Imperial Red Ale
Do you feel that? The building giddiness in the soul of every local beer lover. The faint smell of hops and sweet wort in the air. My beer sense is tingling.
The most beloved eight days of the year, Beer Week is a time for celebrating Arizona's craft beers and trying out the ones we don't always see on tap in the Valley. (Full disclosure: Chow Bella is teaming up on a project with the Beer Week folks -- keep your eyes peeled.)
One of the visiting brews we'll see during Beer Week is Fireside Ale, and you'd do well to search it out while it's in town.
Fireside is simply the barrel-aged version of Lumberyard's Big Rapid Red, which -- bold statement ahead -- I think is the best beer made in the state.
Fruity-sweet and balanced with "a ridiculous amount of kettle hops and of course a supercharged dry hop," the lip-smacking brew won silver at the 2010 World Beer Cup and gold at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. Lumberyard's brewers got the bright idea to throw Big Rapid into bourbon barrels they procured from the Four Roses Distillery in Kentucky, and three months later, Fireside Ale was born.
Enjoyed in a tulip glass, Fireside flickers in hues of hazy amber and scarlet. A thin, fuzzy head of light tan provides a lid for the smoldering brew.
A hallmark of Big Rapid Red is a massively hoppy, resinous nose. Extended aging in the barrel has muted this a bit, and the beer's malts have taken over the aroma. Big hits of caramel and red apple are noticeable before fruity hops, orange peel and apricot. The barrels have been gentle here, offering just a hint of buttery bourbon and vanilla in the background.
In the mouth, the sugary, excitable body bursts with prickly carbonation. Buttery caramel and harsh bourbon are noticeable but not huge -- bitterness, however, is. Pithy grapefruit and orange peel demolish the tongue with nearly 100 IBUs of hop bite. Caramel and biscuits come through on the malty side, as does a big, fruity, sugary hit of candied orange. Though the brew's a little solvent and heavy on the booze, the bourbon flavor is nice, lending an oaky accent.
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If you're into bourbon-aged beers, you're in luck: more are on the way. Lumberyard head brewer Gene Almquist says they just bottled some barrel-aged porter, a batch of barleywine is currently picking up flavors inside the wood, and a barrel-aged double IPA may be on the way. Until then, you'll find Fireside on tap and in bottles at the Lumberyard brewpub in Flagstaff and at the Strong Beer Festival on February 18.
Food pairing suggestions:
Fireside is big, bitter behemoth -- match its intensity with something equally bold, such as a spicy beef chili. The peppers in the dish will interact with the hops in the brew while the beer's malt sweetness and subtle bourbon notes play off the sweet, savory meat.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer.