This afternoon I am sitting down with a collaborative effort by three breweries: Bear Republic and Stone out of California and Fat Head’s out of Cleveland, OH. The beer is called TBA which stands for “Texas Brown Ale.” As I understand it, this beer is a throwback to the early days of craft brewing, and stems from a recipe that used to be brewed by home brewers. The beer was so uncharacteristic for any style at the time it kept losing in competitions despite being popular (and quite tasty). It finally was accepted into the newly formed “California Dark” category in a Houston, TX competition.
If you’re looking for more info on the history and making of this beer please check out Stone’s blog on the subject.
The back of the bottle describes a Christmastime brew day between the three brewers full of the whimsy of nostalgia and new ingredients (apparently this is the first time that Stone has brewed with Cascade hops, which are typically one of the most prevalent varieties in most modern American breweries today.
In addition to various other hop additions and specialty malts, TBA was brewed using molasses and brown sugar. Don’t let the brown color or molasses/malty descriptors fool you though – this was brewed at Stone, and is meant to be an all0American style brown ale. As such, expect this bad boy to be richly hop-forward and much more bitter than that Brooklyn Brown Ale or Newcastle that you might be enjoying this St. Patty’s Day at home.
For now freshness shouldn’t be a question: it’s only been brewed once and was released just a couple weeks ago. That said, I do believe that there is a typo or oversight on the bottle. On the back there is a signature from Mitch Steele (Brewmaster of Stone). Underneath it is dated “January 2011). Either it was supposed to say “January 2012” – the likely time of bottling/label approval, or it’s just an old quote/old format from these collaborative releases. Either way, I find it a tad conflicting when you consider that on the side of the bottle it states “Drink fresh. Do not age.”
TBA Tasting Notes:
- Appearance: Hazy appearance, the color of muted sarsaparilla. Tall creamy head.
- Aroma/Flavor: Molasses is strong, as is a fruity yeast element with pine hop presence.
- Mouthfeel: Muted carbonation, thick, lingering bitterness.
- Overall: A fun beer, well priced for a specialty single, worth a trip down memory lane.
Poured into a Stone Ruination Pint glass. I know that pints are typically taboo for the most serious of craft beer nerds, but I prefer to serve a beer in a brewery-specific glass whenever possible, and as far as pints go – this one is pretty damn bad ass.
On the pour the beer quickly produces a huge head. From my own homebrewing experience, I’ll chalk that up to the usage of brown sugar – which can be difficult to control if it doesn’t ferment out completely before bottling. At 3 fingers it took a while to empty the entire bottle into my pint.
The foam cap is creamy and dense (what I often liken to a meringue). Lace is minimal, but does follow each sip on the inside half of the glass. The color I am comparing to is sarsaparilla and the beer showed some considerable chill haze which clear up rather well as the beer warms. Once clear, this brown ale takes on a bright garnet hue when held to the light.
The aroma is striking. From a distance, after popping the cap but before the pour I was already smelling the dark sugars of the molasses. In the glass, the beer is semi-sweet with aromas of snickerdoodle. Add in the fruity esters from the yeast and fruitcake isn’t entirely out of the question in the list of aromas one might discover. The hops are very bold in the taste, but take time and warmth to truly show their colors in the aroma. Once warm though, green leafy hops and pine bough present themselves.
After the first sip however, you won’t doubt the hop schedule again – very forceful hop flavors rush at you from the onset. Bitter pine and spruce flavors mingle with greener grassy notes. Very minimal white grapefruit pith character on the back end. The malt is not nearly as apparent as the bottle description might have you believe, but it is there. I imagine without the stronger darker malts this would be bitter enough to teeter on Double IPA territory perceptible IBUs. There’s some mild roast and a sweet breadiness.
The mouthfeel is fairly creamy with subdued carbonation. The green hop flavor lingers as does some residual bitterness. A tad sticky and coating on the palate.
Overall I liked this beer. TBA starts off unique, carries a large hop punch midway, and ends even better than it began if you can stand to wait long enough for it to warm. Priced reasonably ($2.99-3.99 for the single). Definitely worth a shot if you come across this fresh.