I decided to start off reviewing with the Free State Ad Astra Ale as a sentimental choice – Ad Astra was the first beer (or three) that I had on my 21st birthday. It remains a favorite many years later, and is very high on my “if you don’t like this, you don’t like beer” list.
Name: Ad Astra Ale
Origin: Free State Brewery in Lawrence, KS
ABV: not given, which surprised me
I had this: on tap at Free State
Availability: on tap at the brewery and in several bars around the KC area, very limited bottle distribution area around Lawrence/KC
The malt is the predominant flavor/smell. For me, “malty” tends to be a category that’s only worth drinking when it’s cold outside, as the warm, heavy sweetness of malt feels nice and warming when it’s cold, but stifling when it’s hot. Ad Astra Ale manages to avoid the “cold weather only” status that I give to most malty beers by having just enough of a hop presence to lighten it up a bit. This isn’t to say it’s a hoppy beer. It isn’t. The flavor is “malts of roughly the caramel-colored range,” but it can’t be all caramel malts because it doesn’t have the heavy sticky sweetness that caramel malts tends to give. The hops are there to give it just a hint of a bite – slightly more than a brown ale but definitely not into pale ale range. It pairs well with pretty much every food I’ve ever had with it and, because Free State loves us, now comes bottled so that I can have it even when I don’t have time to haul my cookies out to Lawrence. To sum up: this beer is compulsively drinkable.
Similar-ish beers: the Long Trail Ale from Long Trail Brewing in Vermont is about the closest I’ve ever had to an Ad Astra, but I think the Long Trail Ale might be a hair on the hoppier side.
Fun fact for the day: I had no effing clue what style of beer this was until I looked it up on BeerAdvocate. It turns out (as I listed above) that it’s an altbier, which is what basically amounts to a German-style brown ale. It’s a bit lighter and fruitier than English/American brown ales – if you’re at Free State and they have both on tap, get a sample of Ad Astra and a sample of the John Brown Ale. You’ll be able to tell the difference right away. The John Brown is darker and a bit heavier, whereas the Ad Astra leans toward a reddish color and has a slightly lighter feel.