Napa Smith Brewery Amber Ale

January 5, 2011

I don’t mind mentioning that I’ve been drinking beer for a very long time now. What most people don’t know about me is that it was a beverage of a different sort that put me upon my path – the analyzing, considering, pondering and examining road of culinary, travel and beverage writing – and that is wine.

There was the chianti classico in a dark restaurant on Lake Como, Italy, that was so profound and unlike the sour stuff parents would trot out when company came to visit. Food and wine paired together can compare and contrast flavors or they can amplify each other. It was revelation. Then there was the myriad of expensive vino I had to learn about as a waiter in a fine dining restaurant in New Orleans. Doors to worlds were being opened. I read trade publications and books on wine, I swirled and noisily sipped, I tried in vain to keep a private cellar at home and, on rare occasions, drank bottles costing more than a car payment.

Historical interjection: In 1976 the infamous “Judgment of Paris” wine competition was held and, lo and behold, a bunch of upstart Americans shocked the world when their wines were decided to be as good as, if not superior to, the established French. Five of the wineries receiving consistently top marks came from Napa Valley.

A few years ago I had another revelation, this time about beer. Upon discovering the bolder flavors and multiple styles real beer can offer I immediately gave up on cheaply produced macro offerings. Beer can be as complex and evocative as good wine. And, sometimes, some of the best can come from the same place. Napa Valley.

No one thinks of beer when Napa Valley is mentioned but Napa Smith Brewery is out to change that perception. Their amber ale has a nice rusty brown color with a milky white ring of foam head. Toasty scents of candied pecans, caramel and biscuit give way to the faintest hint of grassy hops. Comforting flavors of sweet malted grains accompany more caramel, honey, orange and shortbread. The texture is thicker than usual for the style yet still finishes clean without being heavy.

What began with an innocent sip of wine with my dinner in Italy began a journey of discovery and ever-changing perceptions. To challenge the status quo and constantly raise the bar are musts. Take a chance and enjoy the ride. You never know where it’ll take you.