Every Wednesday, from roughly 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., Delmar Loop institution Cicero's hosts beer school. As part of a semi-regular account of the beer sampling and sudsy knowledge gained, RFT editorial fellow Matt Kasper will write about the beer he tastes and the people who present it.
The semester is almost over. After twelve weeks of note-taking, studying and balancing driving with imbibing, Beer School has come to a close. Graduation is next week. Lots of prizes and treats are promised...I'll try not to cry.
Last night we sampled four brews from the Left Hand Brewing Company based in Longmont, Colorado. Read more about these "phenomenally balanced" brews, as sales manager Mike Walters describes them, after the jump.
Yeah, balance is a good word for it. Left Hand enjoys being different: The company only recently agreed to release an India Pale Ale after getting slammed in Beer Advocate. But Left Hand's beers stand out for mixing the bizarre with the expected, sudsy magic that is nonetheless more ace-up the-sleeve than miraculous.
The first beer we tried, JuJu Ginger, is a good example. At 4.38 percent ABV, the beer is definitely on the lighter side. And, as the title suggests, it is brewed with organic ginger. The ginger kick is not as hard as you might guess. As Walters put it, "It's not as strong in the taste, it's more in the aroma."
Stocking barrels of the stuff at beer festivals is not easy, he says. "Everybody goes crazy for it."
I didn't go crazy for it, but I can understand how it fits the bill as a good session beer.
The second beer, Sawtooth Ale, was more to my liking. A smooth amber ale, which includes a nice balance of malt and hops, it's Left Hand's flagship beer. Walters noted that it was named the best extra special bitter in the world in a contest sponsored by the New York Times.
At 4.48 percent ABV, Walters says, "It has a nice nose on it. There's more of a bittery hop."
I generally like more hops, but the beer did go down in a good way. It's also their best seller.
My favorite was the Milk Stout. It tastes refreshing the way milk can be refreshing, but with a slightly sour twist. It's not actually mixed with milk though. The trick, Walters said, is adding milk sugars. At 5.25 percent A.B.V., it also includes chocolate hops, one of the seven total hops used, and seven different malts.
"This put us on the map, it was an instant hit," Walters noted, adding that it usually ends up just behind Sawtooth in terms of popularity. It also apparently goes great with ice cream.
I expected to like the last beer of the night, the Twin Sisters Double IPA, the most. A well-hopped, balanced beer, with a 9.6 ABV.
Walters describes it as "one of those enamel-stripping IPAs you gotta love."
Hmm.... It didn't taste as strong as beers I'd sampled previous weeks, like Arcadia's Hopmouth and Bear Republic's Hop Rod Rye. The beer is named after a Colorado mountain range near the brewery: a picturesque location for a thirsty traveler.