More recently, in April 2010, many of you read my "Shifting Sands" post about how I re-evaluated my opinion of many popular gluten-free beers (such as RedBridge and New Planet) in the wake of tasting some exceptional microbrewed gluten-free beer at the Alchemist in Vermont. This time around, I was more critical of brews such as New Planet. Central to my critique was its overly sweet apple-and-citrus nose and flavor. I also noted its relatively poor head retention (a critique common to many gluten-free beers, including my own home brew).
In the wake of that post, I was pleasantly surprised when the friendly folks at New Planet reached out to me. They acknowledged my criticisms, and to New Planet's great credit, they said they were working on it. It's not the first time this has happened. Back in the early days of NGNP, I reviewed Shabtai Gourmet, a Kosher, gluten-free bakery in NY. There were some things I liked about the bakery, including their rainbow cookies, but I also came down pretty heavy on them for their use of transfats and hydrogenated oils and shortening. In response, the company began phasing out their use in some of their recipes. I don't pretend to be so self-important that I think NGNP was the only reason for the change. But I like to think we nudged them in a positive direction.
Often, when companies respond in this way, it benefits the consumer and the company alike. In the case of eliminating transfats, consumers get a healthier product. But more often, the improvement is in taste, and that benefits both the consumer and the company, which experiences greater sales as the result of an improved product. I believe that the coming months will show New Planet to be just such a company - one who's sales will increase at the same time that we, the consumer, get to drink a better tasting beer.
To wit, in the last few weeks, I had the opportunity to taste a re-formulated recipe for the Tread Lightly Ale, courtesy of New Planet. Right off the bat, the beer had slightly improved head retention. But to the more important point of its nose and flavor, there was a notable change and improvement. The cider flavor about which I complained was largely gone. The beer remains a little on the sweet side, but overall, it's a very nice pale ale. They've very successfully rounded out the flavors resulting in a well-balanced beer. To be frank, I was almost shocked - in a very positive way - by the marked change. I concluded my tasting notes with a single word: "Impressed."
It's good timing for New Planet. The newly improved TLA debuts just as New Planet makes some big announcements: state-wide distribution throughout Colorado, a new slick website, the beer getting picked up by Old Chicago restaurants in the state, and a soon-to-be-released summer seasonal.
The new summer seasonal is called the 3R Raspberry Ale. Like the TLA, it's made with sorghum, corn, orange peel, hops and yeast, plus the addition of raspberry puree from fruit grown in Oregon. I had the chance to sample several versions of the ale while it was in development, and give my feedback to New Planet. I haven't tasted the final version that will be bottled for public consumption, but if it resembles anything like the test versions I tried, gluten-free beer drinkers will have much to rejoice this summer. Since I tasted "in-house" test batches not meant for the public, I won't share my tasting notes here. That wouldn't be fair to New Planet. I'll reserve an official review of the Raspberry Ale for when it hits store shelves. But I will say this - in my opinion, the 3R Raspberry Ale may be one of the most exciting bottled gluten-free beers out there; something that really sets NP apart from the likes of RedBridge, New Grist, Bard's and company. I'll drink to that...