When I think about golden barley goodness, a crisp beer enjoyed during a baseball game, or a tasty brew enjoyed after a long day of slow smoking pork shoulders, my mind goes immediately to Napa Valley.
OK, so these are actually the first beers I've ever had from Napa, but it does cause a little cognitive dissonance like seeing a wine from Milwaukee or St. Louis. Napa Smith Brewery makes about a dozen different beers in styles that should be recognizable to fans of brew pubs and craft breweries: porters, pale ales, pilseners, etc. About half of them fall into the big beer category, a vague definition that varies by state. In general it means a higher alcohol level, somewhere above 7% and often sold alongside wines and spirits rather than with the regular 3-4% beers.
Thanks to United Liquors and Natalie's Liquor Warehouse for this chance to try these two. This is the first "big beer" carried by United, and if you drop by Natalie's tell 'em I sent you. No special deals or discounts, but I always like for readers to let retailers know where they heard about something.
Napa Smith Lost Dog Red Ale
$2.50/12 oz. bottle, 7.2% abv.
Nice sweetish aroma, bright flavor with just a touch of bitterness and a toasty finish. A red ale is just lighter than a dark ale, and derives a lot of its flavor from the malts. That's where the slightly sweet aroma comes from, but the beer itself is not sweet. This one is begging for some steamed bratwurst and sauerkraut.
Napa Smith Organic IPA
$2.50/12 oz. bottle, 7.1% abv.
Strongly bitter with orange peel and a touch of spice. There's a nice little pine aroma which gives the whole thing a very Christmasy profile. Because it's so aromatic, this is more of what I would consider an after-dinner beer to be enjoyed like a Port or Amaro.
There are different subcategories of big beers. There are the traditional Belgians, barleywines, and other beers that have always hit the higher alcohol levels. There are the insanely creative beers that come from places like Dogfish Head that use ingredients like pumpkin, raisins, honey, grapes, etc. as well as special techniques and processes. And then there are those that are higher octane versions of classic ales and lagers. These two fall into the last category, and again, the Napa Smith products remind me a lot of the kind of handcrafted beers that you get from brewpubs, which generally don't go for gimmicks.
Note: These bottles were received as samples.