Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Left Hand Sawtooth Ale review

Left Hand Sawtooth AleContinuing on with the sampling of the Left Hand Brewing Mountain Mixer 12-pack, I was able to try out their Sawtooth Ale last night. This is the 3rd beer in the four beer style sampler series. This beer is listed as an American Style Extra Special Bitter or ESB. What's an ESB? Here's what Wikipedia says about bitters:

"Bitter belongs in the pale ale style grouping, though bitter does have a greater variety of strength, flavor and appearance than mainstream pale ale. A bitter can be dark amber, approaching a stout, or be very golden and delicate like a golden summer ale. It can also go under 3% ABV as with Boys Bitter and as high as 7% with some premium or strong bitters. During the early to mid 20th century there were some regional preferences noted which may still be detected in the beers of some of the more established breweries. In Cornwall, Wales, North England and Scotland the preference was for sweeter, less hopped beer. In other areas, particularly Southeast England, the preference was for hoppy beers.

British brewers have several loose names for variations in beer strength, such as IPA, best bitter, special bitter, extra special bitter, and premium bitter. There is no agreed and defined difference between an ordinary and a best bitter other than one particular brewery's best bitter will usually be stronger than its ordinary. And two groups of drinkers may mark differently the point at which a best bitter becomes a premium bitter. Hop levels will vary within each sub group, though there is a tendency for the hops in the session bitter group to be more noticeable.

The term bitter by itself is little used in the United States. The term pale ale or ESB is more commonly used. Where bitter is used it indicates a pale ale of lower alcohol content brewed in a less hop-focused style than typical American pale ales. American bitters often use British varieties of hops."

So in a nutshell, it's generally a lower alcohol and uses certain types of hops to get it's flavor. As for the Sawtooth Ale, this one comes in at 4.8% ABV and an IBU rating of 27. Because it went at or above the 4.8% ABV mark, it "qualifies" as an ESB. Left Hand Brewing lists the following malts in this beer: Premium 2-row, Crystal, Munich and their own Left Hand Custom Malt. (ooo a secret!) The hop selection consisted of 4 different types: Magnum, US Goldings, Fuggles and Cascade. I can always pick out the Cascase in the aroma.

Appearance: This beer poured a very red, almost orange color and had a moderate light tan head. The beer was very clear with no sediment at all. I tried to take 4 to 5 pictures of this beer just after I poured it into the glass but all of the shots turned out blurry. Apparently this beer didn't like it's picture taken. I finally got a sharper image only after I had drank about half of this beer. I let the beer air out a bit before sampling. The first aroma of this beer was was wonderful aroma. I was pleasantly surprised! It had a light citrusy smell and was did not have any off-aromas. All too often a beer will lose points with me right away if the aroma is just not right. This beer almost smelled like a New Belgium style beer at first.

Taste: The taste was nice and smooth on the palate that gave a slight tingle to the tongue that I can't quite describe, almost with herbal overtones. A few seconds after swallowing I was hit with a mild bitter after effect that was ever so slight. Some beers leave a very noticeable after taste but the one from this one was actually a nice affect. Left Hand calls this a "session" beer and I'd have to agree. It goes down easy and isn't strong and I could definitely see myself having more than one of these in a sitting.

Overall: While ESB's are fairly new to my palate, I'd say this one convinced me that I should try more of this style. My initial reaction was to score this lower than some of the porters I'm biased toward, but to be fair, I ended up raising my score after finishing this beer. I'm going to give this beer a 3.4 out of 5 rating and a raised glass to boot. Left Hand came up with a classic - I can see why this is their flagship beer. That leaves just one other Left Hand beer to sample next and it's a brown ale. More to come.

Related articles:
- Left Hand Milk Stout review.
- Left Hand Polestar Pilsner review.
- Breweries of Longmont Part II - Left Hand Brewery.

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