Erie Brewing Railbender Scottish Ale

May 12, 2010

Tim Barry, lead singer of the seminal punk band Avail, released a solo record a couple of years ago. Rivanna Junction is a collection of the sad and tough; alt-country sensibility wrapped around stories of heartbreak, the human condition and, well, ulterior methods of travel. One track in particular caught my attention.

“Church of the Level Track” is a tale of train-hopping and the sometimes bleak characters, himself included, to be found riding the rails gratis. As Mr. Barry’s more infamous band has played our town on many occasions, he’s got a soft spot in his heart for our little hunk of heaven. He writes a line about a travel companion contemplating a parting of the ways: “My friend faced west/and mentioned Pensacola…”

Bittersweet moments such as those chronicled in “Church” have me thinking of Erie Brewing’s Railhead Ale. Here’s a dark amber brew named for the laborers who laid down the train tracks in historic Erie, PA where 3 separate rail lines all merged in the city center. A fully approachable Scottish style ale, Railbender pours a thick, fluffy head of tiny bubbles which quickly shrink down to a nice cap of foam. Hints of orange blossom flowers and ever-so-slightly burnt candy sugars precede a faint touch of honeysuckle in the nose. Perhaps, even, some blood-orange juice and pecans mixed together somehow.

Taste is nutty and sweet. Toasty caramel malts dominate with a pine and citrus twinge of hops at the finish providing a bitter counterpoint to the roasted grains’ sweetness. The finish is left super-clean and spring water smooth. Railhead exhibits no heaviness or rich mouthfeel making it very drinkable.

I can picture Tim Barry riding atop a boxcar somewhere in the south. Eyes squinted into the wind and dust with a bottle of bittersweet Railbender in his hand to compliment the bittersweet memories in his head.