"I'll have a pint of bitter."
No six words in the English language give me more joy to utter. Ordinary, Special or Extra Special, I hold all in equal esteem. The act of simply drinking a bitter, for me, is sublime. Porters are perfect and Dunkles divine, but there is a soft spot in my heart for a proper English bitter. I've had what I can get — Wells Bombardier, Coniston's Blue Bird, Greene King Abbott Ale, Adnams – and there in lies the problem, accessibility. You'd think, between Mahar's and Oliver's, I'd be content. Well, I'm not. At some point demand starts to out weigh supply and that's when I get cranky. Simply put, there isn't enough bitter in Albany. Now, I know what you're going to say, "Why not try one of America's bitter offerings?" You're right, we brew some great English-style stuff here in the good ol' US of A. Unfortunately, they always seem to miss the mark. Something isn't quite right.
That is until now. (That was quite Top Gear, wasn't it?)
The cap popped off with decidedly less pop than I expected. Tipping the bottle, the burnt amber beer slid into my pint glass. It settled very quickly leaving the thinest film of bubbles clinging to one another. A wonderfully sweet and bready fragrance rose from the glass. An aroma of raisins and nutmeg filled my nose as I brought the glass up for the first sip. The carbonation was low and allowed for the full flavor of the malt to step forward. My first notion was of graham crackers, then deepening to shortbread, like the kind that comes in a blue tin. Sweeter notes of vanilla and caramel were offset by the dry tang of green grapes. The hops brought a mild bitterness and an earthy grassiness to the party which became more noticeable as I continued to drink. Now here's the deal sealer, the one thing that makes this one taste like a spot on English bitter—Cardboard. Pleasant sounding, isn't it? An earthy taste, like cardboard or wet paper is indicative of oxidized beer. Normally that's a bad thing, who wants stale beer? It's also a common characteristic of beer pulled from a hand pump, like those used in the UK. Pumps use suction rather than carbon dioxide to force the beer through a tap. Each pull introduces a little oxygen into the beer, causing a chemical reaction, resulting in staled beer. However, a little goes a long way and heavily oxidized beer is downright yucky. Breckenridge seems to have found the right balance, and Avalanche hits all the right notes. It might not be Chiswick, but it looks like Colorado runs a close second in bitter making!