Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The McBone Beer Journal; Back Road Brewery Specialty Ale

The microbrew movement is what transformed the United States from an intergalactic laughingstock to a world-class producer of fine lagers, ales, stouts and porters, but that don't mean that all microbrews are good.  No sir, a small batch brewery gets no free pass from McBone just because we prefer independent businesses operating on a tiny profit margin to huge bloodsucking corporations.  Who is more worthy of our business, an intrepid hippie with a genuine passion for beer or a faceless, soulless factory that churns out mediocrity or worse in twelve ounce bottles? The former, we argue.

Yeah, I know I was singing the praises of Pabst Blue Ribbon in my last McBBJ post, but I have only so much patience for run of the mill malted beverages.  Yes, I believe that macro and microbrews can coexist in peace, but if given the choice, I'll go with the small market team any day.

I had never heard of the Back Road Brewery, located in LaPorte, Indiana, prior to visiting a local purveyor of ales, wines and spirits, where I spotted a humble looking six pack wedged between the more ostentatious packaging of other brewers.  More than anything I was drawn to the austerity of the plain green label and the modest promise written thereupon: Our ale is only made with malted barley, fresh hops, yeast and water.  No preservatives or chemicals are used.  Since it is not pasteurized, it must be refrigerated or stored in a cool location.  These are admirable claims, and I coughed up eight dollars with little resistance.

Like I said though, just being a microbrew is of limited merit, just like being an indie movie is no guarantee of quality.  The proof, as the proverb so wisely puts it, is in the pudding.  Does this beer live up to its premise?  Almost.  Sort of.  Not really.  Specialty Ale pours clear but not crystal clear (this is not a knock) and has a nice honey color and the slightest fizz of a head.  It's not easy nosing a beer that is icy cold and doesn't want to let go of aromas, but this one has some noteworthy characters of honey and toasted oat that waft into my nasal passages.  As I drink, swish and swallow, I am moved to utter the following assessment: meh.

What else can I say?  Neither sip nor swig nor subsequent bottles yield anything more than a mild maltiness that quickly dissipates into a brisk, brief aftertaste that has just a slight metallic edge.  I can't condemn Specialty Ale as bland, nor is it the taste sensation that I was hoping dwelt behind the green label, which I might add is curiously absent from the website.  I will happily try their other varieties, but I confess to being a bit let down by this retiring and unremarkable ale.  I get the 'less is more' philosophy of the packaging.  That doesn't apply inside the bottle.

Official rating: 2.5 McBones.



StevenLink said...

I rarely buy Back Road because I fear the turnover is low, creating old beer that doesn't fare well in its unpasteurized state. It's only a fear, though. I'd love to visit the brewery and try the stuff on tap to see if it's good.

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...


I know what you mean. The sixers in that cooler looked mighty lonely, but I gave it a shot. This one didn't have any skunky or stale old beer taste. It was pretty crisp. It's just it was missing that certain I don't know what...


Kid Shay said...

I could feel the disappointment radiating from this beer journal entry. Do they have liquor stores in Indiana, or do beer drinkers have to visit a grocery store?