Friday, March 23

Homebrew IV: Peter's Wicked Ale

When I first began to cultivate a taste for what are now called "craft" brews, Pete's Wicked was a brand to be reckoned with -- not only because they made decent beer, but more importantly, because they seemed ubiquitous: every store, bar, or restaurant that made an effort at having something "dark" on tap had either Pete's or Sam Adams. The actual shade of the beer didn't matter -- it was a step above Killian's, and thus was more beer than most patrons wanted to tackle. That sufficed to define it as dark.

I haven't had, or even seen, Pete's Wicked Ale in some time, and I recently discovered the reason: rapidly declining sales put it out of business a year ago. But the fact that it was started by a couple of California homebrewers (I had heard Minnesota and Wisconsin, but apparently not) and the fact that, with Sam Adams, Anchor, and Bell's, Pete's is credited with helping to kick off the craft brew revolution, warrant a clone kit at Midwest Supplies, dubbed Peter's Wicked Ale. This was what I brewed in February.

Two mishaps occurred in the process -- one completely minor, and one potentially major. On the minor end, I forgot altogether to take hydrometer readings, so I have no idea about the alcohol content of the brew. The potentially major issue stemmed from the fact that be brewed at a new location and that none of the brewers present had a wort chiller. I was the first ready to cool, and attempted to use a snow bank, which took probably an hour and a half -- plenty of time to introduce bacteria or other contaminants to the brew.

Fortunately, the flavor as I transferred from primary to secondary was promising, and the flavor at bottling even more so. After two weeks in the bottle, I opened two lukewarm bottles to instant eruptions of foam, but after deep chilling, three subsequent bottles have opened and poured perfectly.

Brown ales are always not the most exciting of brews; many seem to me to fall somewhere between solid and inoffensive (if not particularly memorable) to overly ___________ (insert a relevant adjective from the label: if it's a Nut Brown, then "nutty," if it's a Maple Brown, then "syrupy sweet"). It's been so long since I enjoyed Pete's Wicked -- and I do recall enjoying it -- that I had to dust off Bob Klein's Beer Lover's Rating Guide and see what he had to say back in the day:

"Lovely burnt caramel taste with fizziness; emerging sweetness as ale warms...not as thick and full-bodied as it could be, but still welcoming with its blend of warmth, fruitiness, and smoothness..."

Klein says a great deal more, especially with regard to specific food pairings, but this excerpt suffices for comparison's sake, since this is a clone kit (and since my palate is not nearly so refined). My version tastes to me a little less of burnt caramel and a little more of almonds and sweet whole grain bread; the head is substantial, but short-lived, leaving just a trace of Brussels lace that tracks slowly down the glass. It is, in fact, a bit sweeter as it warms, but is never overwhelming or cloying -- "not as thick or full-bodied as it could be," but it's certainly smooth and it drinks easily.

This is not a beer to knock your socks off, but it is, in my opinion, a big step above "solid and inoffensive" -- this is good brown ale!

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