Buckshot Amber Ale

On a recent trip to North Carolina I was able to enjoy a handful of beers from Natty Greene’s Brewing Co., based in Greensboro.  I really liked almost all the beers I tried from this brewery, and I’m here to review my favorite of the ones I tried.  The south was a relative latecomer to the microbrew phenomenon, but now is starting to produce some very fine beers.  North Carolina in particular was ahead of the game, and I thoroughly enjoyed what I had from Natty Greene’s. Without further ado, my first review from the south is Buckshot Amber Ale.

What I really liked about Buckshot was how balanced it was.  As you’ve probably gathered from other reviews of brown and amber ales, I expect a lot from the styles.  I believe the perfect dark ale must have a distinct malt or nutty element while not being too heavy and still refreshing.  Buckshot fit these pretty well.  For starters, the beer is very refreshing.  It’s body is enough to satisfy a serious beer craving while not weighing you down or filling you up.  It’s incredibly easy to drink, which is aided by the smoothness of the flavor.  The malt is strong enough to let you know what you’re drinking and deliver in the hearty flavor category, but it’s in great balance with the body and mouthfeel to be very well-rounded.  The flavor doesn’t “wow” you with anything overpowering or shocking, but delivers what it should.  At the finish only a slight residue remains, but dissipates quickly to rid any possibility of getting stale, and the satisfying sip is complete.  The only drawback is that after a while the nutty flavor that was at one point subtle becomes more apparent and builds, which can then get a little old, but aside from this it’s just about a perfect brown ale for me.

Buckshot was the highlight of my Natty Greene’s experience, but the brewery has many other good beers; I particularly liked Guilford Golden Ale and Wildflower Witbier.  If you’re in North Carolina, look for this brewery.

Overall                 9/10
Color                    7
Thickness            7
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       4.8%

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Bell’s Amber Ale

For a style in which beers can have varying amounts of malt and hops, shades of color, and thickness, Bell’s Amber Ale is a very solid representation of the style.  Hops and malt are balanced nicely and don’t produce too strong a flavor, which works hand-in-hand with the relatively light mouthfeel. Each sip begins with very light malt flavor and is refreshing.  Malt is the principal flavor, though it’s mild and yields only a slight sweetness.  The flavor is never overpowering and doesn’t fluctuate throughout the sip, but what makes this amber ale good is the balance of ingredients.  Because of it, each sip is smooth and yields a malt flavor that emerges just enough to notice.  Only in the middle of each sip does the hop element emerge to make itself known, and is so light it subsides before the finish. Though the hops are subtle, they lighten the flavor just a bit, which seems difficult due to the existing lightness.  After a while it can become a little filling, though it has nothing to do with the flavor, and a slight aftertaste can accumulate.  Bell’s Amber Ale is simple, but done well, and is a very good amber ale.  If you’re looking for a beer with richer flavor and a stronger malt element, you’ll want a brown ale, but this is perfect if you want a refreshing beer with a little extra flavor.

Overall                 8/10
Color                    6
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       5.8%

Two Big Sky Limited Releases

I must admit I feel a little bad about this post.  Both of the selections are limited releases from Big Sky, so I’m not sure how easily you’ll come across them.  One of them was the last six-pack on the shelf, and I doubt it will be restocked, and the other was on the floor in a shipping box at the end of the aisle.  Hopefully you’ll be able to find them at some time; I’m guessing each is made once a year.  These were rare finds and I had to grab them.  I was actually surprised to see them.  Usually the only Big Sky beers in Chicago are the common ones: Moose Drool, Trout Slayer and Big Sky IPA (all of which I’ll review eventually), and whatever the seasonal beer is at the time, which is only available in the Montana Mixer 12-pack sampler.  But it also gives me hope I’ll be able to find the other four limited releases they make.

