Vintage Brewing turned one year old this month, but brewmaster Scott Manning has already created a few traditions that help this west side brewpub live up to its name. Manning just released a beer that he says will become part of his annual ritual at the start of a new year. In December, he assesses what ingredients that remain from the previous brew year, and uses them to improvise a recipe he calls "Freestyle."
What is it? Freestyle 2011 from Vintage Brewing Company
Style: While this beer doesn't fit exactly within an industry-judged style, it's close to the medium-bodied Southern English Brown Ale, a style that emphasizes malty sweetness and a dark brown, nearly black color. The Southern is generally smoother and maltier than its drier and more hop-oriented Northern cousin. Both generally range in alcohol content from 4-5.5%.
Background: While you might get the impression that this is a "leftover," think again. It reflects the ingenuity of Manning and his ability to construct a beer with what he has on hand, much like a carver or sculptor might do with a block of wood or chunk of rock.
Freestyle, a beer name that Manning's snowboarding buddies much love, is a brew that is actually quite complex, with 14 malts and three English hops. The beer is remarkably well balanced with a smooth soft mouthfeel that is further accentuated on a nitrogen tap line. Freestyle sells for $4/pint. It finishes at about 5.5% ABV.
- Aroma: Light, but firm malty nose.
- Appearance: Dark, deep bronze color that is almost black, and a soft, tan head.
- Texture: Medium-bodied and very creamy.
- Taste: Smooth caramel and toffee (not burnt or roasted) flavor.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Hints of light caramel maltiness.
Glassware: The basic bar pint suit this beer nicely, because the wide mouth allows the soft creamy head to expand and linger.
Pairs well with: This is a great beer for the shepherd's pie or stroganoff from the Vintage menu.
Rating: Three Bottle Openers (out of four).
The Verdict: While this inaugural edition of Freestyle is a good beer, it is at its best as a companion to food, especially next to warm winter comfort dishes like stews and roasts. I don't see myself having more than one of these at the bar on its own. However, put it next to the brewpub's shepherd's pie and four openers barely do it justice. The firm malty underpinnings to this year's Freestyle intermingle with thick and rich flavors of the beef, vegetables and crispy mashed potatoes. Freestyle might be a little too "free" on its own, but next to food it's fine.