Beer: Untouchable Brewery: Speakeasy Ales and Lagers Style: American Pale Ale ABV: 5.4 percent
You'll often hear people waxing nostalgic about decades long past, wishing they could've been born in a different time. But nobody ever says they wish they were alive in the '20s. Know why? Prohibition. Thirteen long years (1920-33) of insufferable teetotalers getting their way, of marching steadily toward an economic depression without even one drink to ease your sorrows. Prohibition sucked, but it did give rise to a cool concept that lives on today: the speakeasy.
Named for the practice of speaking quietly when discussing -- or when inside -- an establishment illegally selling booze, speakeasies have re-emerged as an important part of cocktail culture. Along the way, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers has reemerged as an important player in craft beer culture.
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Speakeasy, a San Francisco-based brewery, has been making beer since 1997 and was available in Arizona until around 2009. But brewers say they couldn't keep up with demand, and so made the decision to pull out of our state (and 17 others) In order to better support the home market. The organic growth seems to be working better for the Prohibition Era-themed brewery -- increased sales have allowed the brewery to invest in new equipment that should increase production capacity to almost 50,000 barrels in 2014. This new stuff also seems to have improved the quality of the brews -- Prohibition Ale, Speakeasy's flagship American amber ale, grabbed a gold medal at this year's Great American Beer Festival. And Untouchable Pale Ale is even better.
First released in 2001, Untouchable's an American-style pale ale brewed with pale malt as well as English and U.S.-grown caramel malts and multiple additions of Nelson Sauvin, a delectable hop variety from New Zealand. It's named for the Untouchables, a group of 11 Feds who, from 1929 to 1931, battled Al Capone and other gangsters by aggressively enforcing Prohibition and tax laws. Their fearless, incorruptible conduct became legendary and earned them the nickname "Untouchable".
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As a beer, Untouchable is dark and arresting, shimmering in shades of copper like an unblemished penny. A dense, sticky head of tan froth sits atop like a spiderweb, ready to entrap flies -- or snitches. A dip to the nose reveals aromas of sweet white grapes with fungus on the sides, wet grass, dried lemon peel and a soft hint of sour green apple. Malt contributes notes of white crackers, but the nose is overall peppery and hop-focused. In the flavor, a mix of white grape and grapefruit pith pepper the tongue like a tommy gun before grass and red apple arrive to clean up the crime scene. Roses, lavender and pear juice linger along with a mild hop oiliness.
GABF gold medal aside, Speakeasy's portfolio is, overall, pretty forgettable. Untouchable is the best of the lot -- a bright, flavorful, drinkable ale worthy of being both touched and drank.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.