About four weeks ago, I received the following email from Steve of Anderson Valley Brewing:
I recently came across your review of our Boont Amber as a follow up to a previous Summer Solstice review. I respect your point of view and understand that not everyone will like each of our handcrafted ales, but I also would love to have the benefit of the doubt that perhaps the product you had was past it’s freshness date. Would you allow us to send you some fresh samples of Boont, Hop Ottin IPA, and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout? By no means are we trying to sway your opinion or change your review; rather we’re continuing our commitment to providing the highest quality, freshest ales to our consumers. If you’re up to it, please send me your mailing address and I’ll send you some samples shortly. If not, no worries…
Here was our response:
I agree wholeheartedly that not all handcrafted ales are meant to be enjoyed by the masses. Additionally, freshness has been something of a concern of ours given the geographic complexity of shipping a quality product under the proper temperature controls the many miles to Southern New Jersey. So, as you have been kind enough to offer to send a variety of samples directly to us, we would welcome the opportunity to offer a review of each and determine once again that the West Coast continues to offer some of the best craft beers as well as reaffirm our belief that freshness (or lack there of) matters.
A week or two after we responded to Steve’s email, a package containing three cans of beer arrived at my doorstep. In order to preserve their freshness, I immediately put them in the back of my fridge and tried to arrange a tasting with the rest of the crew.
On Saturday, February 25th, Limpd, The Wookie, and I gathered in my dining room to give these beers a second chance.
Here are our results…
Beer #1: Anderson Valley Boont Amber Ale (5.8% ABV)
- Limpd: Clear amber color with tan foam and minimal lacing. Mostly sweet aromas, i.e. roasted malt, honey, and very little hoppiness. Lightly carbonated. Lots of sweet malt upfront with minimal hop bitterness. Clean, crisp finish. Overall, not the best Amber Ale, but still very drinkable and session worthy. Love the packaging!
- The Wookie: Copper color with a thin head. Smells like a beer. Good bit of sweetness on the nose. Very mild and sweet with a short finish. Rather unremarkable.
- G-LO: Clear amber color with minimal head and lacing. Light brown sugar sweetness on the nose with minimal hop aromas. Lightly carbonated with no bitterness whatsoever. Very light and easy drinking. Definitely fresh, but not very memorable.
Beer #2: Anderson Valley Hop Ottin IPA (7% ABV)
- Limpd: Clear amber color with nice foam and lacing. Lots of apricot and grapefruit aromas. The flavors are all citrus hop bitterness from beginning to end. Short bitter finish.
- The Wookie: Copper color with a generous head. Piney hop aroma. Much less hop flavor than expected from the aroma. Bitter and somewhat astringent finish.
- G-LO: Pale orange color with a half inch head that dissipates rapidly. Citrus hop aroma with a definite hint of honey sweet malts in the background. Medium carbonation. Much less bitter than the nose would suggest. Very mild for an IPA. Mild bitterness overall with a hint of malt sweetness. Mild, bitter finish. Alcohol is well hidden for a 7% ABV beer. Not as aggressively hopped as I would like, especially for a West Coast IPA. Overall, a very average IPA.
Beer #3: Anderson Valley Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout (5.8% ABV)
- Limpd: Black color with some thin, tan foam and nice lacing. Lovely roasted malt aromas, i.e. chocolate and coffee. Lightly carbonated with a bit of sweetness on the palate. Very smooth with a mild bitter finish. Definitely the best of the lineup.
- The Wookie: Dark chocolate brown color with a quickly dissipating head. Pipe tobacco and espresso aroma. Smooth and creamy mouthfeel. Lots of bitter chocolate flavor.
- G-LO: Dark brown color with ruby red at the edges when held up to the light. Rapidly dissipating quarter inch head. Bittersweet chocolate and French roast coffee aromas. Light and fizzy carbonation. Not as robust as the nose would suggest. Mellow, roasted malt flavors from beginning to end. Definitely the best of the three, but still not very special.
I think it’s safe to say that most of us blogger types do not set out to write a negative review. While we occasionally get a free sample from a retailer or distiller/brewer, this is not the norm. The vast majority of what we have reviewed over the past 23 months has been paid for with our own money. Why on earth would we hand over our own money to buy something that we think is going to suck?
While we didn’t enjoy the Boont Amber Ale the first time around, we had high hopes that the freshness factor was the true culprit for our initial dislike of this beer, and we truly hoped to enjoy it the second time around. Interestingly enough, when we received Steve’s initial email, we had a review of the Hop Ottin IPA in the queue, but decided to pull it since that would be the third negative review of an Anderson Valley beer. Since Steve was kind enough to send us some free samples, we figured we may as well hold off on our opinion until we tasted a fresh sample.
Of the three beers that we received from Anderson Valley, the only one that we truly enjoyed was the Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. While it’s not the best stout that we’ve ever tasted, it was definitely a well crafted and enjoyable beer that we wouldn’t mind having again. With regards to the Boont Amber Ale and the Hop Ottin IPA, although there was nothing specifically wrong with them, we just didn’t find them to be very interesting. They were definitely fresh, but they just didn’t have enough flavor when compared to other Amber Ales and IPAs that we’ve had. To be completely honest, my personal dislike for the Boont Amber Ale probably has more to do with my dislike of the style, rather than any problem with the actual beer, i.e. I think Amber Ales are generally boring.
A big thank you to Steve from Anderson Valley for sending us these samples. While we may not have enjoyed everything that he sent us, we have great respect for his commitment to delivering a good product.