Looking back over recent posts I realized that I haven’t written a beer review in nearly three months. As a first step to atone for this shameful dereliction of duty, today we take a closer look at one of the more unique Columbus area beers—Wolf’s Ridge coffee infused cream ale, Clear Sky Daybreak. This review is based on a bottle that I picked up at the Wolf’s Ridge September bottle release. Unlike Doug Oldham, who wrote an engaging piece about the bottle release, I was not one of the early birds queuing up at 10 am on a sunny September Sunday morning. I had other commitments and didn’t make it down to the brewery until 1:30 pm. Fortunately there were still bottles of Clear Sky Daybreak and Dire Wolf Coco Joy to be had. As an added bonus things had slowed down a bit by the time I arrived so I had chance to have a long talk with head brewer Chris Davison while enjoying some interesting and tasty variations of Clear Sky Cream Ale and Dire Wolf Imperial Stout.
When we talked Chris was preparing to head out to the GABF in Denver where he gave a presentation on combining coffee and beer. Chris explained to me the importance of finding the right match between the coffee and the beer. For a big imperial stout like Dire Wolf you might want a dark, chocolatey expresso roast, but the same coffee does not play well with the delicate flavors of a cream ale. Instead he’s fermented this beer over lightly roasted whole coffee beans from local roasters One Line Coffee. We’ll get into the flavors that come from the coffee beans in a minute but let’s just say this beer might just expand your notion of what a coffee beer can be.
- Brewery: Wolf’s Ridge (Columbus, OH)
- Style: Coffee Infused Cream Ale
- ABV: 5.0%
The bottle I have is hand numbered #221. The label, which features a silhouette of the Columbus skyline in decidedly autumnal earth tones, explains the beer in these terms:
“Clear Sky is our American Cream Ale brewed with the traditional addition of corn to help lighten the body without sacrificing flavor. One of our longest running and most popular beers, Clear Sky is an all-day drinker that can appeal to any audience. To create Daybreak, we infuse the beer with One Line Coffee’s house roast and whole vanilla bean. The result surprises the senses in the most delightful way. Refreshing, energizing, and packed with flavor, Daybreak captures the essence of Columbus.”
Visually it would be hard to tell this beer apart from any other cream ale. It’s a clear, pale golden color topped with a centimeter or so of white head that doesn’t stick around too long. While it might look innocent it only takes one whiff to realize this is no Little Kings or Genesee Cream Ale. The nose is all coffee, but not dark, bitter roasty flavors like the coffee I make at home, instead its brimming with bright, fruity aromas that vaguely remind me of berries. The slightly sweet malt base of the cream ale masterfully balances the bitter, acidic tendencies of the coffee. The vanilla is very subtle but it shows up just before the finish and helps to round out the flavors. The mouthfeel is light bodied, perhaps a little under carbonated.
This beer flies in the face of stereotypes on many different levels. For starters there’s a disconnect between the clear golden color that screams pilsner and the big whiff of coffee that greets your nose when you go in for the first drink. Then, there is the coffee itself, which emphasizes bright fruity flavors of the coffee bean with little trace of the darker flavors that come from the roasting process. Finally and crucially, the coffee compliments rather than overwhelms the sweet malts and subtle vanilla flavors. The net effect is a sublime creation where all three parts work together in perfect harmony. It’s undeniably one of the most the most unique and underrated beers in Central Ohio.
Chris told me that he feels that there are as many different flavors in coffee as there are in hops, and we all know the diversity of flavors and aromas a good brewer can get out of hops. His goal is to master that part of his arsenal so he can create unique and flavorful beers. This is a damn good start, because the coffee-beer pairing in Clear Sky Daybreak is spot on. If they could make a sub-3% abv version I might give up coffee altogether and just drink this beer all day. I hope it stays in regular rotation at the taproom, because in my book it’s one of the most interesting beers to hit Columbus this year.
Rating scale: 10 = perfection, 9 = excellent, one of the top beers in the world, 8 = very good, one of the top beers in its style category, 7 = good, a solid beer I’m happy to be drinking, 6 = average, not bad but not something I’m likely to buy again, 5 = below average, 3-4 = poor, should be avoided, 1-2 drainpour.
Editors Note – I’m thrilled to report that as of Summer 2016 Clear Sky Daybreak is now available in six packs in better beer stores across Columbus.