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Brew Blog: Bard's Original Sorghum Malt Beer

Yes, there's an elephant in this picture. No, it doesn't mean anything. I have kids, remember?
Yes, there's an elephant in this picture. No, it doesn't mean anything. I have kids, remember?

I really wanted to like this beer. No, I don't have Celiac disease, or any other form of gluten intolerance. I did, however, recommend it to someone who does. I suppose I should have known better than to recommend a beer I'd never tried, though I'll qualify the statement outright, by saying that I didn't so much recommend it as point it out. Over the years, I've tried a few Gluten Free beers, always by accident, but had never heard of Bard's. When I happened to glance down and spy a sixer on a shelf at Spec's downtown, I immediately thought of someone who might want to know.

Carol Blymire -- I've written about her admiringly before -- is a cook, writer, and Celiac sufferer. She makes frequent mention of her struggles with the disease, and her joyous triumphs over it, on her blog Alinea At Home, and recently started a Celiac-focused outlet called Gluten For Punishment. She's a joy to read and a joy to know, and an almost endlessly cheerful advocate for better eating for Celiac sufferers.

Shortly before I ran across Bard's, Carol had been lamenting the lack of a really good GF beer for post-lawn-mowing enjoyment. When I saw Bard's, I felt obligated to point her in that direction. She loved it. So much so that she wrote about it on Gluten For Punishment. That reminded me that I had not in fact tried the beer, and I determined to remedy that.

I picked up a six pack last Monday, and gave it a try a few days ago. I don't know that I'll be trying it again. Part of the problem, frankly, is that it just doesn't taste like beer. I would like to believe that this is mostly a matter of association, and I could learn to appreciate this beer on its own merits, regardless of its lack of beer-ness, but I'm not convinced that's it. There are plenty of styles of beer - lambic, geuze, some saisons - that don't really fit my sort of platonic idealized notion of beer-ness, yet are still wonderful. This brew just falls short.

A tawny gold color, the most vigorous of pours only creates a low-slung, thinly fluffy head, which recedes quickly into a dish-soap-sudsy cap. As you tilt the glass upward, it looks as if there's going to be significant lacing, the beer spiderwebbing along the glass, but it's just a tease. The legs rush back into the body like a frightened turtle. The flimsy look is a portent for an extremely thin feeling in the mouth, almost like you're not actually drinking anything.

The smell is very queer, coming on a bit rummy, with an odd undercurrent of rotting fruit; not wholly unpleasant, yet vaguely disconcerting. I'm not entirely sure why it comes across as such an odd aroma, and there's a component that I just can't pin down, tugging irritatingly at the edges of my sense memory. Whatever it is, it's not a very good memory.

The taste repeats the aroma, though the fruit takes a back seat to some odd, almost briny notes, like green olives drenched in brown sugar. Sassafras, various dusky and grainy elements, and an oddly acrid tug vie for attention up front. In the middle, phenolic wannabes come up to the plate, tasting scorched and chemical. I didn't make the association until my little brother announced it, but it was almost the exact taste of the smell of burning action figures, a rough and strident flavor that propelled me back to South Bend, Indiana, 1989, the face melting off of a charred Man-O-War lying in the gravel behind my parent's house. Ahh, the good old days. The finish leaves me with the dry, dusty notion of aging library books, or some old and forgotten house, quietly succumbing to the earth.

Of course, I come at this from the position of someone free to drink any beer I damn well please. Well, any beer the esteemed TABC deems fit for Lone Star distribution, anyway. After running through most of the bottle, finding all of the flaws, I decided to try as hard as possible to distance myself from that. I tried to imagine not having tasted "real" beer in years, likely never to do so again. I tried to imagine coming in from mowing the lawn, grass clippings sweat-stuck to my legs and arms, hoping to bask in the refreshing, re-humanizing effects of something cold, tasty, and alcoholic. With that in mind, and with a swift and innocent sip, the beer's not so bad. It's still not good, but it's not so bad.



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