It’s been a while. Too long, I know. In these weeks leading up to the start of Cornell, I’ve been trying to immerse myself with as many food facts and philosophies and I possibly can. I figure the more complete my foundation, the more informed my path will be while in Ithaca. Of course, the result of this inundation has been a mental flooding of sorts, and trust me, nothing grows on soggy ground. But while I let everything soak in for a couple more days, I figure there’s one topic that I can still definitely address: Beer.
I recently took on a string of English Pale Ales. With the weather warming up I was in the mood for something crisp and light, but not quite with the summery connotations of a pilsner or wheat beer. In one way, I got what I was looking for with the English Pale Ales – they were bubbly and moderately light. What I hadn’t realized was how broad a category EPA was and how little I knew about them in general.
The first I tried was St. Peter’s Organic English Ale from St. Peter’s Brewery. I’ll admit, there was pretty much one motivating factor for the purchase: it comes in a really cool bottle. Squat, green, and oblong, it’s sort of what I imagine an elixir from some 19th century apothecary looking like. Unfortunately, the intrigue pretty much stopped there. For one, there was definitely some skunkiness going on (damn that alluring green glass!). But the flavor beyond the skunk wasn’t great either – sort of like a Euro-lager, a little malty and that’s it. Not a great start.
From there, things fell further south with the Old Brewery Pale Ale from Samuel Smith Old Brewery. Now, I was expecting some quality from this one – Samuel Smith is a pretty legit brewery and this beer in particular was well reviewed. One taste, though, was enough to turn me off: it was a malt bomb. An initial burst of rich, butterscotch and caramel sweetness, followed by a shimmery metallic tingle and a weird, musty aftertaste. The metal was reminiscent of an ESB, but the flavor was closer to the bock family. If the previous beer fell flat due to general weakness, this one just plain didn’t taste good… to me at least.
There I was, two beers in and feeling very out of place in the world of English Pale Ales. Little did I know a friendly face was around the corner, in the form of Black Sheep Brewery’s signature Black Sheep Ale. BSA wasn’t completely different from its predecessors – it shared the same pumpkin pie aesthetic and sparkling minerality – but it made a huge improvement by replacing rich malt with dry grass. The beer had the light bitterness of noble hops with a faint echo of caramel for balance. It was light (at only 4.4%) and very crisp. To me, Black Sheep Ale seemed like the perfect response to the American Pale Ale. Crisp, dry, and refreshingly bitter. This was a great beer – a familiar taste profile with a distinctly British accent.