After a longer than anticipated hiatus it’s time for round two in my Ohio vs the World series. For those of you who missed the initial post, this series is all about putting the best beers in Ohio up against highly regarded beers from other parts of the world in a blind taste test format. Round one featured imperial IPAs, with local favorite Bodhi falling to Vermont’s Heady Topper in a unanimous decision.
In this round we stick to the Imperial theme, shifting from IPAs to Red/Amber Ales. In an attempt to restore Ohio’s pride I’ve turned to one of the most underrated breweries in the country, Fat Heads, and their award winning Bone Head Imperial Red Ale. In the opposite corner representing the rest of the world is the top rated Amber Ale on BeerAdvocate.com, Troeg’s Nugget Nectar.
The results of a blind taste test are only as good as the palates of the tasters, and for this round I’m joined by three insiders from the Columbus beer scene. Paul Gardner writes all of the beer reviews for one of Ohio’s biggest and best blogs, Drink Up Columbus. He has a knack for picking out the most subtle flavors in a beer and describing them in a poetic prose that makes the mundane sound exotic. As owner and tour guide for Columbus Brew Adventures, our second panelist Jim Ellison spends more time in local breweries than any functioning member in the 614 area code not employed by a brewery. The third and final panelist is none other than Pat’s Pints photographer, certified BJCP judge, and Land Grant assistant brewer/distribution guru Mark Richards.
Here is the tale of the tape on the beers on the protagonists in today’s showdown.
Bonehead Red Imperial Red Ale
- Brewery: Fat Head’s Brewing Co. (North Olmstead, OH)
- ABV: 9.4%
- IBU: 90
- Hops: Warrior, CTZ, Simcoe, Citra
- Freshness/Packaging: Poured from a bottle with a bottled date of 3/21/15. The date of the tasting was April 26, so this bottle was roughly 1 month old.
- Price: $12.99 for a 4-pack of bottles ($3.25 per 12 oz bottle)
- BeerAdvocate Weighted Rating: 4.08 (Holds the #8 spot on the BA list of the top Amber Ales)
- Notes: Silver medal winner at the 2014 World Beer Cup
- Brewery: Troegs (Hershey, PA)
- ABV: 7.5%
- IBU: 93
- Hops: Nugget, Warrior, Tomahawk, Simcoe, Palisade
- Freshness/Form: Poured from a bottle with a bottled date of 1/27/15. The date of the tasting was April 26, so this bottle was roughly 3 months old.
- Price: $12.99 for a 6-pack of bottles ($2.17 per 12 oz bottle)
- BeerAdvocate Weighted Rating: 4.33 (Holds the #1 spot on the BA list of the top Amber Ales)
- Notes: A long running winter release from Troeg’s
Unlike the first round of this competition these two beers were a contrast in style. Bone Head Red comes on strong from the get go, with a hop-forward nose that is reminiscent of an old growth pine forest mixed with not insignificant amounts of tropical and citrus fruits. The dank, fruity aromas of Simcoe and Citra blend with the earthy forest floor aromas of CTZ to weave a spell that will entice even the most hard core hop head. Let’s just say this is not an amber ale that you could have even imagined in the 1990s. By comparison the aroma of Nugget Nectar is surprisingly tame. If anything the malts are more prevalent than the hops, with descriptors like caramel and malty showing up on the tasting notes of multiple judges.
The aggressive hop character of Bone Head Red continues into the taste with a similar mix of piney, fruity, earthy flavors found in the nose, balanced with a solid malt backbone that adds flavors of brown sugar and caramel to the mix. It’s easy to overlook the 9.4% abv of this big beer, but if you look for it there is a little heat at the finish. It’s got a smooth, slightly oily mouthfeel and a pleasingly dry finish.
The Nugget Nectar goes down smooth, but for a beer that is listed as 93 IBU it has a surprisingly low level of hop character or bitterness. It would be pretty easy to throw back quite a few of these in a sitting without experiencing much palate fatigue. If anything the most distinctive flavor is a kiss of honey-like malt sweetness. I’d stop short of calling it malty, but the hops are about as noticeable as Bill Wyman at a Rolling Stones concert (back in the day when Bill Wyman was still in the Rolling Stones, and of course his stage presence has dropped a notch since leaving the band).
After taking notes in silence, followed by a dissection of the merits of each beer, each panelist picked their favorite and then we revealed our choices to each other. In a decision that should surprise no one Bone Head Red came out on top with a resounding 4-0 unanimous decision. If you are looking for something that doesn’t challenge the palate with acquired tastes or too much bitterness, you’ll be happy with Nugget Nectar. If on the other hand you are looking for something a little more adventurous, something to satisfy your craving for the funky, fruity aromas of 21st century hops, then Bone Head Red is the clear choice. It’s an exceptionally good beer fully deserving of its strong showing at last year’s World Beer Cup.
Those of you who are paying attention will likely question the effects of 3 months age on the aroma and taste of Nugget Nectar. That’s a fair point, but unfortunately I was not able to find anything fresher when shopping for this contest. Looking back at my tasting notes from a fresh six pack of Nugget Nectar from last year I would expect a little more fruity character from the hops in a fresh bottle. However, I can say that while the hop character has faded a little over time, even at its freshest Nugget Nectar doesn’t have the hops to hang with Bone Head Red. Taste is a subjective thing, but it’s a little surprising to me that it’s rated as highly as it is on BeerAdvocate. When it debuted over a decade ago a hoppy, imperial amber must have seemed novel, but by today’s standards its pretty pedestrian.
Residents of the Buckeye state can rejoice as Fat Head’s dominating victory evens the series at 1-1. Stay tuned for the next clash in this series when Rockmill’s Barrel Aged Trippel goes up against Allagash Curieux.