13 June 2016

San Fran cans panned

My first, and only, bottle of Anchor Liberty Ale came from The Vintry in Rathgar in 2007 where it had been sitting in a south-facing window for an indefinite period of time. Over the years I've felt the occasional twang of guilt about the review I wrote at the time, in which I described it as somewhere between a weissbier and a tripel, utterly ignorant that it's actually an IPA, the first of the wave of craft IPAs which arrived in the late 20th century and went on to have a huge impact on beer enthusiasts worldwide. So, I've been meaning to get hold of a better-kept bottle of Liberty and give it a re-run, with the benefit of an extra nine years' beer writing. And now it comes in cans! Even better! So I nabbed one in DrinkStore and here it is.

And it still tastes like a cross between a weissbier and a tripel: I totally get where that guy was coming from in 2007. Banana fruit esters are the first thing I can distinguish in the subtle but complex flavour, and when combined with the soft texture it's weissbier all the way. Behind this is a very dry and tannic brown bitter effect and while the hops are present in this, it's not the pine or citrus typical of modern American IPA: it's far more restrained and pleasantly peppery, which is where my tripel analogy comes in. That dry English bitterness is how the beer finishes. It's pleasant, but not especially impressive. While I like that beers like Liberty still exist to show where pale ale brewing has come from in quite a short time, and I'd happily drink this in the proper context, I don't think it deserves classic status for taste alone.

With that kicking delivered to an innocent old beer, I turn to a younger sibling. Brotherhood Steam has been brewed for the band Chris Robinson Brotherhood, is a similar strength to Liberty at 5.6% ABV, and a very similar orange-amber colour. This has, however, been dry-hopped, with Citra and Nelson Sauvin, no less. And yet it's rather a plain deal, led by toffee malt but with a quick lager finish, befitting its status as a steam beer. The commercial copy tells me to look for citrus and mint in the aroma but you'd need a lot of imagination to pick those out. I do get a pleasant citrus hop kick right in the centre of the flavour but it's smothered quickly by the malt.

This beer is neither here nor there. You could pass it off as a slightly wonky version of any number of styles: märzen, bitter, amber ale, zwickel, but it wouldn't satisfy an enthusiast of any of these. There's nothing wrong per se, but there's nothing to latch on to; nothing that makes it stand out. For that reason I don't think it quite works, struggling for even one-dimensionality.

Sorry, San Francisco. I'm just not feeling the love today.


  1. A very interesting review but Liberty Ale has no resemblance to weiss and I'm wondering if it somehow is affected by the voyage over there, even the canned version. Liberty Ale is very similar to many IPAs, perhaps less intense than some but very much in that vein, indeed an avatar. Is there any indication of a packaging or expiry date on there? See also even just the last page of BA reviews, all have the typical references to pine, grapefruit, etc.


    1. There may have been a packaging date but that can is long, long gone.