drinkability.  It is a very satiating brew.  Moderate carbonation throughout the pint allows the aromas to reappear again and again.  That is not always an easy ask after already having tasted the beer.

Overall Impression 6/10
This is tasty, but for the price (Unplugged series are typically sold in 4-packs around $8, at least at the brewery) I would rather try one of their other specialty beers.  This beer lacks the complexity of other fruit-based New Glarus offerings and is more of a cider than an ale.  Its clarity, good carbonation, fruit-dominated flavor, and nearly imperceptible malt all point to cider (yes, I am aware ciders do not employ malts in their brewing process).

Total  33/50
I am a little disappointed with this New Glarus offering, but perhaps only because they have set the bar so high for themselves with prior offerings.  This beer still tastes great, but it reminds me a little too much of Woodchuck's Fall Cider without all the punch-you-in-the-face amount of spices.  In fact, because I do not expect a lot from a Woodchuck I was extremely pleased with their Fall Cider and looked for it several times during the season.  This New Glarus bottle had all my expectations upon it and I was left wanting.

          The true apple taste allow this brew to be marketed as a fall (yum, apples!) or sumer seasonal (very satisfying on a hot day).  Overall, it lacks the complexity and nuance that I have come to associate with New Glarus.  To me, this tasted like a cider and I would challenge most others to try and discern the difference in appearance or taste.  Due to its diverging from the style, this beer has suffered some points.  In summary, I liked Woodchuck's seasonal and I like this.  I simply have come to expect more from the excellent brewers at New Glarus than this simple, not-to-style offering.

UPDATE:  Be sure to check out the "redemption bottle" that helped this brew, but not perfect it.

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