A few decades ago, when Sierra Nevada Brewing founder, Ken Grossman, decided to incorporate the little-used Cascade hops into his pale ale he accidentally launched a truly American style of beer. Nowadays, seems you can’t swing the proverbial dead cat without knocking over a six-pack or two of American Pale Ale that doesn’t have Cascade as its primary hop ingredient. Being a beer dork, I find myself asking: “Shouldn’t this enable an environment where APA’s are one-dimensional and similar – and, if so, how does a more modern brewery go about changing the status quo?”
I found my answer in a very non-modern brewery. Just prior to prohibition, an Italian immigrant named Pietro Piegari (nee, Pete Prichard) opened a restaurant in the wake of a mining accident that left him unable to work the coalmines in Oklahoma. He began selling his home-brewed concoctions to the thirsty miners he once worked with. To this day, Krebs, OK-based Choc Beer Company upholds their founder’s tradition of flavorful ales in an old-world fashion.
Back to my original questions. Similarity and status quo within the Cascade-based APA gang? Choc’s old-world adherence to crafting ales is all the difference. They are among the few American craftbrewers who bottle condition their ales; injecting the beer with an extra touch of living yeast just prior to bottling. Any residual sugars in the beer are converted by the yeast cells to create a little more alcohol and carbonation while boosting the texture. Most producers of APA filter their beers for a cleaner finish where Choc’s unfiltered process, in my opinion, makes for a richer and more flavorful beverage.
Basement Batch APA is cloudy amber with a very noticeable particle suspension. Sour orange peel and caramel with the faintest touch of malt balls permeate the nose. Nutty, biscuity malts are quickly balanced by those piney, citrusy Cascade hops followed by a tangy bitter finish. The afore-mentioned bottle conditioning provides a firm, but not chewy, mouthfeel while, at the same time, allows the extra carbonation to sizzle through. The result is a kaleidoscope of flavors and textures.
By adhering to their past and keeping one foot in the present, Choc Beer is proving that the Cascade-heavy ale market needn’t grow stale and predictable.