Long before I moved to Long Island and discovered an unwavering passion for all things wine, I was a beer-drinking fraternity boy, but not exactly like the rest of my brothers. While they were swilling the cheapest, coldest beer they could find in cans, I was the guy who would buy a different kind of beer almost every weekend, including any import or microbrew I could get my hands on in my college town in rural northwestern Pennsylvania.
Back then, if I did drink wine, it was likely a cheap, flabby Chardonnay, most often from Australia, with enough sweetness to please my then-unrefined palate. Of course we also drank our share of Mad Dog and Thunderbird, too. We were kids, and we didn’t know any better.
I still drink beer regularly – at ball parks, after my weekly softball games or at parties when the wine is awful. More often than not, I drink light beer these days to bring some control to my caloric intake. There’s still nothing better on a hot, humid summer day than an ice cold beer that you can chug down in a few minutes. But it’s been a long time since I really thought about the beer I was drinking.
So, when given the opportunity to review a few of the many beers and ales produced by the Southampton Publick House. I was admittedly a little nervous. I mean, I can recognize black cherry and earthy character in a fine pinot noir, but did I have the senses (and vocabulary) to review beers?
The answer is a resounding yes. Years of scrutinizing each and every sip of wine has honed my sense to the point that it apparently doesn’t matter what’s put in front of me. I can find the nuances. I was surprised……but happily so.
The Southampton Publick House Secret Ale is a dark, rich amber in the glass, with a dense, creamy and long-lasting head. A malty, slightly sweet nose gives way to a creamy, medium-bodied ale that features a hoppy finish that lingers. While many American-made brews feature carbonation levels found in Champagne, this Altbier-style brew is only slightly fizzy, making it less refreshing but great for savoring, especially with German cuisine.
Much darker, an almost-black brown actually, the Southampton Publick House Imperial Porter had a slightly bitter nose of dark chocolate and espresso. The first sip reminds me of a Skor bar – toffee, chocolate – with a cup of dark, slightly bitter coffee. This is an even richer pour, made in an “Imperial, Baltic style.” Again, this one isn’t overly-fizzy, and that’s a good thing. I really enjoyed the beginning and mid-palate, but it faded a bit quickly for my tastes.
My favorite of the tasting, the Southampton Publick House Double White Ale, looks like any white or wheat beer should look – cloudy and lightly golden. Even if you didn’t know that it was brewed with spices and orange peel, it’s obvious the moment your nose approaches the glass, with mandarin oranges accenting yeasty, bready aromas. It’s slightly fuller bodied than I expected but reminiscent of other Belgian-style ales I’ve tasted in the past. In lieu of a lemon slice, a traditional addition to wheat beer, I tried a slice of lime with good results. This is a terrific summer sipper, even if it’s not quite as complex as some other ales of its ilk.
Lastly, I sampled the Southampton Publick House Belgian Style Grand Cru Strong Ale. Almost without any froth or head at all, it’s cloudy like the white ale, but it’s a much darker, almost bronze color. It has the highest alcohol of the beers I tried, weighing in at 9.5 percent abv (alcohol by volume), still less than most wine, but the nose is sweet with nectarine juice and sweet apple cider aromas. On the palate, the alcohol level is evident, but the juicy, cidery character is there, too. This was probably my least favorite of the lot, but I think I’d be tempted to serve this with aged cheddar cheese.
The Southampton Publick House sells its products in more than 40 specialty beer bars and restaurants throughout Long Island and New York City. Keep an eye out for a new Imperial Pale Ale (IPA) in mid-September.
(This column appeard in the 8/12/05 issue of Dan's Papers)