Most of us can remember it, even if only vaguely. Your first beer love. No, not the putrid watery beer that you first tried in high school to prove just how rad you were, or even the cheapest-is-best college beverage of choice. I mean the first time you realized that beer had taste, real taste, and it was good, real good.
Amber beer opened up that world to me. A beer with color was a novelty in and of itself, but that fact that it tasted different than pretty much every other beer I had ever known was pure delight. I remember thinking that I might actually like beer and that life would never be the same after Killian’s Red or Samual Adams Oktoberfest came my way (I was young, so young). From there I went to brown ales, then stouts, then I discovered the joy of an IPA and I haven’t looked back since. When it comes to beer, my wife refers to me as snobby, I like to think of it as discerning.
In my passion for new tastes and exciting beer, I often over-look the simpler beers, as I wrote last week. So it was without much fanfare or even excitement that I headed to the Grad last week for the Anderson Valley tasting. I had tried most of the AVBC beer before, enjoyed the Boont Amber and found the Oatmeal Stout to be decent, but was never really drawn to the brewery as a brand. To my utter discredit, I hadn’t even carefully read the promotional material for the tasting that well, so I was barely even aware that this was a release party for some new beers. Instead, I was just thinking to myself as I walked in, “Oh, this is cute. Remember when I started growing up into bigboy beer and loved reds? Remember when I loved Boont Amber? That was neat. Those were special times.” In fact, I expected this column to be about old tastes returning for nostalgia’s sake and nothing more. Once again, I was wrong. I should learn how often my assumptions are based on, well, on nothing.
The tasting at the Grad was a bit of a celebration, a release party for some new things happening at Anderson Valley. New ownership took control of this brewery-in-the-sticks with a determined resolution to invigorate the brand with new and exciting tastes. Anderson Valley and the Grad have a long relationship, so much so that part of the tasting included two beers that on that particular evening could only be poured at the tasting room of AVBC and at the Grad in Davis. One was intriguing: a beer called 3-Way which was a combination of 3 beers (ESB, Imperial Amber, and Huger Boont). It was interesting in the way that you’d try a funky flavor of Jelly Belly jellybeans but wouldn’t eat a whole handful of them. One was not good at all: the Horse Tongue Wheat – like the jellybean that tastes like vomit or dirt or horse urine that you give to your friends as a joke. I found the name Horse Tongue to be not so much comical as appropriate to the taste.
But one new beer stole the show and made it all worth it. The Boont Amber is the flagship beer of Anderson Valley. Yet when the new owner set up a pilot program to create new draught-only beers every other month for 6 months, the first thing the master brewers at AVBC did was take this flagship beer, beloved by amber fans, and blow it up into an Imperial. The results are delicious.
The Boont Imperial Amber is certainly not what you remember as your first love and it is no nostalgic beer. It is creative, surprising, bigger than the Boont Amber (8.8 ABV) yet extremely drinkable. While the craft brew industry is crowing for more and crazier IPA’s (not that there is anything wrong with that, mind you), the master brewers at Anderson Valley took a different route and played with their amber beer. I haven’t tasted anything like it. It’s clever and distinct. The word that comes to mind is balance – a fine balance of malt and hop flavors.
It tastes like the Boont Amber, only it doesn’t, except that it seems to, but then its totally different, but not so different, except that it is. Make sense? That was what I kept thinking as I tasted my tiny 3 ounce glass at the Grad. Those 3 ounces were good enough to warrant a pint. Then, like returning to an old love that has blossomed into a new and vibrant relationship, I returned to the Grad a few days later hoping they still had some. They did. Unfortunately, this will only a be a quick Fall fling since this beer has a strict 2 month production and then they move on to the next beer in the series (quick tip: the handle for the Imperial Boont tap at The Grad actually says “Bahl Hornin” on it, which is the name of the series. You might just have to point to it and say Bahl Hornin in case your server doesn’t realize it is actually the Imperial Boont).
So my advice is simple: fall in love with this beer while it is still on tap at the Grad, but don’t hold on too tightly. Because like most people’s first loves, this beer won’t last long, but it will be good for a memory.