Microbrew Review: Seasonal Spring Ales

The Hartford Courant

I had planned this month to direct my attention to the lighter spring ales that follow the bocks. There aren't many. We've had only a few warm days, and the summer beers have already shoved the spring seasonals most of the way to the discount rack. No matter; my sublime encounter with the Boston Beer Co.'s incredible Utopias MMII should help to fill the void.

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Sam Adams Spring Ale

Sam's Spring Ale is one of those later spring beers to which I alluded last month. It's a K0lschbier, light and quenching and cheerily presented. K0lschbiers are relative newcomers, having been developed in Cologne (K0ln), Germany, in the early 20th century by ale brewers required to compete with brewers who produced increasingly popular lagers and pilsners.

True to the style, the Boston Beer Co.'s version of K0lsch is delicately and expertly balanced, with a light yet complex fruitiness, a creamy, malty palate and a finish that, although not bitter, is exquisitely clean and crisp. Spring Ale is tasty, light and refreshing and well suited to the welcome warmth of a spring afternoon.

And now for Utopias.

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Utopias MMII

Although I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, the Boston Beer Co. has recently issued a truly remarkable and exotic beer called Utopias MMII. Only 3,000 bottles of Utopias MMII are available, and I was fortunate to get one. Each container is individually and impressively boxed, and the bottle is a miniature copper brew kettle, a most memorable vessel.

Utopias are extravagantly expensive ($100 per bottle), and both the taste and alcohol content (24 percent or 48 proof) are over the top. It's the world's strongest brew. I liken Utopias to that large, wedge-shaped, tantalizingly absurd muscle car, the one with the exaggerated spoiler towering four feet above the trunk that Dodge produced in the 1970s. It's not at all practical, but it represents an appealingly audacious effort to produce a product that is groundbreaking.

Utopias are rich and complex. Poured from the collectible bottle, the brew unleashed a powerful aroma of ripened fruit and alcohol, blended with a touch of spice and just a hint of vanilla. Alcohol permeates the palate from start to finish, but the feel, like that of a fine sherry, is amazingly light.

The dense and intricate taste of two-row Harrington, caramel and Vienna malts and imported noble hops is not overshadowed by the ever-present, penetrating reminder of Utopias' potency. It expands the very definition of beer and may be served (sparingly and at about 70 EXTCHAR) to any honored guest with the same pride that would normally accompany only the finest brandy or cognac.

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Tire Bite Ale

Like all Flying Dog beers, Tire Bite appears behind a quirky, almost surrealistic label. The facade is a blend of Salvador Dali and Gary Larson. The contents of the bottle don't have as much pizazz.

Tire Bite is frothy and pale gold, with a lightly fruity and spicy, but understated, aroma. Its entry is light, to the point that it borders on watery, but the middle and end are quite good and reminiscent of a pilsner. German hops furnish a taut and snappy finish that's just bitter enough to make the whole experience interesting and just dry enough to be quenching and finite.

Flying Dog advertises Tire Bite as a ``[l]awn mowing ale, best consumed in times of dire thirst.'' That's a pretty fair pitch for a pretty good beer.

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Otter Creek Mud Bock Spring Ale

Otter Creek Brewing runs through the center of Middlebury, Vt., and in the spring, when the snow melts and the creek rises, mud -- lots of mud -- is the general result. Mud Bock Spring Ale, therefore, is aptly named.

Mud Bock is an ale, not a true bockbier, but it has the style's intensely malty profile. It looks and smells a lot like an American brown ale, the nose revealing both sugary and roasted malt scents. Two-row, caramel, Munich and chocolate malts provide layers of both sweet and toasted caramel tastes. A flash of chocolate flavor marks the beginning of a nicely balanced middle that gives way fairly quickly to generously added Cascade hops. The finish, although not terribly biting or bitter, is quite good, as the dominant hops leave room at the margins for roasted malt and caramel accents.

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Old Saddleback Widow White's Brew

Widow White's isn't a bad beer, really, but it lacks any distinguishing characteristics. It's a medium-bodied lager that's difficult to classify. It's dark and too roasty for German pilsner and not exactly an Oktoberfest. Bohemian pilsner, perhaps.

The first disappointment appears instantly. Like a sparkler, the head flashes and fades. After a brief, fizzy crackle, there's almost no foam at all. On the label, Widow White holds a froth-covered mug. She must be drinking something else.

Widow White's flavor profile is even and, although not unpleasant, kind of flat. The beer begins with the expected tastes of lightly roasted two-row malt. There are faint references to toasted grain and caramel, but the flavor finishes essentially as it begins. The departure is clean and fresh but bland and not at all bitter.

The problem is that Widow White's malty, remotely nutty foretaste and middle are not pronounced or interesting enough to do without a nice hoppy departure. Although some may find Widow White's appealingly comfortable, I felt that its flavor never really arrived.

Kerry R. Callahan is an attorney with Updike Kelly & Spellacy in Hartford.

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