Saturday, March 17, 2012

019. Let's go to the (Shiner) Hop with Wild Hare

It's time to dive into a cool (not frosted) glass of the Spoetzl Brewery's latest annual offering: Shiner Wild Hare. This is Shiner's first pale ale, and even as someone who prefers to keep to the dark side, this is a pretty good way to fill a glass.

The first thing that hit me was, of course, the aroma of hops. Shiner isn't known for having very hoppy beers, which is one of the reasons I love most of what they do (I like hops, but I don't like to be slapped in the face with them -- for me, there must be a balance with the malt or it's just a bitter mess trying to take my tongue hostage). I'm guessing the inclusion of stronger hops is why they named this particular brew after a rabbit.

Once I poured it, I liked the color. Mostly golden with hints of brown and even a slight hint of red, depending on the light (I was grilling steak while I was drinking this, and I must say the aromas of fire-kissed sirloin, my special beer-based marinade and Shiner Wild Hare made for a heady bouquet). It's also possible that the fire contributed to the hint of red, as I've only noticed that color twice since finishing off this six pack.

While I was outside grilling, I set the beer down in front of my flashlight (the back porch grill light had burned out and I haven't gotten a replacement bulb). I don't think it does justice to the color, but what the heck. How often do you have a Close Encounter of the Beer Kind? Someone cue the X-Files theme, please...

After tasting the beer and making my notes, I went out to read what others said about this beer and was surprised to see several comments about it having a big head and strong carbonation. That was not my experience. I always do a conservative pour: Glass at 45-degree angle for about 80% of the pour then top it off with an aggressive splash at the end to raise the head. This got me a very mediocre head (see my photo below). In spite of this weak head, I found the lace to be better than expected, and the bubbles -- although small -- continued to rise for quite a while.

TEMPERATURE: My first sip was very tart and the hops were overly pronounced (if you like hops, then it's probably just right). The malt was there as an undertaste, but I didn't care for it. The basic flavor was good, but it's just that those hops were, well... hopping around on my tongue. When I took its temperature, the beer was around 42 degrees. While tending to the steaks, it gradually warmed and I found that the hops rapidly mellowed to something more palatable. At a coolish 63 degrees, I found the fruity currents to rise to the top and, somehow, bring back out the tartness of the hops. For me, the magic zone is between 45-50 degrees because it yields the most balanced flavor.

I think this beer is best at around 54 degrees. It's still nice and cold (perfect for grilling a steak to perfection) and the hops and the malt come into a better balance. I also became aware of the hint of citrus that other reviewers mentioned. For instance, Nicholas L. Hall of the Houston Press writes:

"After that initial surge, Wild Hare is well-balanced between biscuity malt and dried tropical fruit hops. For all its balance, though, nothing really comes forward. It's almost like it's perfectly balanced so as to be perfectly inoffensive. Neither the hops nor the malt is particularly prominent or flavorful, almost canceling each other out in their attempt to get along. Ultimately, the beer seems to be trying so hard to be broadly appealing that it ends up not having much to set it apart."
As someone who prefers malt to hops, I like the balance. But I do have to agree that it's probably too balanced for most people and it doesn't seem like something that I would go out of my way to get (not like the Christmas season back in 1998 when I drove 40 miles round trip to a Spec's that still had two cases of the Shiner 98 in stock -- thank heavens they added that brew to their permanent line up as Shiner Black).

Thoughts from the bottom of the glass
Color: Golden with a faint hint of red
Aroma: Hops balanced with malt
Taste: Light, bright, a nice balance of hops, malt and a hint of citrus
Hops: Present and pleasant around 55-degrees F
Head: Confused. One pour was almost flat looking, yet an aggressive pour yielded a huge head that quickly popped away
Lace: Thicker than expected considering how light it is
Carbonation: Medium-sized bubbles, but they last a long time
My rating: 7.5 out of 10

By the way: The Website is hilarious! It has a series of "educational films" that look like 1960s Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom episodes. You should really mosey over there to enjoy them (or hunt for them on YouTube like I did so I could embed it here).

There are several films in this series, and I highly recommend watching them all.

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