Thursday, August 20, 2015


You thought you'd left "amber ales" back in 1997 with Monica Lewinsky and Fatboy Slim, didn't you? Amber ales? Sit right down and let me tell you about the lean years, my friends. In the early/mid-1990s, those of us who finally had a little extra money in our pockets and who were therefore ready & willing to spend a few bucks - six, maybe - on a "premium" bottled 6-pack really didn't have a whole lot of choice. Where I come from, there was Anchor Steam, Pete's Wicked Ale and a variety of halfway-decent offerings from Full Sail, Sierra Nevada, Red Hook, Abita, Pyramid and a few others. Usually hefeweizen, pale ale, ESBs and raspberry whatevers. We loved it then, and scoff in knowing disgust now.

One "microbrew" stood tall among the others, for me and my undeveloped palate, and that beer was an amber ale - ANDERSON VALLEY "BOONT AMBER" to be exact. No, I really don't drink it anymore, but back then, before I'd tried my first Belgian ales, it was a true king among paupers. As recently as 2006 or so, I'd had pints of it that were flat-out wonderful, but it seemed to have lost the qualities that made it great not long after that. Because of Boont Amber, and only because of it, the amber ale was always pretty high-up on my favorite styles despite many disappointments. When the style upped the ABV and evolved to "imperial reds" in recent years, well, that became one of my favorites, and it still is. Nothing like overweening maltiness and robust spicy, hoppy flavor to drive one to repeated drink.

It was earlier this week that I therefore found myself with not one but two 22-ounce bombers of amber ale waiting to be consumed. Needing to clear my beer fridge, I set upon an ingenious experiment. What if we made the two amber ales battle for supremacy, in a category not known for supremacy of any kind? (Not quite a Berliner/peach pit shootout, but whatever). It'd be like watching a featherweight battle in the undercard before spectators started to arrive to the ring, but hey - what if one of them was at least half as tasty as Boont Amber? Wouldn't that be a gas? Meet our contestants:

OAKLAND BREWING - "Flytrap Amber Ale" - Alas, this quickly set the whole contest into a default victory for whatever the other beer was going to be, even if it was a Brew 102, a Hamm's Light or a glass of water. Utterly undrinkable. Tasted like a bad, bitter lager with almost no maltiness nor redeeming qualities of any kind outside of the nice label that lured me into buying it in the first place. A pour out, and the worst beer of 2015 by a mile. 2/10.

DEVIL'S CANYON BREWING - "Deadicated Amber Ale" - Having already won by default, only an infected beer with a dead rat in it would have cost this one its pyrrhic victory. That said, it was also quite the disappointment, especially considering my general thumbs-up support for the other Devil's Canyon beers I've had. "Deadicated" had crisp Cascade hops, the requisite bare minimum of maltiness and a little bit of a toasty character (a little burnt, even) that made it quite drinkable. It was, however, about as exciting as drinking an Anchor Steam is in 2015. Balanced but boring. The winner, but only because one of them had to. 5/10.

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