Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Barley Island Dirty Helen Brown Ale

Name: Dirty Helen
Brewery: Barley Island Brewing Company
Style: American Brown Ale
Brewed In: Noblesville, IN
Origin: USA
ABV: 4.3%
Serving Glass: Pint
OMG Beer Rating: 7.9

Barley Island, a brewery based in Noblesville, IN, entered the Chicago market some time in late 2009 and I remember reviewing their IPA, Barfly, which also appeared on tap in a few Chicago bars I frequent. Also enjoyed and reviewed their Beastie Barrel Porter, a bourbon barrel porter. When I got the chance to grab this off a shelf as I started the Underappreciated Styles series with brown ales, I had no idea that this beer also won gold at the 2009 Great American Beer Festival, in the American Brown Ale category.

Appearance: a ruddy brown with a thin tan head.

Aroma: sweetened milk chocolate, nuts. There's a slight fruitiness a lot of reviews describe as fruity esters (produced during ale fermentation, very common in belgian and english ales) but to me there's also a faint whiff of hops, perhaps something distinctly American.

Taste: powdered cocoa, toasted bread. A little bit more nuttiness would be nice. Hint of the same hop fruitiness buried in the backend.

Mouthfeel: Hops definitely balance out the sweetness of this beer, keeping it very drinkable. Ends just a touch sweet, but much more like the northern British brown ales than a lot of the other american browns I've tried. Good body (which most northern British browns like newcastle lack), but not dramatically heavy or syrupy. Not over carbonated.

Overall: This is a dark beer that is hardly "dark" in terms of beer stereotypes. Creaminess balances out with just enough carbonation and hop bitterness. The toasted bread and chocolate covered nut flavors common to brown ales is nice and subtle, and hops keep the beer from becoming a dark ale sweetness bomb (though this is still sweeter than any pale ale). I'd definitely drink this with a nice meaty lunch sandwich or a heavier meat stew. Or a fancy grilled cheese. Scratch that, french onion soup with a lot of cheese. It's interesting to see this end of the brown ale spectrum, with so many other examples being heavier and sweeter.

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