Burning River is the 14th-best beer?
Some publication called "Men’s Journal" has recently named Great Lakes Brewery’s Burning River Pale Ale the 14th best beer in America. There are so many awards for beer, and best-of lists, that practically every beer brewed turns up on one or another at some point. I’d never heard of this prestigious magazine before (nor many of the other beers on their list), but their panel of experts seem to know beer. Burning River would make my list somewhere. Probably several notches higher, but why quibble?
It’s hard not to like Burning River. That’s true of every beer Great Lakes offers. I like them all to some degree. There’s one for practically any occasion. But, of the beers they offer all year round, Burning River is generally my favorite. That said, I still don’t reach for it as often as might be expected.
It looks like a classic pale ale. A clear, deep gold with a creamy head that tends to fade quicker than you’d expect -- long before the pint is finished. It smells of citrus and pine trees.
It actually tastes more like a classic IPA. There’s a mouthful of hops that gives the beer its pronounced citrus bite. Great Lakes always manages to balance the flavors of their beers, and this one is no exception. There is some sweet malt that comes out more as it warms, but it’s those hops that stand out. The 6% alcohol also adds a tang on the tongue and a bit of heat on the way down. The finish is clean and dry, though, making it a very drinkable beer. So, there is a decent wash of interesting tastes here, but it’s the pine and grapefruit flavors from the Cascade hops that you’ll remember between sips.
This is a beer I love to eat with. Probably because I love red meat, and this is definitely a red meat kind of beer. Nothing I can think of stands up to a big slab of steak so well.
The thing is, that’s about the only time I do drink Burning River. Great Lakes beers aren’t made for chugging. They’re made to savor and enjoy in moderation. They tend to have just enough body to them that they become filling after only a couple. Burning River is like that. It’s not a beer to sit in the pub and pound all day, and its not the best thirst quencher. You might want to keep a six pack in the fridge and pull one or two out when you want to nurse a good quality ale. You’ll definitely want one every time you need to wash down a t-bone.
For me, Burning River inexplicably falls into one of those weird spots that seem to defy reason. I can’t think of anything really wrong with the beer. I love pale ales. It’s available everywhere I look. It’s flavorful and complex. When people ask me about my favorites, it’s among the first beers I mention. It has all those things going for it, but I still tend to pass it by more often than not. Maybe it goes for those fruity hops just a little more than I am usually thirsting for, and it’s not a great beer to session. It’s certainly one of the best beers in America, but when I want a great beer, something else usually springs to mind. Maybe that magazine has it about right, but I still think it would make my top 10 if I bothered to sit down and think about a list. There’s no good reason I don’t drink this more often than I do. It may not be an everyday beer, but if you want a taste of the best America has to offer, this is one of them.