Thursday, August 23, 2012

[A Beer a Day] Pale Ale | Jay Shambo Homebrew | Ft. Collins, CO

As a beer fan familiarizes himself (ZOMFG, totally sexist!) more and more with the craft beer scene in the United States over the course of several months, there is a subconscious, yet common, practice to ditch his gateway beer in favor of testing his palatal threshold with other styles.

More often than not, these entryways into geekery are Pale Ales, popularized by the flagship beer of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which are considered one of the premium-standard for its particular beer style.  I'm thinking through a catalog of friends, acquaintances, family members, and pets who could have possibly missed out on trying a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and the number I come up with is zero.  Zero is the number people or things who have not tried Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Therefore, it is my theory that Pale Ales are the pater familias of American craft beers, treated summarily as the foreboding father left to deal with the grief and loneliness of seeing his beer brood move on from the nest in pursuit of an advanced education in lagers and recreational experimentation with Double IPAs and Belgian Tripels and other illicit ales.  For those taking the plunge away from the seemingly boring, meat-and-two-veggies serving of Pale Ale, there is a belief that those simplistic beers are unsuitable for an advanced palate.

The irony is that Pale Ales are extremely refined, variant, complex -- and I feel that it takes a few other relationships to realize that perhaps your first love was your true love.  And if not that, at least coming to the realization that perhaps you were a bit to harsh on the lass, and maybe its time to re-evaluate your perception of things (cliché alert!) going forward.  I call this phenomenon, the Pale Ale bump.

In my opinion, Pale Ales are like the Alt Rap of beers.  Not that analdouching, cross-genre Rap-Rock abortion of the early 00s, but the genuine underground hip-hop movement of infectious exuberance with an amalgalm of De La Soul and OutKast weirdness to its sound.  In other words, Pale Ales are the kind of beer that allow you to know just exactly you're getting into within the first few minutes of sampling -- and though there is a subtle complexity to the baseline -- the beat never really strays too much.  If you liked all of its funk in the beginning, you will still like it in the end.

A well-balanced -- and in my opinion, perfect -- Pale Ale satisfies the hop heads, but is sensible enough for the casual drinker.  And although there are many interpretations of itself, the appeal is that Pale Ales are intended to be refreshing, flavorful, even-handed, low alcohol, and altogether wholesome drinking.  Also, Pale Ales are dependent on geographical characteristics -- and so, if your teeth were cut on West Coast Pale Ales, you will likely enjoy a hoppier version, but if bred in the East Coast, a more malty, English version is probably your flavor.  If you are lucky enough to be middling somewhere between the coasts, then there is a blended spectrum of those two.  That is my style.  And is lucky.

So, when my buddy Dean and his wife Tanya informed me that they were bringing, what they believed was one of the best Pale Ales (EVAR!!!) from Colorado, I naturally got a bit tight in the pants. 

But what was surprising was that they presented me with label-free hooch -- a beer that was not commercially available at all (at least not yet, anyway) -- and only available as gifts from their small-batch-brewing neighbor, Jay Shambo.

Ok, so what?  A homebrew? Where have I stumbled upon, you ask?  A dorky homebrewing diary?

Well, no, not really.

Shambo has been quietly collecting an arsenal of Pro-Am brewing crowns in the very competitive brewing region of Neckbeard-orado.  This is like being the best high school quarterback in the state of Texas, and Shambo is possibly their state's #1 recruit.  He has been offered to take his talents to such big time programs as New Belgium and Odell for the purpose of sharing a few recipes with them, a Belgian Blonde and a Session IPA, respectively.  That is kind of a big deal, especially when one is now dealing with imperial gallons and not fluid ounces.

In my opinion, brewing is very much like no-limit Texas hold 'em and writing, in that the brewer is presenting a narrative from a personal prospective and it basically takes an entire lifetime to master.  There is danger in gaining a reputation for being too clever, as with every move, there are expectations that can outpace your game -- but conversely, playing too tight forces you sit around waiting for pocket aces.  There is a cautious balance to the art, since you don't just want to be a favorite amongst the students and the homeless, but worse yet, the beer dorks.

All told, my grasp of brewing is tenuous at best, and, to me, it all seems a bit like beer tribalism.  Fortunately, there are already people who will do all the work for me and all I have to do is offer a trade of hard currency with them to receive it.  However, I can understand the sense of value and accomplishment one must feel when hand-crafting a batch that just exceeds expectations.

And this is why receiving a few bottles of Shambo's perfectly brewed Pale Ale is discussion-worthy.

If I were to make a very amateur attempt at guessing the specific varietal of this Pale Ale, I would speculate that it was made using citra and cascade hops, as it was very crisply introduced to the taste buds ('no, taste-bros') with fruity and citric hops and a light, sweet, and biscuity malt profile.  It was hoppy, but not bitter; bready, but clean; bright, but not stringent.  This beer reminded me very much of a freshly-brewed iced tea with an unsqueezed lemon wedge dropped into the fancy tulip of a nice restaurant.  It was a fantastic mid-summer beer and reminiscent of an authentic mountain west Pale Ale.

For lack of a formal name, Shambo Pale Ale is ready for public consumption -- but since that might be as unlikely as [An Avenue] receiving a publishing deal based on kickassery alone, I will say that Jay Shambo himself is ready for public consumption.  And that will very likely happen with the aforementioned breweries in the semi-near future.

I was reading a favorite blog of mine the other night called Beertography written by John Kleinchester, and he mentions some words spoken to the group at an event he was attending by Brooklyn brewmaster and craft legend Garrett Oliver.   In his quote, Oliver said:
"[Beer] really isn't about the first taste. Once a customer orders a beer, they've made their decision. The brewery has made its sale. What it's really about is the last sip, as that is when the consumer decides whether or not to have another one."
I thought that was pretty damn profound, and something I had never really considered before.  My impression is that people like Oliver -- and to a limited extent, Shambo -- are completely confident in their ability to make consumers into fans.  I know that at this point, I am ready to be a fan of Shambo's, if only I could make an executive decision to have another.

ABV: ~5.2% (estimate)
Acquired: Hand delivered from CO
Musical Paring: Gorillaz | s/t (2001)

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