Bell's Amber Ale
There have been rumors of a world-wide explosion in craft beer making. I'm not convinced the rest of the world even needs an explosion of this type. Many countries are somehow able to produce quality beer without needing a rash of expensive micros to remind their citizens what real beer actually tastes like. But, here in the land of WaterbeerLite, this is welcome news. Unfortunately, just because a brew is considered a craft beer doesn't necessarily mean it's good. Many of these craft brewers will throw anything, including the kitchen sink, into these beers to make them stand out. They slap silly names on the label, and care less about what it tastes like, as long as it tastes different. You may even eventually find one that you like, only to never see it produced again. Some of these crafty brewers are even maliciously hyping reviews of very limited production runs, and auctioning the few bottles at outrageous prices to the gullible masses willing to believe pure propaganda.
Then, there's Bell's Amber Ale -- a true and proper craft beer.
Note the non-stupid name. That's usually a good sign these days. There's no need for cuteness; just let the beer speak for itself. Starting out as a home brewing supply store, this little Comstock, Mich., brewery has grown into a reputable brewer of flavorful beer, and now supplies most of the Midwest with 20 or so beers, available at one time or another throughout the year. I can't vouch for all of them yet but, if the amber ale is anything to go by, they deserve some attention.
Poured into a pint glass, this ale looks like apple cider. Copper colored, cloudy with yeast, and just a small off-white head that's gone in a flash. It looks comfortable and unpretentious. The aroma is faint, but you can detect some sweetness from the malts, and maybe a bit of grain under that from the hops. The flavor is exactly turned around. The sweetness ducks well under the dry hops, and there is a little citrus bite on top of that. The tiny bit of sweetness tries to even things out, but the overall feel is sharp and crisp. There is also quite a bit of carbonation to further the effect -- much more than I expected from a hazy, nearly headless ale. The alcohol is a moderate 5.8 percent, and the body ticks in at just a notch above light. Maybe not ideal session beers, but they are easy drinking and you'll want at least a couple.
Like many amber ales, Bell's is an excellent dinner beer. It'll go very well with most meats and sharp cheeses. A perfect accompaniment to everything that's slathered in barbecue sauce. I'd have it with just about anything except dessert (unless that's barbecued, as well). It's also one of those rare all-weather ales. It has plenty of thirst-quenching dry hops for the warm days of summer, but also has enough substance to fill in for the heavier winter beers. It's one of the handful that Bell's produces year 'round.
I've heard things about a few of Bell's other offerings. Word is Bell's beer is generally heavily flavored, hopped, and/or sweetened, which I experienced for myself when I reviewed Bell's Hopslam a few weeks back. Even the brewery admits that they aren't for the flavor impaired masses. I can say that their flagship beer is just about everything that is right about a craft brewed amber ale. This is a Bell's without the whistles. They've kept the silliness out and have brewed up a nice, easy drinking beer. It has enough hopped-up flavor to scare away the WaterbeerLite crowd, but it is nowhere near the top, let alone over it.
Bell's Amber Ale would even make a very respectable everyday beer, except for the craft beer pricetag. At nearly $10 for a six pack, you'll almost be paying “special occasion beer” prices for what isn't really a special occasion beer. The beauty of this ale is that it is just a very good amber ale. For me, I can make an excellent Belgian my everyday beer at that price. I think its niche is a sometime dinner beer that could also fill in the gaps when the mood calls for something different. This beer is a treat when the other lamely named micros, stuffed with the off-the-wall flavor of the day, begin to grate on the nerves and just a bit of humble quality is needed.