Cowboy Coffee Porter

I was a little apprehensive about this one when I first bought it.  I had some coffee, mocha and caramel porters and stouts before, and I didn’t like them, but at that time I was still drinking junk in college.  I knew I would have to give them another chance, and because it was such a rare find, I had to get it when I saw it.  The result: I was shocked at how much I liked it.  I thought I would make my way through each glass, not really loving it but taking it in stride, but I loved this beer.  It’s black color might be menacing at first, but it has the thickness and consistency of a lager or pilsner.  It’s rather light and doesn’t weigh you down like I thought it might.  It is uplifting and smooth, with slight creaminess, but not too thick to overpower you.  Some beers in this vein can leave a lingering distaste after each sip, but with this there is no buildup of a syrupy, sugary, too sweet flavor that would fill your threshold before the first glass is empty.  If I had to compare it to another beer for reference, Guinness would be close.  It’s color is the same, and just like Guinness it is lighter than you expect on first glance.  It’s light in composition and creamy, but not too much, and both have a slight cocoa bouquet, but Cowboy Coffee Porter also smells like a finely brewed cup of coffee.

But after all that, it’s just really good to drink.  Because it’s not too thick it is refreshing and resembles an iced coffee.  The coffee flavor isn’t too much or overpowering, but just right.  You know you’re drinking a beer, but once the sip fully subsides, you’re left with the taste of coffee.  Because it’s not too thick or syrupy, you’re left wanting more.  As you can tell, I really like this beer.  If you’re looking for a more savory taste, you’d like this.  I’m not a big coffee drinker, but this hit the spot.  You wouldn’t want to drink five of them, but one or two might be just what you’re looking for.

Overall                 8/10                    Notable Bouquet       Coffee, chocolate
Color                    10
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       6.2%

Heavy Horse Scotch Ale                                                 

I haven’t had many Scotch ales, in fact if I had any before this one I don’t remember them, so I was a clean slate when I tried this one. And I might not be getting too many more of them because I was not a fan.

It wasn’t bad on the front end, but by the time you swallowed, it became strange.  Although it isn’t that thick, it tastes and drinks a lot thicker than it actually is and presents a very malty flavor on the front end.  It has a rich mouthfeel and leaves a bitter aftertaste.  I’ve heard that some Scotch ales can taste like Scotch liquor, and while this one didn’t offer a profound alcohol taste, it was still strong.  Sometimes it reminded me of a very rich amber ale.  This ale was a dark red, almost mahogany color, but tasted like it could’ve been darker.  In the end, I wouldn’t buy this one again and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.  But if you like thick ales or want something that will be more filling, this is worth a try.

Overall                 4/10
Color                    8
Thickness            6
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       6.7%

Lobster Ale

This weekend I was able to try Lobster Ale, which is a red ale from Belfast Bay Brewing Co. in Belfast, Maine.  I’ve seen this around in stores and I’ve always wanted to try it, so when I saw it on the menu at a local restaurant, it was finally time.  I’m usually equally suspicious and optimistic about red ales.  They can be lighter or darker in color; light or rich in composition; hoppy, malty or neither; and be either good or bad.  But I always have high hopes for them.  A good red ale is a good find.  One that is full of flavor, creamy but not too heavy, and satisfying with a unique taste can be very refreshing and hit the spot.  Unfortunately, I was let down again with Lobster Ale.

The first thing I noticed was that it was on the darker end of the spectrum for a red ale, bordering on brown in color.  It had an average thickness for a red ale, not too heavy and not too creamy.  The taste, though, was the issue for me.  The primary flavor that came through was caramel, but not in a savory way.  The other flavor that came through was slight fortified alcohol, the kind you get with a Port or Madeira wine.  Most beers that offer caramel notes are going to be stouts or cream ales, which typically have a slightly higher alcohol content, but you’re still not supposed to taste it.  It was an odd combination.  The brewer says there are fruit notes, which I didn’t get.  From this review you’d probably think I hated it, but I didn’t.  It was OK, just not what I would look for in a red ale.  I would say it is more like an amber ale with sweet tones, tasting on the stronger side.  If that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll enjoy it.  As for me, I’ll probably only order it again if I was tasting for it, but I don’t know how likely that will be.

Overall                 5/10
Color                    8
Thickness            5
Hops/Malt          7
ABV                       5.0%

"Good people drink good beer." - Hunter S. Thompson