“Give me Liberty Ale, or give me death!”

4 May

Is it just me, or do a lot of beermakers love the whole Founding Fathers / Revolutionary War / Patriot motif?

I’m of course referring to Sam Adams, one of my favorite “small breweries.” Small is in quotation marks here because it’s so ubiquitous now. That ubiquity, however, is a good thing, as I love Sam Adams beer.

Sam Adams was founded in 1985 and is considered one of the main players in the craft brew movement. However, go back another 20 years and there’s an even more influential brewery: the Anchor Brewing Company based in San Francisco.

One of the traditions of my fraternity was to “adopt” new pledges into different respective beer families. There were a number of different families, including but not limited to the Coors Light family, the Sierra Nevada family, the Anchor Steam family, and my own, which was the unfortunate (for many different reasons) Red Nectar Ale family. Red Nectar Ale is disgusting, probably one of the worst beers I’ve ever had in my life. In fact, I tried to stage a coup d’état by splitting off from that family and starting the Sam Adams family. That’s another story for another time.

When the time came to reveal the families, the older brothers would bequeath a six-pack of the family beer to their new younger brothers. Usually, this meant that a fair amount of trading (and drinking) would take place. This was how I was introduced to Anchor Steam’s Anchor Steam beer, one of the last remaining examples of California Common beer.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it. I thought it was waaaay too bitter. My favorites at that time were beers like Rolling Rock: I couldn’t say I had a very sophisticated palate when I was a sophomore in college.

Fast forward five years: I’m in love with hops. In fact, I love IPAs and Imperial pilsners and other delightful and crazily-hopped beers. I’m moving away from beers with more malty characteristics and discovering how delicious and refreshing beer with high hop profiles can be. I tried Anchor Steam’s Anchor Steam again and was suitably impressed–it was kind of like reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath a second time.

Yesterday I was picking up some Chinese food for a family dinner and I decided to go to Bristol Farms to get some beer. Now, Bristol Farms is not exactly a bargain bin when it comes to prices, but it does have a very decent selection. I was planning on buying a bottle of Le Fin du Monde from Unibroue, based on the recommendations of the Beer Babe and my friend Katie, but I didn’t know how well that would go with Chinese food. I wanted something drier and hoppier… something that could cut through the grease of chow mein and beef and broccoli.

Then my eyes settled on Anchor Steam.

But I had had Anchor Steam before: I wanted to try something new. Thus, I decided to try the very tastefully-labeled Liberty Ale from the same company instead.

It is called Liberty Ale because it was first bottled on April 18, 1975: the 200th anniversary of Mr. Paul Revere’s ride. (I should imagine having a beer christened in honor of one’s exploits should be very gratifying, indeed–I would prefer this to having a statue made in my honor!)

At home, I popped open the bottle and poured it into a glass. Nice light-amber color–like a translucent persimmon color. Not a real significant head, though there was pretty decent carbonation.

From Anchor Brewing Co.’s site:

A special top-fermenting ale yeast is used during fermentation and is responsible for many of Liberty Ale’s subtle flavors and characteristics. Carbonation is produced by an entirely natural process called “bunging,” which produces champagne-like bubbles. Dry-hopping (adding fresh hops to the brew during aging), imparts a unique aroma to the ale. It is a process rarely used in this country today.

The “nose” was extremely floral, with notes of sweet fruits, dates, honey. This was a delicious beer, with higher-than-average gravity and really nice carbonation. The dry-hopping definitely made a big impact, as the beer had a very fresh hoppiness that was less than an IPA but more than your typical ale. Crisp, but luscious. The mouthfeel was almost that of a nice off-dry riesling.

My sister got tipsy off the beer: a first, since she doesn’t really drink too much beer. An awesome, very satisfying beer, one that gets my highest recommendation. One that makes me cry out: “Give me Liberty Ale, or give me death!”


6 Responses to ““Give me Liberty Ale, or give me death!””

  1. Shea May 4, 2008 at 9:13 pm #

    Sounds like fun. You make an interesting point about the palate’s shift from malty flavour to hoppy flavour. I have to admit that while I love the complexity of a perfectly hopped beer, I also really enjoy properly malted beer, especially when balanced with hops. That is probably why I love Imperial Stouts. However, my ultimate question is: Why do you think a palate (to personify it) develops to appreciate certain flavours that it previously found unpleasant or even repulsive?

    If you really want to get your hop glands going, try HopHead Brewery or Dogfish Head’s 60 minute and 90 minute IPA’s. Powerful stuff.

  2. Joon S. May 7, 2008 at 7:50 pm #

    I don’t rightly know, Shea. My “witty” answer is that my taste and appreciation for bitterness grow the more I live in this bitter, bitter world. Who knows? Maybe it’s the same mechanism that governs why the same children that only eat candy (e.g. me) grow up to love Brussels sprouts and lamb.

    I will answer your challenge, sir, when I have access to those beers. I’ll be sure to write about those experiences once they’re had.

  3. James May 8, 2008 at 11:48 am #

    I’ve actually undergone the opposite transformation. As my beer palate has matured over the past few years, I’ve tilted heavily away from the floral and hoppy ambers, pales and IPAs of California and Belgium and towards the subtle, mellow lagers of Germany and Eastern Europe. Right now, nothing taste better to me than a full bodied, well rounded Marzen.

    Of course, I love Anchor Steam, but I find it more of an excellent example of balance than of hoppy flavor. It has that nice crisp bite of a standard lager, with sneaky undertones of amber ale flavor that creep up after you’ve been refreshed. A true classic!

  4. dugpark May 9, 2008 at 11:42 pm #

    Very nice review. I think the shift has a little bit to do with experience and a little bit to do with what is going on with you, in your life… I definitely had similar shifts as I started to drink wine. I started with an ignorance about wine, drinking whatever was mild enough to not taste bad to a young palate. As I learned more, tasted more, my context changed and I was able to appreciate the intricacies of a Merlot vs a Cab vs. a Pinot. The same is happening for me with beer. In the beginning, there was a general sense of what was good. As I drink more and more (and more and more) beer, my context changes and I start to really understand what I do and don’t like. I also have to be in certain moods for certain beer… which makes me believe Joon had close to the best answer possible. 🙂

  5. The Beer Babe July 29, 2008 at 10:30 am #

    Hi there.

    The next time you have a tasty plate of Chinese food – if you can find Left Hand Brewing Company’s JuJu Ginger it’s an awesome compliment. I’m not sure where you’re located or if you’ve ever seen this company before, but they make some interesting stuff.


  1. Jumping Junipero! « Vinicultured: A Wine Blog - February 10, 2009

    […] Not only are they great at brewing delicious, delicious beers such as my personal favorite, Liberty Ale, but they are great at distilling quality, small-production spirits like whiskey and […]

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