Presenting an awesome fall beer that *isn’t* an Oktoberfest. YAY!
Name: Chainsaw Ale
Origin: Left Hand Brewing Co., Colorado
Style: Double ESB / American Strong Ale
I drank this: on tap at Barley’s Brewhaus, Overland Park, KS
I’d never had a Double ESB before this beer, and I have to say I like it (surprise, surprise – the only double anything I’ve ever encountered that didn’t win me over immediately was a Double Pilsner). I’ve also labeled this as an American Strong Ale since that’s the classification that beeradvocate has and since that actually makes more sense to me than the brewery’s label of a Double ESB.
The reason I prefer beeradvocate’s classification over the brewery’s own? Hops, quite simply. (Beer style education lesson time:) ESBs (Extra Special Bitters) are beers that are bitter for English-style ales but which, when brewed well, do a great job of balancing maltiness with bitterness: the bitterness will cut the malty sweetness, but the malts will keep the hops in check so that the ESB never truly tastes hoppy. American Strong Ales run over 7% alcohol (so, you know, strong) and have both strong malt and hop flavor components. The Double/Imperial classification on any style of beer basically means that the brewers punched the hell out of it – a Double/Imperial label is a guarantee that the beer will slap you upside the head with its alcohol content, whether the alcohol comes across as a noticeable flavor or not – that said, I’ve never seen anything classified as a Double/Imperial American Strong Ale since the high alcohol content just comes with the territory of being a strong ale of any variety.
The Left Hand Chainsaw has a more pronounced hop profile than a typical ESB does (as in I noticed the hops as a strong flavor), so based on the above explanation, American Strong Ale makes more sense as a classification to me than a Double ESB, which I would expect to be less overtly hoppy than the Chainsaw is.
Anyway. After that little educational preamble, what does this beer actually taste like? It has a strong caramel malt flavor that balances with a bitter floral/grassy hop bitterness. It has a really thick mouthfeel, almost coating one’s mouth. The hops and malts are both very strong and don’t quite meld together – the malt is *really* sweet, whereas the hops are *really* bitter. When they’re put together, they’re both quite drinkable, but they almost feel like they could have used another month of aging together before they’d be willing to play together nicely. That said, they do a good job of keeping each other from falling too far out of balance, and working together manage to disguise the alcohol content, so that the only giveaway that this beer has the capability of facepunching one’s sobriety comes from a telltale alcohol burn right in the back of the throat.
All in all, I quite enjoyed this beer and would happily have another (although probably not two in a row, because I don’t hate my liver that much).
Food note: this really kicked ass with the cheddar/bacon/green onion/chipotle* dressing potato skins I was eating. For the most part, however, I prefer my American Strong Ales without food so as better to allow the beer to have its way with me.
Beer Style note: far and away the best American Strong Ale I’ve ever had is a Great Lakes Nosferatu Ale, if you find yourself lucky enough to get ahold of some. Very close secondary honors go to the Stone Double Bastard Ale, of which I have one bottle hanging out in the basement waiting for an appropriate day. Since I can’t buy either in KS, however, the Chainsaw was a decent substitute.
*Seriously, program, get with the trends: the spellcheck is trying to tell me that I misspelled chipotle. I didn’t – it just doesn’t recognize the word yet. I’m dismayed to see they haven’t bothered updating the wordlist since, say, 2003 or so.