Alibi V.23 No.50 • Dec 11-17, 2014 

A Drinkable Feast

Bomb Squad

Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Bomber

In Switzerland, circa, 1997, I first encountered a damnably enjoyable way to drink beer: sharing 22-oz. bombers. Everyone took a short glass, and we split a bomber of this, a bomber of that—trying everything they had to offer and yucking it up as we did. Stumbling across a grip of local and seasonal bombers, I simply had no choice but to gather up my own BOMB SQUAD and recapture the magic. We made up tasting note cards for our six beers using the following criteria: Appearance, Smell, Taste, Mouthfeel and Overall Impression.

La Cumbre’s Saison

French for “season,” a saison should be a carbonated, fruity pale ale with solid spice—often featuring orange zest, coriander or ginger.

Appearance: Golden haze with a creamy head that fades away like summer

Smell: Grassy and bright on the nose, maybe a little like pine

Taste: Sharp and bubbling over with coriander

Mouthfeel: Carbonation explosion, with a coarse and lingering finish. No clear victor in the sweet vs. bitter war this beer wages.

Overall: The panel was unanimous—be reasonable and prudent with this one. Too many glasses could easily lead to damnation.

Rio Grande & Sierra Blanca’s Alien Imperial Stout

Stouts (and porters) are among the darkest brews—with roasted malt or barley responsible for the color. They’re typically in the realm of 7-8 percent ABV, though craft brewers sometimes do ramp it up (an approach I fully endorse).

Appearance: Like chocolate midnight, with just enough head to ring the glass

Smell: A complex nose, from coffee to caramel, with sturdy notes of molasses and tar—or, as one reviewer put it, “sorta like Vegemite!”

In an IPA town, La Cumbre’s Project Dank aims to be the IPA-y-est. If you guessed that, like many of their finest offerings, this is not a beer for the faint-of-heart, boy-oh-boy did you guess right.

Taste: Malty and sweet, with a unanimously noted solid, slightly bitter “hang” in the mouth

Mouthfeel: Rich and chewy, with enough bubbles to keep it from dropping like a deep sea anchor

Overall: This was a real crowd-pleaser, rating near the top for all four of us cheapjack beer wonks.

La Cumbre’s Project Dank

In an IPA town, La Cumbre’s Project Dank aims to be the IPA-y-est. If you guessed that, like many of their finest offerings, this is not a beer for the faint-of-heart, boy-oh-boy did you guess right.

Appearance: A slightly cloudy, brined, marigold glow

Smell: The pine resin tart was aptly described by one wonk as “skanky but awesome.”

Taste: Bitter as an ex, with flavor that hangs like a deposed dictator (which is to say: a lot)

Mouthfeel: Not the smack in the mouth the nose got, but still plenty heavy and coarse, while staying light on the carbonation

Overall: A fistfight of a beer that, according to one drinker, has a “worthy name ... you gotta be a little dirty, dark and dank to hang with this sucker!

Abbey Monks' Dubbel Ale

As a dubbel, we were told to expect a brown ale—one heavy-bodied and slightly bitter, usually with dominant fruity and cereal flavors.

Appearance: What we found was a pumpkin-brown brew with a creamy head and light carbonation.

Smell: At the nose, we found it syrupy and malty, "reminiscent of his breath," said one wonk about another (they’re married). He, on the other hand, felt it smelled like "beer that costs more than Miller Lite."

Taste: Sweetness and grain dominated our comments, with "too much butter" from our harshest critic.

Mouthfeel: The finish was smooth and quick, without much hang, possibly a little washed out.

Overall: As the fifth beer we tried, it seemed obvious to me that my tasters were tipping toward beer-logged and fuzzy brained. We split 2-2 on this bottle.

Abbey Monks' Tripel Ale Reserve

With a tripel it should become obvious why the Trappist monks who make it don’t say much—mainly because they can’t speak after a couple of these. Tripels are strong ales, often pale, with either three times the ABV or three times the malt compared to a Trappist-style sample.

Appearance: Call it a clear, inviting sunflower hue.

Smell: Subtly citrusy, with sweet, toasted notes

Taste: Sweet and fruity—as promised—with an elegantly simple caramel hang that doesn’t outstay its welcome

Mouthfeel: Almost buttery smooth with just enough bitterness to be interesting

Overall: An approachable foray into Trappist-style beers and a pleasant surprise for the four reviewers—one we agreed could, at 9.2 percent ABV, put us down if irresponsibly trifled with!

Santa Fe Brewing’s Kriek Sour Ale

Another Belgian-styled offering—this one is a lambic, fermented with sour cherries. The result is a dry, vinegary, sour beer that is surprisingly refreshing ... as long as you’re ready for a dry, vinegary, sour beer!

Appearance: The sunburnt glow of a cloudy dusk

Smell: Cherries, with the slight resin tint of fall leaves

Taste: Is it wine? Can this be beer? It’s tangy, something like Sweet Tarts, Pop Rocks or maybe Sour Patch Kids—only drinkable ... and alcoholic!

Mouthfeel: Fizz-tastic and bursting with carbonation, and face-pucker bright

Overall: Us lay-folk had a hard time thinking of this as beer, but all of us found it surprising and drinkable and refreshing. Call it half-past Bartles & Jaymes, a quarter to a juice cocktail.

If it takes 10,000 hours to truly master a subject, then the battle-hardened drunks I enlisted each qualify as the Bruce Lees of drinking. But truth be told, we're no kind of critics as our palates and rating styles might have suggested. Nor do we want to be. We are, instead, drunken enthusiasts—as I suspect most of you fun-loving, outgoing, beer-pickled revelers are too. And being surrounded by craft brewers, it's important to remember that we're dealing with an art form here—and true art never aims to isolate or exclude. The pure subjectivity of the experience is what invites both beer wonks and rubes alike to drink deep, find the beers they like best and then share them with friends. So gather up a crew of your own people this holiday season, and try out some seasonals. Don’t sweat a lack of beer wonk credentials—simply bring a bomber, make some cheapjack “tasting note cards,” and spend your own evening under heavy bombardment!