Backstage Blonde – 5% ABV, 26 IBU
With Backstage Blonde, Four String’s brewer and owner Dan Cochran set out to make a “sessionable” Belgian ale. As you probably imagine, it’s clear and blonde in color. The aroma is a wonderful mix of spicy yeast and grassy hops. It’s well-carbonated in the Belgian tradition. The real killer, though, is the taste. It’s great. I’d happily chug a pitcher of it and ask for a second. It opens with a malty sweetness which quickly gives way to a delightful blend of spicy, floral Czech Saaz hops and funky Belgian yeast (for the beer nerds – it also has Cascade hops, and the yeast is Wyeast 1214/WLP-500, the same as Chimay). It’s really, really good – and I normally wouldn’t say that about a beer this ‘small.’ While it’s only 5% ABV (many of my favorite Belgians are double that), I would gladly drink this to the point of alcohol poisoning. In drinking it, I don’t feel that anything has been given up in downsizing the typical Belgian ale. You may want to let it warm up just a bit, though. When I first received my glass, the combination of high carbonation and ice cold temperature muted the flavor and aroma considerably (aim for 42-48F instead).
Brass Knuckle APA – 5.75% ABV, 36 IBU
Brass Knuckle is an aggressively dry hopped, golden brown American pale ale. It’s as American as the Ford Mustang or obesity. The hops, often referred to by beer nerds as the “Four C’s,” are Columbus, Cascade, Chinook, and Centennial. As a group, they’re defined by their clean bitterness, citrus-forward taste, and American roots. Accordingly, the smell is primarily like getting punched in the face with C-hops. The yeast, Wyeast 1056 (a.k.a. WLP-001, Safale US-05) is the same clean fermenting ale yeast used by Sierra Nevada in their iconic pale ale. So far so good. Then comes the taste. There’s a generous amount of hop flavor, and an appropriate amount of bitterness to back up the malt (though it’s a bit on the low side for an American pale ale). The problem, though, is the phenols. (Phenolic compounds are what give Band-Aids their characteristic smell.) In Brass Knuckle, the taste comes across as plasticy and metallic. And unfortunately, it just plain ruins the beer. I politely drank my glass, but when I walked back up to the bar, I went with the blonde.
So how did Dan Cochran make a world-class Belgian and a sub-par pale ale? I can’t say with absolute certainty, but I have a theory. Four String Brewery operates in a small warehouse. Their fermenters have no temperature control; the only cooling comes from the building’s HVAC system. (Most breweries have glycol jackets which cool the tanks – fermenters put off a lot of heat!) And, as it turns out, delicious Belgian funkiness and nasty phenols come from precisely the same place: warm fermentation. Once the process gets dialed in, I think Brass Knuckle will be an excellent beer.
Where to Buy
Starting January 24th, Four String Brewery will be filling growlers on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5 – 7 PM. Their brewery is located at 985 W. 6th Ave. You can also find the beers on tap locally, including Grandview Buffalo Wild Wings, Grandview Brazenhead and Bodega.