Epic Brewery continues to struggle to fill its coolers, but it's not for lack of effort.---
Last week, the brewery restocked its Cross Fever amber ale, and debuted its Pfeifferhorn lager. They also had the Sour Apple Saison remaining from the three Exponential Series releases that came out at the end of May -- at least, they did Friday night, when I stopped in at 10:15 on my home after a 13-hour workday.
As noted in the Drink article in this week's paper, Epic had a three-month supply that went out in a week. While some have questioned their business acumen, I say congratulations. After all, their other options were invest twice as much money only to sell half as much beer -- after all, it is a recession and people are looking to Milwaukee's Best or Keystone for their beer -- or delay opening for a couple of months to build better stock. I say, better to sell out now. Besides, the empty coolers are great PR, because people now want to see what the buzz is all about.
Another thing Epic is doing is selling beer in 22 oz. bottles and nothing else. For a lot of their beers, that makes sense. However, there are a few beers where they could bottle 6-packs of 12 oz. beers. Among those are the amber and lager.
The Cross Fever is a relatively unadventurous beer from Epic, a pretty standard amber ale that will please most people but not overwhelm anyone. It's like so many other ambers -- light hoppiness, average alcohol levels and minimal adjuncts that can ramp up the spice or the sweet. To be honest, it's probably not a beer I'll buy a lot of from Epic. Too many other ambers can be had for cheaper from local brewers, most notably Squatter's Organic Amber, or from national microbreweries like the Full Sail Amber from the state liquor monopoly. (To try a truly great amber, go to Red Tail Ale).
The Pfeifferhorn is another beer that would work well in smaller bottles, or even better, on tap. It's a lightly-hopped, crisp beer with spicy overtones that fade pretty quickly. The problem with serving this beer in 22 oz. bottles is that as the beer warms, the beer loses its crispness (as happens with many lagers). Out of a tap and served in a pilsner glass (to emphasize the spicy aromas) would, I suspect, actually be the best way to serve this beer. Still, it's a good lager, and shared with two people on a hot day, it would be a great beer after a long day of mucking about in the dirt (garden, for instance).
As for their Exponential Series beers -- which tend towards the experimental, bigger alcohol and pricier bottles -- I tried them each of couple of times over the past week. My take:
Brown Rice Ale: My first reaction was, "rice?" After all, that's an adjunct associated with cheap macros. But when I asked Epic owner David Cole, he said that the brown rice had many more enzymes than the rice used by macros and required a long protein rest to completely break down. What that means for the drinker is a surprisingly full-bodied beer. It's mildly hopped, but very nutty. The first beer it reminded me of was Newcastle, which is a little predictable but not a bad thing. Among the Exponential beers, it's cheaper, under $4 if I remember correctly, and one that I would definitely purchase again. It's a great pairing with barbecue, because it's flavor doesn't compete with spicy marinades or sauces. I wouldn't be surprised to see this become on of their Classic Series (which are stocked all of the time, and yes, I recognize the irony of that description).
Imperial Red Ale: I like Red Ales, although find they tend towards the Amber spectrum of the scale, where they're good but not great. That said, one of my favorite beers is St. Rogue Red, and every fall I look forward to Deschutes Cinder Cone seasonal. Epic's Imperial Red is a much better red than most, and Epic does a great job of taking advantage of the current darling of the hop world, Amarillo. It's an aromatic red, sweet without being overbearing. At 8 percent ABV, however, it's not a beer to take lightly. In fact, this is an example of beer that would probably be even better as a session beer at about 6 percent ABV. It could have the same hop profile with less sweetnees, making it the perfect beer for rainy summer (or fall) evenings.
Sour Apple Saison: This is not a beer to purchase casually. That's not to say it isn't good -- the one I split with a friend was quite tasty. And it is a refreshing beer for hot days, as the brewery claims. But ... it's not a beer I could drink more than one of in a sitting. The closest comparison is a really strong cheese. A few bites are incredible, but you wouldn't make a quesadilla and enjoy it. Ditto for the Saison. Strong, upfront bitterness, followed by a crisp, tart flavor. It's well-crafted, and probably the kind of beer that wins awards. Also, I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who really likes to experiment with their beer drinking, just as I would recommend a lambic. But it's not one I'd stock my fridge with or try to push on somebody who wasn't willing to try new things.