Thursday, May 19, 2011
Product Review: New Planet's Off Grid Pale Ale
In the world of bottled gluten-free beer, most breweries are one-trick ponies. They offer up a single gluten-free brew, and you can take it or leave it. (Think Redbridge. Or New Grist. Or Bard's.) Green's is an exception to that rule. And now, so is New Planet.
We've been following the brewery's evolution since it came on the scene a little less than two years ago. First we reviewed their Tread Lightly Ale, their inaugural beer and flagship brew. We updated that original post, then updated our opinion of New Planet's TLA yet again in a separate post when the brewery improved its recipe. Then came the 3R Raspberry Ale. Then came a blind gluten-free beer tasting that we hosted in which New Planet emerged as a leader.
Now, New Planet brings us Off Grid Pale Ale. I've been eagerly awaiting its release. Back when we still lived in Colorado (New Planet's home), I had been fortunate enough to taste a preliminary test batch of the beer and provide the brewery with some feedback. Since then, I've waited. The wait is over! (Thanks to New Planet, who sent a gratis sample pack...)
Before I launch into a specific review of the beer, let me say this: New Planet is giving American gluten-free beer drinkers genuine variety. Like so many gluten-free breweries, they started out with a light, refreshing ale. But New Planet has quickly moved in bold directions, offering truly unique brews that are quite different than anything else out there. It's one thing to praise variety in gluten-free brewing in terms of a choice between Redbridge or Bard's or New Grist or New Planet. But it's another to praise variety in gluten-free brewing when a single gluten-free brewery such as New Planet gives us a straightforward ale, a raspberry beer, and now a hop-forward pale ale.
Speaking of hop-forward... There are a lot of ways to classify beer. One way is to classify beers as grain-forward or hop-forward.
Grain-forward beers accentuate the flavors of the grains used to brew them. The lighter the beer, the less roasted the grains, the more that grain flavor is pure and unaltered. It's been a bit of a mystery to me why so many gluten-free breweries have gone this route, bringing us lightly hopped light ales and lagers. By definition, they're grain-forward beers. And since they've been brewed with different grains than traditional beer, it of course stands to reason that they'd in turn taste different than what we're expecting when we drink a beer.
On the other hand, hop-forward beers (not to mention fruit-infused beers and dark beers with roasted grains) accentuate other flavors, such as the hops (or the fruit, or the roasted-ness). Gluten-free breweries would do well to bring us more beers in this category. Hop-forward beers, like many of those coming out of the Pacific Northwest these days, make the differences between grain flavors more subtle, since other flavors - from the hops - are prominent. New Planet found success with this formula when they released their Raspberry Ale. They do it again with their Off Grid Pale Ale.
The beer has 5% alcohol by volume, and is brewed with sorghum and brown rice extracts, molasses, tapioca maltodextrin, caramel color, three types of hops, and yeast.
First, a word about ingredients. The molasses is a nice addition, in my opinion, to the sorghum and brown rice as the main fermentables in the beer. The maltrodextrin - a fairly common ingredient in home brewing - has likely been added to improve the beer's "mouth feel." The caramel color I don't care for. Beer is a multi-sensory experience... Taste. Smell. Texture (not just mouth feel, but the coarseness of the carbonation, the creaminess of the head of foam, etc.). And visual. I understand New Planet's desire to work with the visual component in adding caramel color, but I'd rather go without it, or see the color come from roasted grains and other ingredients (admittedly hard to do when you're brewing with sorghum and brown rice extracts...).
And finally, the actual review. The beer has a deep amber color. The first pint I poured had relatively poor head retention. A second pour - of a cold bottle of beer into a room-temperature pint glass - yielded a much better initial head, which lingered for about five minutes before fading as I drank the beer. It had good carbonation, and as expected, a very hoppy nose.
For taste, the beer has none of the cidery sweetness commonly associated with gluten-free beers that have sorghum as their main fermentable. A bitterness from the strong hop flavor is the star of this beer's show. Kelli felt that the beer had a very good aroma, but finished a bit too bitter for her taste. That said, she concluded that it's an excellent GF beer and a great addition to the spectrum. I also agree that the beer is just a touch too bitter. The balance is ever so slightly off. Hops can impart bitterness to a beer, or they can impart aromas to a beer. I'd like to see the bittering hops scaled back just a touch, and see the aroma hops increased by an equal amount. I think that change would yield a hop-forward beer with an even better flavor profile.
The bottom line, though, is that New Planet has brought us another strong offering in the gluten-free beer category. Both gluten-free and gluten-ous beer drinkers would enjoy the Off Grid Pale Ale's bitter, boldly-hopped flavors. If you're a gluten-free beer drinker, you owe it to yourself to get your hands on a bottle.