- Mike Riedel
Sometimes the labels we assign to beers' characteristics aren't always justified. Barrel-aged beers coax thoughts of boozy, chewy and thick flavors, while "hazy" IPAs conjure sweet, juicebox essences. This week's beers fight against stereotypes, and give you a little more to ponder about what you think you may know.
RoHa Brewing Project - Barrel Aged Porter: The pour looks fantastic—dark brown in color, with only the faintest touch of light shining through in the bottom, giving it a hint of a light red. A nice tan head comes creeping up the sides of the glass and settles down nicely into a big foamy top that stands guard for the rest of the session.
At first whiff, it smells like there are chunks of wood floating in here. That's obviously not the case, but whiskey-infused oak chips are definitely lighting up my nostrils. They impart a mellow, subtle vanilla and oak aroma, blending very well with the smooth coffee notes and roasted malts that are prevalent underneath it all.
The flavors are nicely done, and the more this beer warmed, the mellower and more sublime it became. Those vanilla and woody notes come through on the palate, as well as a subtle backlash of whiskey, all of which seem to be just perfectly placed. The creamy, rich, medium-bodied feel was just stunning, and really let the flavor pop; each sip was subtly sweeter than the one before. At 5.0 percent alcohol, it doesn't come across as terribly strong, and in fact really was quite session able.
Overall: I was simply amazed by how light and focused the flavors are here. It comes in a 32-oz. crowler, and I damn near finished the whole can by myself. It's nice to have a barrel beer that works even in the summer heat, and won't knock you on your ass.
Saltfire - Master Control Program: Named after Tron and Quinn's nemesis from the 1982 Disney film Tron, Master Control Program is nothing like its cinematic namesake. It is far more giving and approachable. I'd figured it was a "hazy" style, and it was; just look at the photo, and you can see that it looks like pure Tropicana. I believe we old farts call this "dank." Pungent floral and herbal/cannabis-redolent hop aromatics entice the nostrils, with subsidiary notes of vague fruit. I'd hardly call it "juicy," and it's not pulpy like many New England unfiltered IPAs, but boy, is it appealing. It suggests a brilliantly balanced IPA with a classic hop profile—hardly the hipster hop tropical fruit-forward IPA I anticipated.
Upon first glug, you'll notice no dragging hop bitterness getting past the fresh pale malt backbone. Though perceived bitterness is low, there's ample classic, floral hop flavor, with clean citrus and vague fruity hop flavors weaving in and out of the fruity ale yeast esters that complement them. The result is medium-bodied, well-carbonated, smooth, slightly dry yet refreshing, and approachable—not juicy (contrary to their stated intent) or oily, but who cares? This mouthfeel compliments the taste well, even if it doesn't elevate the beer as a whole, or accentuate specific notes.
Overall: It's rather drinkable and enjoyable at 7.1 percent ABV. I braced for a hyped-up haze, but I'm glad to say my fears were unwarranted; this is a delicious expression of the style with classic hop flavors and superb balance. There's room for improvement, sure—particularly in terms of hop pungency and expressiveness—but it's one hell of a refreshing IPA.
After its long COVID hiatus, RoHa Brewing Project is now open for patrons to stay and enjoy beers at the brewery. The small-batch Barrel Aged Porter is available to go in crowlers only. Master Control Program, meanwhile, is in 16-oz. cans at the brewery, but is also hitting bars and restaurants around Salt Lake County. As always, cheers!