Monday, May 08, 2006

Seasonal Offerings of Full Sail Brewing Co. vs. Anderson Valley Brewing Co.: ESBs

As hinted at in the header and first posts for this blog, this is the first message to compare two different breweries:

In one corner, we have the Full Sail Brewing Company (Platial: of Hood River and Portland, OR, an employee-owned brewery that has a long tradition of brewing very fine beers indeed.

In the other corner, we have the Anderson Valley Brewing Company (Platial: of Boonville, CA, a brewery known for using a little-known language called Boontling to name its beers, such as Boont Amber Ale.

The seasonal offerings up for comparison in this post are:

Full Sail's Equinox ESB


Anderson Valley's Belk's Bitter.


About Full Sail's Equinox ESB:

Named after the Equinox, presumably the Spring Equinox, the mid-point of the yearly cycle when the night is exactly as long as the day, this beer is perhaps a good study in balance, where the malt exactly balances out the hops. The Equinox is a clean-drinking strong ESB. It pours amber in color with a two-finger head, which settles to leave a lacy pattern. The scent has lemons and grapefruits, as well as something else... a trace of honey? Roses?

...and then there's the quaff. Mmmmmmmmm.... the quaff. This is one damn-fine, smooth-drinking beer. It's solid. It goes down like a meal... or at least like a nice, hearty appetizer. While it has traditional ESB qualities that you might find in a Fullers, it also has a *lot* more hops (i.e. bitterness), as well as a lot of overall strength, indeed, with some left in reserve that gets expressed as a slight sweetness in the palate. Though it only has a 5.7% alcohol content, it sure drinks like a stronger beer. That'd be the flavor coming through, loud and clear.


About Belk's Bitter:

The Belk's Bitter is named after the (mythical?) creature shown on the front of the bottle, a bear with a hefty pair of antlers browing out of its skull, grazing in a meadow.

It's rather golden in color, with a half-finger head settling rather quickly. The nose is rather faint, with traces of citrus and carmel.

In terms of flavor, it's not very sweet at all, but rather is actually is quite bitter, thus living up to its name. Clocking it at about 6.8% alcohol, it packs just enough punch to give two people a slight buzz if they drink it on top of a moderately full stomache. The bitterness is perfectly appropriate for a hot day. In short, I'd buy this beer and drink it again, if the weather was warm and I was thirsy.
Complaints: None really, though the Belgian beer fan in me would have liked just a *tad* more sweetness and fullness of flavor. However, I recognize that not every beer can be everything to everyone, and I know some people who just don't like any sweetness in their beers at all. This beer is for them.



Anderson Valley, unfortunately, fares rather poorly in this matchup. It is, indeed, rather unfair to them to pit their light-styled ESB up against the heavy-hitting Full Sail Equinox. Equinox hits it out of the park and changes the seasons with just a couple of quaffs. Though, the Belk's Bitter does pack a stronger punch, and definitely is also well worth drinking.

To paraphrase something that the great beer writer Fred Eckhardt (namesake of Hair of the Dog's Fred) may have once said, "My favorite beer is always the pint in my hand." When it comes to these two, that statement rings true.


A note on sources:

I was able to find tall-boys (22-oz bottles) of both of these beers at the Beverages & More store at Jack London Square in Oakland, CA. This means that they both have fairly wide West Coast distribution, and if your local purveyor of fine beers does not currently stock them, they ought to be able to order them for you upon request.


A Final note: While not specifically review in this article because it is not available in bottles, Pacific Coast Brewery's (Platial: Elephant Seal Bitter is a very fine entrant into the ESB category, and it's only available at their pub for a very limited time -- making it a third seasonal ESB worth mentioning.


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