Recently I heard that Rock Bottom in Colorado Springs had a beer in the style of each of the Celtic nations in Britain: Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. So, I got together a crew of people and we headed over there. The group included myself, Isaac Grindeland who is now a contributor to this blog and is a BJCP beer judge, Grant Goodwiler a brewer at Rocky Mountain Brewing, Leah Chapabity a bartender at Brewer’s Republic and Dan Flanders, one of the photographers of this blog. It was quite the crew. So, overall we had mixed reviews of the beers and I’m going to share some of that with you.
First a little about our overall impressions of Rock Bottom. I’m a fan of Jason Leeman’s (Rock Bottom Brewer) beers, I’ve had a few and have really enjoyed them. Before spending some good time at Rock Bottom I didn’t realize that he seems to be a big fan of more traditional British and German styles. There wasn’t an IPA on the menu but there was a Pale Ale with Centennial hops, this was the most hoppy beer on the menu. There was also a wheat, an American lager, an amber and an English Brown. Also, a few beers on cask and a healthy amount of special beers that were mostly British and German, styles I believe (there was a Belgian and a Russian Imperial Stout though too). So, in general with the British beers we’re looking at beers with subtler flavors, tasting a lot thinner and less “dynamic” than the American counterparts of these styles. By dynamic I think I mean the flavors will appear more subdued and won’t pop out as much as we are used to in drinking some of the more in-your-face beers made around Colorado. Not all their beers are this way, but it looks like in general they are more reserved than places like Avery, Odell, and Great Divide. However, the quality of these beers is, in my opinion, right on par with British breweries I have visited.
|The Welsh Beer on the Left and the Scottish on the right.|
So, to the beers. For starters we found out the Irish beer was no longer available. Total bummer, so we ordered the Scottish and the Welsh beers. Let’s talk about the Welsh beer first.
The style is a type of British Porter and it was served on nitro. It was really a good looking beer, dark brown with brownish mahogany highlights and a creamy off white head. I noticed what I thought to be roast in the nose but no roast at all in the flavor. There was no roasted malt or barley in the grain bill, but there was of course some chocolate malt. I couldn’t really taste that. The mouthfeel was light, really airy and smooth due to the nitro, and a very thin beer. I guessed it sat below 4%. Another person in the group said the beer was like a Guinness but less interesting, less malty than a Guiness. Someone said it was a sessionable beer. I asked them what that meant to them, and they said a beer that was and tasted low in alcohol content, but they also said that they wouldn’t drink more than one of this beer because they didn’t like the taste of it. They thought it was boring; they would prefer something else. A session beer in Britain is generally something under 4%, it turned out this beer was 3.8%. In the US, you could redefine session to be a beer under 5% because we are used to higher alcohol beers, however I think the term “session” also has to do with your ability to take on a few pints of the same beer in one night without getting tanked. So, this Welsh beer is sessionable in it’s weight, but not necessarily as a beer that carries enough interest to drink more than one of. The overall consensus was that the beer wasn’t great. I had a little more interest in the beer than the rest of the group, but I do agree that I wouldn’t drink another. In general I’m not the biggest British Porter fan, and I’m betting that most people that enjoy American porters probably don’t prefer the British style either. The beer was one of the first to really be appropriated by the industrial revolution and so the style has kind of been canonized by the stripping of complex malts in a way that nowadays makes it less interesting for many than a malt that is loaded with lots of roast, smoke, chocolate, alcohol etc. But in my opinion it was reasonable example of that kind of beer, it’s just was not an exciting style for anyone at the table. I bet though that there are a lot of people who prefer a light tasting porter such as this.
On to the Scottish Ale, named the Naughty Scot. There was some confusion because on the menu it was called a Scottish Ale and in another spot it was called a 90 shilling, which would technically be what’s referred to as a Strong Scotch Ale, not a Scottish Ale. We couldn’t tell which it was supposed to be but for a long time we thought it was a Scotch Ale, a beer that is full-bodied, rich, and above 6.5% in alcohol. The beer had a sharp copper malt taste that most beers in this style have, it was caramely and was medium bodied, definitely not full-bodied, not rich, not desserty as it was supposed to be according to the style guidelines. I thought it was a good example of a 90 shilling beer based on other beers in that genre that I’ve had but everyone else disagreed, when we found out that the beer was actually at 5.8% we realized that it probably wasn’t a true Scotch Ale, it was the next step down so it did seem to closer match some sort of other sub-style. Style guidelines aren’t always something that I’m necessarily concerned about all the time anyway. Now, we weren’t being style guideline nazis here; often I think that style guidelines are less important to pay attention to with many Colorado breweries that are pushing the borders of various styles all the time, but if you do order a particular kind of Porter or Scottish beer you will be expecting certain characteristics according to a general preset idea of what that style and sub-style mean. Style guidelines can come in handy in such cases.
Everyone liked the Scottish beer more than the Welsh in general but again most people didn’t want to order another pint. They were two completely different beers though, so it’s not completely fair to judge them next to each other like that except to say “Generally I’d prefer to drink the one before the other.” So, it’s a little strange to me that I preferred the Scottish over the British Porter. I blame it on the nitro. I love cask beer, which is beer that is naturally carbonated, but I really dislike beer on Nitro (carbonated with a mix of Co2 and Nitrogen) because it seems to mimic cask but leave out a lot of the great flavors that develop in the cask. To be honest, the Scottish style beers are some of my least favorite in terms of style. But, I’ve been to Scotland and really they just don’t have beers that taste anything like what we call “Scottish Style Ale.” Nope, they’ve got malty beers, lots of cask, but generally I saw a lot of milds, bitters, some pretty low key English IPA’s but nothing like what we in America call a Scottish Ale. I am not sure how the name of the style developed but it’s kind of annoying to me. There are no Scottish Ales in Scotland. I brought what I thought was a reasonable Scottish beer to Scotland and shared it with some friends there and they just laughed. “We don’t drink this shite, is this what you Americans think of our beer!” What we call a Scottish Ale is a tough style for people who prefer some bitterness and hop character in their beer. Historically, sure in Scotland they didn’t necessarily always use hops in their beer until the English required it by law, but they had other bittering agents and used all sorts of other “adjuncts” and local ingredients, such as heather and seaweed.
To finish off here I just want to give Jason Leeman a nice round of applause for trying out the Welsh beer, while the group thought it may have fell short of flavor, none of us have ever had a beer that was identified as Welsh so we were very very pleased to try this out. While we were trying some styles that may be tougher for us to like, we had a good time at Rock Bottom and look forward to more of Jason’s experimentations.
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Photos by Dan Flanders