A Vertical Tasting of All Six Indy Brews

Our resident beer specialist, Mike Morris, has done an outstanding job of tracking Independence Brewing Co.'s slow but steady movement toward the Houston market over the last year or so. The Austin-based craft brewery now has all six of its offerings available on a local and consistent basis, and hopheads are rejoicing.

The highly hoppy Stash IPA was the first Indy brew that I ever tried, about a month ago, on my first visit to Moon Tower Inn. It was an auspicious visit for two reasons: I fell in love with the crisply bitter beer and its fierce, heady aroma of extremely high quality... er... something else that has a lot of hop to it. Ahem. And for the exquisite sausages that Moon Tower Inn is turning out on a nightly basis. The beer and the pheasant sausage were a match made in heaven.

Now that the beer is available in many H-E-Bs and Spec's stores -- as well as local watering holes like Onion Creek -- I decided to celebrate last night by attempting a vertical tasting of all six beers at home. Tasting notes are below.

A note of personal bias: I prefer really crispy, hoppy brews or -- on the other end of the spectrum -- really stout, creamy sweet brews. I'm not as huge a fan of anything in between.

Freestyle Wheat: It pours a light gold color and is only slightly hazy. Very little taste at all at first. Too carbonated. Once the carbonation dies down, only the slightest hint of citrus comes through. Like lemon. It's very boring. I don't like this very much, although it would be okay to drink on a hot day.

Stash IPA: I could sit and just smell this highly fragrant beer all evening. Intensely hoppy aroma like high quality Bubba Kush or White Widow. Pours a gorgeous dark orange color in the glass with a creamy head to follow. I like the way it gets lacy on the glass as it goes down, not as thick as, say, Boddington's. But nice. It's just barely sweet, too, thanks to the malt. Not too bitter, crisp yet robust. Mama likes. A lot.

Independence Pale Ale: An American pale ale, not to be confused with the IPA above. Not as hoppy as the Stash, rounded out with some sweetness and citrus notes and -- I love this term -- a "biscuity nose." There's no head here, though, which makes me sad. I like a good, creamy head on my pale ales. Overall, it's okay but not something I'd reach for again.

Austin Amber Ale: Pours into the glass with -- what else? -- a beautiful, amber-reddish hue but with very little head. It's almost timid, way too mild. Not crisp enough, not assertive enough, not memorable at all except for an underlying mineral taste. Tastes of caramel and malt otherwise, but not enough to make me care. Why so boring?

Bootlegger Brown: No, wait. This is boring. Very thin beer that has hints of chocolate and nuts along with the malt. Maybe a hint of caramel. But it's surprisingly one dimensional. Far too watered down to enjoy, although that could be because I'm not a fan of brown ales in particular. Needs to be more substantial and complex to capture my attention.

Convict Hill Oatmeal Stout: I LIKE THIS. A LOT. Wow. Pours very dark, almost black, into the glass. The consistency is thick and creamy, like the wonderful Goose Island oatmeal stout I had in Chicago. It's darkly sweet, with flavors like plum and cherry and chocolate and molasses tempered by a light touch of vanilla. Good God. I could drink this all night. And seeing as it's the last beer on the lineup, I think I will.

Reading back through Morris' interview with Indy's founder and brewmaster, Rob Cartwright, some of the issues I had with brews like the Freestyle Wheat and Bootlegger Brown make sense in the light of day. Morris found the two beers very light-bodied as well and asked Cartwright about it. The brewmaster's response was enlightening:

We call it the three-beer rule. You've got to be able to drink three of them and be like, "Holy shit, I've had three beers already." If you're in August that's hard to do. It's a challenge. I think local beer should be made specifically for the climate and the sensibilities of where you're at. Denver beer? I love it. But do I think, in August, Denver beer does well in Texas? No. Not at all.

Had I tried these six beers under different circumstances -- say, not on a rainy night snuggled into my pajamas while watching a zombie movie at home, and instead on a hot Texas patio in the summer -- I may have come to entirely different conclusions about the heavy Convict Hill that I loved so much. Or about the Freestyle Wheat, which I dismissed as too light and simple.

Cartwright emphasizes drinkability in all of his brews. And while I may have found some of them too un-complex for my tastes, I can't say that any of the six beers I tried wasn't wholly drinkable.

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