The first thing I noticed about this beer was the smell. It was in the backseat of my car, packed in a box alongside a bunch of other bottles I'd picked up at the Whip-In in Austin. I started noticing it about the time I hit Elgin. It smelled a bit like what happened when one of my daughters got sick in the car and we couldn't find it all. Every time the interior of that car got above 80 degrees...
I didn't figure out the true source until well after I'd gotten home. It nagged at me, but I couldn't figure it out. It grew more alarming when, after stashing all my bottles in the fridge, I noticed that my hands had taken on a similar funk.
When I decided to open the bottle a few weeks later, I'd forgotten entirely about the smell. When I cracked the bottle's wax seal and popped the top, the smell came rushing back. I was temporarily alarmed, the memory of the stink not yet having triggered. I thought it was the beer. I poured and took a cautious sniff. Nothing. I smelled the bottle. Stink. I read the little booklet attached to the neck of the bottle. It all made sense. That was some funky wax.
Small Batch No. 1 is an oak-aged version of Ranger Creek's first-anniversary Oatmeal Pale Ale, with a hefty dose of rye added for good measure. It pours a bright copper-orange color, producing a moderate, tannish head. It fades fast, but leaves significant lacing down the glass.
The aroma comes on thick and dark, a bit like those little crust-less rye loaves that people use for pseudo-fancy finger sandwiches. There's a ton of citrus that bleeds into tropical fruit aromas, a bit of spice and a slightly astringent note. There's something almost medicinal and slightly funky lingering in the background, hanging precipitously to the edge of phenol, its feet dangling over a bit of Brettanomyces.
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Curiously, that phenolic, almost Brett element comes across first on the palate. After that, a dry, malty richness takes over. The citrus is still there, but more as tasted aroma, levitating at the top of the mouth. A moderate dose of bitterness creeps from the upper palate to the sides of the tongue, accompanied by a not insignificant spiciness. As it warms, oddly, everything seems to tame a bit, rendering the beer as more blankly "round" in character.
With its combination of malty, spicy and Brett flavors (a vestige of the wood aging, perhaps?), this is an interesting beer. There's quite a lot going on, and the flavors manage to avoid collision. I haven't had a whole lot of experience with Ranger Creek, but this bottle makes me think I should change that. It's not amazing, but it's interesting. I'll take that any day, even if the packaging stinks.