Tasting Notes: 1905 Holiday Ale (Pre-Prohibition Amber Ale)

I had no idea what to expect with this brew. My thought was that the beer would be harsh thanks to the large amount of corn sugar in the recipe drying out the beer. I also thought the beer would be bitter with no discernible hop flavor. When I tasted the beer on bottling day I was underwhelmed to say the least. The bitterness was puckering and dominant.

The beer pours copper to dark copper in color with a foamy white head. The head retention is quite good considering how much corn sugar was used in the grist. Clarity is ok, there is some haze. Chico yeast isn’t the best yeast when it comes to dropping out of suspension and clearing. Commercial brewers and more advanced homebrewers have equipment and processes to help beers with Chico clear. The rest of us will have to accept somewhat hazy beer when using it.

The aroma had light sulfur notes. Not a high, or unpleasant aroma, it is more like the aroma you would get from a lager. There are also low floral notes, likely esters from the yeast.

The time in the bottle smoothed out the previously puckering bitterness. A low hop flavor blends nicely with the malt. Perhaps this is evidence that first wort hopping leaves more residual hop flavor than adding hops at the beginning of the boil.

The body is medium-low to medium, with medium-high carbonation. I wouldn’t call the beer spritzy, but it’s close. The plum and burnt sugar notes typically associated with dark caramel malt are restrained. Tasting the beer, I think the sugar cut the flavor and color of the caramel malt nicely.

There is nothing about the beer that knocks your socks off. Malt, hop, and yeast flavors are all there in low levels and in balance. The closest contemporary commercial beer I would compare this beer to if I squint my pallette would be Yuengling Lager, but if Yuengling was an ale. This beer is maltier and drier than Yuengling, but it is kind of close.

In all it was a fun and interesting beer to make. I am glad that I brewed a one gallon batch. I’m not sure I would want two cases of the stuff. If I were to brew it again I would use a different yeast. Ideally a yeast that doesn’t attenuate as much as S05. I think if the beer didn’t finish quite as dry, and if the malt flavor was accentuated just a little bit more, the beer would be that much better.

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