Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: Steadfast Sorghum Pale Ale

I'd like to give a warm welcome to the newest member of the gluten-free commercial brewing world: Steadfast Brewing Co.  They're here to bring some craft GF beer to the East Coast, and I think they show a lot of promise.  They made a smart move and went straight to internet distribution of their product, so I was able to order a four-pack of their flagship Sorghum Pale Ale.  My review after the jump!

Look at that head!
Steadfast Sorghum Pale Ale:

Vital Stats:
ABV: 6.8%
IBUs: unknown (but it's definitely up there!)
Ingredients: sorghum, molasses, hops, water, yeast.

Tasting Notes:

Appearance: clear copper-tinged gold, no haze, gigantic frothy eggshell-colored head with excellent persistence, giving way an odd and irregular rocky lacing--the bubbles in the head are unusually large, and the lacing looks more like dishsoap suds than what you'd normally expect lacing to look like. 8 out of 10.

Aroma: sour and citrusy hops--more lemon than grapefruit--with a mild spiciness, coupled with a metallic and faintly sweet hint of molasses.  No esters, possibly some slight phenolic notes.  6 out of 10.

Flavor: powerful hop punch right up front--bitter and lemony with a slight hint of resin.  Quickly followed by some solvent notes, and a heavy metallic twang and familiar sorghum sourness.  For its potency, it is unexpectedly dry: there is no malty sweetness to speak of.  There is almost a saltiness to the flavor.  Some savory/cheesy notes that suggest old or excessively-oxidized hops.  The aftertaste is a slightly rough bitterness without much dimension.  6 out of 10.

Mouthfeel: highly carbonated.  Moderate to excessive hot alcohol feel.  Some astringency.  Moderate linger.  4 out of 10.

Overall: for a beer made entirely with sorghum and molasses, this is not bad.  The head retention is impressive, and it has a very nice appearance.  However, the hop character is stale, oxidized, and a bit one-dimensional, and the bitterness is not balanced by the malt at all.  The hot solvent/alcoholic feel and high carbonation make this beer feel very thin and hot on the tongue, and this seems to exaggerate the bitterness from the hops. I don't think they should be selling this as a pale ale; with its potency and bitterness, it is much closer to an IPA, if not a double IPA.  But for all its flaws, I'm glad to see another brewery trying to put out a gluten-free beer that will satiate hop heads.  Short of Harvester's IPAs, this is the hoppiest gluten-free beer on the market.  While I wouldn't go for this beer if Harvester was an option, I'd probably choose it over other gluten-free "pale ales" (not that that's saying much--their competitors really aren't trying very hard).  6 out of 10.

To improve this beer, I'd recommend dropping the molasses--it's NEVER a good partner for sorghum, as it enhances the metallic flavors--in favor of some candi syrup.  I'd also recommend lowering the carbonation a bit for a beer of this gravity.  Checking with the hop supplier about the freshness of the hops would be a prudent move, as these seem stale and/or oxidized to me.  Some maltodextrin would help out the body.  I'd also suggest using a yeast with a lower attenuation, fermenting at a lower temp, and/or maybe even lowering the OG to reduce the production of higher alcohols and to preserve some residual sweetness.  Also shifting the hop schedule to have more IBUs coming from late additions and fewer from early could help tame the excessive bitterness and boost hop flavor and aroma, which would make the beer a bit more sessionable.

Of course, these guys are still a very young brewery, and are probably still working out a lot of kinks.  Many of you will remember that my first review of Harvester was pretty harsh, but several months later I found their beers drastically improved.  I'm keeping my eye on these guys and I suggest you do the same; they've already brought a second beer, a blonde ale made with honey, and I look forward to trying that.  Rumor has it that they're coming out with a pumpkin ale and even a porter later this year, so I reckon this Sorghum Pale Ale is just them getting their foot in the door of the GF craft beer scene.

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