How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Sorghum
I haven't had the best of luck with gluten-free beer. In my experience, gluten-free beer is a lot like most "meat substitute" type products; the more they try to be the real thing, the more they fall short. Beer and burgers, for example, have a lot in common. Though there are wide stylistic differences between individual examples, both categories are widely understood to have a given set of typical characteristics, and the attendant flavors and textures that follow.
Photo by Nicholas L. Hall Celiacs, REJOICE!
If you're trying for a bacon cheeseburger and you give me a patty of compressed, textured soy protein flavored with artificial smoke, I will never, ever be fooled, and I think I can safely assume that I will always be at least vaguely offended. Similarly, if you give me a slightly beer-ish liquid that tastes like melting He-Men (see previous link) and shattered dreams, don't try and tell me that it's Pale Ale. That's where Dogfish Head Tweason'ale comes in.
I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the brewery. As a "why the hell not?" brewery, Dogfish Head walks the line better than most, and I like the majority of their beers. Regardless, the very notion of experimental beers is a bit odd to me, and I tend to dislike efforts that smack of childish combination, like the "potions" I used to make in the earthen depression underneath the swing set at my childhood home. Those murky cauldrons of mud -- swirling with army men, the remains of fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt cups, and the occasional ingredient of (shall we say) more dubious origin -- were rarely a good idea. Likewise, throwing caution to the wind, and both into the brew kettle along with whatever random assortment of edible items you have close at hand, can result in some truly terrible beer. Of course, that willingness to go off course is exactly why I think Tweason'ale works so well.
When I humbly suggested that brewers ought to consider "non-beery" beers as an avenue for Celiac brewing (see that link up there, again), I had no idea whether or not such a thing existed. Insomuch as I can tell, Tweason'ale is about as close as it comes. I love this beer for all the reasons I made that suggestion in the first place, though I'm not certain that was the brewers' intent. Namely, that it is so damned difficult to make a gluten-free beer that really tastes like "beer," that the effort is almost doomed from the start. So much of what we think beer tastes like (in general terms) comes from elements that simply can't be in gluten-free beer. That being the case, GF brewing seems ripe for the panoply of styles that don't lean quite so heavily on those elements. Tweason'ale tastes every bit of what I'm thinking when I say this.
Tweason'ale pours a pale, ruddy gold. A hissing, spitting cap of white foam fizzes angrily at the surface, throwing off droplets like so many dying sparklers. Its fuel is spent and it retreats just as quickly, a flash in the pan.
The scent of cherry chapstick, waxy, sweet and saturated, is upfront and almost glaring. It's a bit like the smell of a freshly opened Strawberry Shortcake doll, with the faintest edge of plastic. There's also a sweet sort of musk, and a tart edge; not citrus, just sort of fruity-acidic.
The flavor picks up the acidic character most, offering a refreshing tartness. Behind it is a vaguely sweet fruity flavor, reminiscent enough of strawberries to draw the connection only if you knew it was there to begin with. That's not necessarily a bad thing.
There's a rounded, unsweetened honey flavor underneath, with just a faint bitter edge, and a sort of richness that speaks of malt without being malty. It doesn't really taste like beer in the more traditional (read: popularly understood in America) sense, but that's not necessarily a bad thing, either. See above. It's refreshing and vibrant and thoroughly enjoyable.
In some ways, it plays like a sour ale, though a more restrained and gentle one. The tartness is less bracing, with a more rounded character, and none of the classic and characteristic vinegary elements. It left me more convinced than ever that these less well-known styles hold a lot of promise for gluten-free brewing, and I hope someone takes that to heart. More important, though, it left me satisfied.
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