Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Left Hand - TNT

I have been waiting to try this one for a while!  While bocks are literally THE beer that started me drinking craft beer (nod to Granite City's "Brother Benedict's Bock"), weizens were not too far behind.  So to combine the two should result in a beer that will be near and dear to my heart for the foreseeable future.  Plus, to add an interesting new twist to a brew is something that I always appreciate.  This beer has a lot going for it (AND it is made by Left Hand) before I even open the bottle and I am very excited.  Let's pour!

Picture is my own.  Bottle art image used without permission for educational uses only.
Aroma 7/12
You can smell this as soon as you pry off the cap.  Once in the glass there is dark roasted malt which borders on a coffee-ish aroma, and the smell of chaw (though it is really the Lapsang Suochong tea).  This tea is apparently smoked and the smoke definitely lends a strong hand to the scent.  There are some other scents at play here (blacked bananas, bits of caramel, etc), but they are so hard to elaborate on because this beer smells so much like Campbell's Bean & Bacon soup.  The smokiness, the tea, and some sort of flavoring all come together to make an uncanny (no pun intended) resemblance to the universally known soup.  While it does make one a bit nostalgic for childhood meals, it is not a very exciting prospect in a weizen doppelbock.

Appearance 1/3
Pours like a melted root beer float into the glass.  The color is also cola-esque, but has milky looking edges when held to light.  Head is traditionally textured (not the thick, whipped creaminess one likes to see in a weizen), small, tan, and quickly disappears to barely a collar that leaves no lacing.

Picture is my own.
Flavor 11/20
This beer has elements of weizen and doppelbock, but pretty much none of those elements are exampled in the flavor.  First sips yield dark toasted malt and a hit of banana, yeasty goodness.  Hopes and dreams are then dashed as the backbone resorts back to the tea (not bad), the bean and bacon soup (bad), and an overwhelming amount of smoke.  Not just campfire smoke like a rauchbier, but a flavored artificial smoke that borders on mesquite, but lands closer to chaw (again, the tea).  When one slurps like wine, some of the dark fruits and the sweet brown tea flavors can become more apparent, but they are fighting a losing battle.  The finish does not change much from the backbone and the aftertaste is similar, although a bit more sour.  Where is the weizen?  The bock seems to be only present in name and roast.

Mouthfeel 4/5
Oddly enough, with all that is stylistically incorrect with other areas of this beer, the mouthfeel does score a bit  better.  It has a medium body, with tiny yet lasting carbonation, and a med-low level of creaminess.  The only concern lies with a slickness that is left in the mouth.

Oveall Impression 5/10
This beer is grossly mislabeled.  The flavor and aroma (some of the best parts) of the weizen are completely absent, but still show through in body.  Only the roast and color of the doppelbock are present, but also at the expense of the flavor.  The tea, nay, smoked tea, completely dominates this beer with both the flavors and aromas of the tea and the sweet smoke.  Other technical merits abound, as one would expect from this brewer, but the flavor while grand in idea, leaves much to be desired in the results.

Total 29/50
Sorry, Left Hand.  I like you guys.  I really do, but I leave a bit disappointed on this one.  You promised me two of my favorite and most familiar styles and then left me waiting for them to show themselves.  The idea of tea (or other various crazy ingredients) is an idea I will always respect.  Else how will craft beer discover new styles, flavors, or varieties of those existing?  However, there are certain things one expects when drinking a weizen, or a doppelbock, or any other beer.  Those expectations should, and sometimes do, border on the stylistic requirements of the brew.  This beer gave me bean and bacon soup when I wanted a big, dark, toasty, banana-laden, creamy, hazy, sweet treat.  Kudos to Left Hand for not being satisfied with the status quo and trying new ingredients in their beers/styles.  Keep them coming!  Please!  Just remember the styles off of which you are building (if utilizing existing styles at all), and to feature their best assets.

You want the summary?  Pass on this one and check out their other awesome brews.  However, if you're curious, want to taste something unusual, and have $8 to burn, go right ahead.

Cool label art as always.


  1. The only thing I could think of was the smoky flavor and bacon smell when I tried this one. I enjoyed the fact that it was a really different beer, but the smoke is definitely overwhelming. My wife took one whiff and didn't even want to taste it.

    One question. I've been trying to figure this out for a while, and I have no idea how it's done, but you obviously know how to pick out the different flavors involved in beer, so maybe you'll have the answer. How do brewers get the flavors to come in waves? Why does the first sip taste different than what you called the backbone?

  2. This is an answer that comes in two parts. 1: the physiology of the tongue and, 2. The timing different ingredients spend in the brew. Though those parts are far from the only answers, I feel they contribute the largest portion of the answer you’re looking for.

    1. Your tongue plays a large part in determining the order of tasting. It is easy to taste sweet ingredients (like malts) first because those taste buds are located on the front of your tongue. Likewise, a bitter finish is not hard to obtain because the bitter taste buds are located at the very back of the tongue.

    How do brewers get flavors to change when holding the beer in the mouth (as in, NOT moving over the tongue)? I am not a brewer, but I have a good idea.

    2. Different ingredients added at different times result in different flavors or aromas. Hops are a perfect example. Hops added early to boiling wort impart their bitterness to the brew as the resins have more time to “cook off” from the hop and into the beer. Hops added to the “middle” of a boil (15-30 mins left) add more flavor, and hops added toward the end or after it entirely (“dry hopping”) tend to only add aroma.

    An excellent and more thorough explanation can be found here.

    Where things start to get tricky is that “taste” is allegedly 80% based on what we smell. So when you have hops that have been boiling for an hour (giving a lot of bitterness to the beer) and hops that were added as you stopped boiling (giving aroma of citrus or grass or pepper), which one do you “taste” more? Does one overpower the other? Do they come in waves? Do they combine to make something greater than the sum of their parts? And hops are just one ingredient!

    Combine the potential complexity of a hop flavor profile with other competing flavors and you’ve got a lot of flavors that have to establish a pecking order in a relatively short time. It’s no wonder that some come and go as our brain picks them out of the fray.

    Long answer short? I can understand the tongue picking up things at different times; no big mystery there. Getting different flavors to change in the mouth? I feel a lot of it has to deal with the brewing process and when ingredients are added (and the strength of those ingredients). Great question! This probably deserves its own posting at one point. Cheers!

  3. Wow. Thanks a lot for such a thorough answer. It's amazing to me how complex brewing can be. And how much of an art it is to not only choose flavors that will meld together, but then to also nail the brewing process to make sure they end up how you want them. But I guess that's why it's so much fun right?

    I've only brewed a few times, and it seems that the flavor that overpowers the others in my beers is "bad." If you could figure that one out for me I'd really be grateful. Haha. Thanks again.

  4. Its the "make sure they end up how you want them," that amazes me too. I've only brewed a couple of occasions myself. I can't decide if it tasted more like yeast or straight up sterilizing solution.

    Looks like I'll be buying it instead of brewing it for a while.