Saturday, July 23, 2011

Switchback Ale

If you live in northeastern upstate New York or Vermont no doubt you're familiar with Switchback Brewing out of Burlington, VT. This fairly new brewery has been at just about every beerfest I've been to over the last two years. I also see their stuff on tap at most craft beer stores and bars in the Capital District. In fact, they'll be at the Capital Region Craft Brewers Festival today (which I hope to attend) so I thought the timing was right to finally give their flagship beer - Switchback Ale - a serious look.

   AROMA 7/10   APPEARANCE 3/5   TASTE 7/10   PALATE 4/5   OVERALL 14/20
Chad9976 (642) - Albany, New York, USA - JUL 22, 2011
Having actually met the owners and brewers of Switchback and asking them what style this beer conforms to, their answer is "none." I admire brewers who defy or redefine styles, but sometimes the result is a beer that doesn’t know what it wants to be. I’d say that’s the case with Switchback Ale, a beer that has both English and American qualities but doesn’t strictly adhere to either. The result is a decent beer, but one that could be so much better if it accentuated something.

I filled a growler at my local beverage center. I poured it into a Canadian pint glass.

Appearance: Dark amber/orange/brick red. Mostly transparent but some haziness. Forms an average-size, white, frothy head. Decent retention, little lacing.

Smell: A little bit British pub ale and a little bit American blonde ale. Mostly malty with slighty dark fruit aromas and hint of hop flowers.

Taste: Begins with a cereal malty flavor very much in the British pub ale style of a bitter or ESB. Some grain, toast, red apple and a little nutty flavor all make up the entire palate. The first half is lightly fruity with an apple juice-like taste and some floral flavors as well. There’s a very minor sticky/sappy component as well, but you really have to reach for it. There is a slight hop bitterness on the second half, but it is also quite mild. The finish is mostly clean with a slightly dry sensation.

While there’s nothing off-putting about the palate, drinking it is a tad disappointing because it seems so much more could be done. Adding more hops might make it a hoppy amber ale. Accentuating the malts could make it more of a sweeter, stickier palate.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and thickness with a soft texture.

Drinkability: I’ve only had this beer during warm weather conditions: at outdoor beer fests in the summer or growler fills brought to picnics. Interestingly, it’s not a refreshing beer per se, but it’s extremely far from cloying or drying. I believe Switchback deliberately brews this beer to be drinker-friendly and if so they’ve definitely done the job because anyone can drink this. The mild palate, gentle mouthfeel and low 5% ABV makes it drinkable, quaffable and sessionable.

Overall, Switchback Ale is a fine beer, but nothing more. I like it, I just don’t love it.

Grade: 7/10

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