Fearful Symmetries

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11 August, 2016

The Appeal of Bell's and That Christmas Tree Smell: Quinannan Falls Special Lager by Bell's Brewing Company

I do believe that this is my first review of a brew by the venerable Michigan outfit, Bell's Brewing.

Bell's has been around quite a while now. Founded by Larry Bell, it began life as homebrewing supply store called the Kalamazoo Brewing Company in 1983. A couple of years later he began selling his beer. Thirty one years, a second brewery, and one name change later, Bell's is one of the OGs of the microbrewing world and one of the biggest as well making north of 300,000 barrels per year. While I knew that it had been around for a few decades, I didn't know that it was that big. I see here that they distribute in 19 states.

Whenever I review a beer for the first time by a stalwart such as Bell's I usually add a disclaimer and this review will be no different. To wit: I am not anti-Bell's. I harbor no animosity towards them. It's just that I associate the brewery with its Oberon and Two Hearted Ale, neither of which hold great appeal for me. Oberon is fine, don't get me wrong. It is like their Spotted Cow – something that is nice in a pinch but I don't seek it out. Two Hearted is an eyepah, a style which is not really my style. However, I must admit that I do like their Oarsman Ale.

And then I heard about their Quinannan Falls Special Lager and figured I'd give it a try. At first I thought the beer was named after a favorite vacation spot in the U.P. but apparently the boreal, idyllic scene exists only in Larry Bell's head. The beer is unpasteurized and was dry-hopped. While the beer's webpage mentions at Simcoe hops are part of the recipe, it doesn't explicitly say that the brew was dry-hopped with them.

Quinannan Falls pours a lovely straw color and was clear. The head was a big dollop of firm, white foam that was so happy to be in my glass that it decided to stick around as long as it could. Nicely effervescent, there was a pilsner-like level of bubbles inside. A very pretty brew to be sure and one that looked perfect on a warm summer day.

Truth be known, I did not know about the Simcoe hops when I purchased the beer and was taken by surprise when my proboscis took in a big whiff of pine and floral scents. American nouveau lager was to be the order of the day, I guess. In addition to the hops, there was a light, airy grain smell too.

For better or for worse, the first thing I notice about a beer these days when I taste it is the carbonation. This is partly about me simply being more cognizant of the gas and its role in taste but I think it also has to do with the fact, when you see bubbles, you expect to taste them too. And Quinannan Falls is well carbonated. I felt a little tingling on my tongue and tasted some dryness. Beyond that, the beer had a really good, clean lager flavor with the malt having a cracker-like taste. It was crisp with streaks of pine and floral hop flavors that gave only moderate bitterness.

But that bitterness swelled on the finish as the hops took over. A resiny taste which was surely the Simcoe was joined by something that tasted like Saaz – a spicy taste and attendant bitterness. The end result was a hefty dose of dryness and also a wintergreen burn on my tongue. There was a lot of Schaumhaftvermoegen with big, thick streaks everywhere.

From first pour to last drop Quinannan Falls has the visual appeal of beer down cold, so to speak. It looks like it could quench thirst from 50 yards. And it has a great crisp, clean lager taste with notes of light, toasty grain. But I remain ambivalent about the hops. Quinannan Falls may be 6.5% A.B.V. but it has a light body and a gentle malt flavor. I liked the hops flavors but I think the pine was a tad too strong. I prefer a beer with a pine/resin taste to have a fairy big malt presence. I am not trying to imply that Quinannan Falls tastes like turpentine or any such thing. Indeed, I was happy to finish my can. But after one, it was off to drink something else.

Junk food pairing: I recommend pairing Quinannan Falls Special Lager with Lay's Indian Tikka Masala potato chips as they have a lovely, aromatic flavor of a thousand spices that blends well with the pungent hoppiness of the beer.

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|| Palmer, 5:45 AM


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