It was the artful label that drew us to Le Freak, an "extreme ale" from California's Green Flash Brewing Co.
But it was even harder to pass up when we read the description: "converging San Diego-style imperial pale ale and Belgian-style trippel." This certainly went a step beyond a black and tan, which we'd ordered tipsy at The Harp the week before.
In the mood for a high-alcohol (9.2 percent) experiment, we took it home. The most non-threatening way to spin this beer is to say that it's a Belgian beer with hops supplying the bitter flavors rather than the bitter/sour/sweet esters associated with Belgians. But that's not the full story.
The pale ale flavors show up first, the hops packing a punch with some sweet sneaking up to tap you on the shoulder when you're not paying attention, often well after the sip has been swallowed.
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During the gulp, however, the flavors fight out an entertaining horse race, with the bitter fading back a bit and letting fruity flavors take the lead, then surging back to tie in a photo finish as each sip hits the throat.
Not even warm in the bottom of the glass is this a malty beer, however. The bitter and a bit of sour unquestionably show up most, though they're often tinted by a bit of fruity Belgian flavor.
Saying this beer is "balanced" doesn't really do it justice. It's a pale ale with a fruity tinge, and it's a Belgian whose bitters have been usurped by hops. Both are true.
It's always smooth, never too sharp, and gets smoother, fuller, as it warms. The Le Freak was an interesting experiment every adventurous beer drinker should experience. We'd be remiss not to recommend it.