You’ve likely seen them on the shelves at your local retailer or on tap at the corner pub … six packs of brightly colored bottles depicting a snowman in sunglasses and green stocking cap holding a pint of ale or maybe a purple-capped, pumpkin-headed scarecrow figure standing atop a brightly enameled tap handle. These are not the marketing creations of the newest small-batch craft brewer on the scene though your palate may try to convince you otherwise. Despite the whimsical characters and the full-flavored brews that emerge from these eye-catching bottles and taps, these are the limited-release seasonal beers from the company that made the American lager famous – Anheuser Busch.
Lagers these are not, however. The beer-drinking snowman belongs to Anheuser Busch’s winter seasonal called Winter’s Bourbon Cask Ale – an oaked winter warmer with sweet vanilla notes. The pumpkin-headed scarecrow accompanies the fall release of Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale – a pumpkin ale infused with spices like cinnamon and cloves. In the spring, you’ll find a frisbee-carrying dog on the label of Sun Dog Amber Wheat (which replaced Spring Heat Spiced Wheat in the seasonal rotation, since Spring Heat Spiced Wheat has become a year-round offering and been given a name change to become Shock Top Belgian White Ale – got all that?) – Sun Dog is an American style dark wheat ale.
Summer’s seasonal is called Beach Bum Blonde Ale. This one is an American blonde ale and it has the distinction of having taken the bronze medal in it’s category at the 2006 North American Beer Awards. Oh, it’s obligatory cartoon character? A blonde-headed surfer beach bum, of course. This one manages to hold on to his surf board in one hand and a pint of Beach Bum Blonde in the other.
I’m going to be completely forthright and admit I’m not a huge fan of the imaging campaign concocted for these seasonal beers. The characters on the labels and tap handles are colorful and amusing, yes, but I think they’re a little too whimsical if anything and border on downright cheesy in my mind. I have a hard time taking these beers seriously when I’m staring at a snowman in sunglasses, but thankfully there is more to these brews than a cartoon-inspired label. To give you an idea what these beers bring to the table, here’s a short synopsis of Beach Bum Blonde’s credentials followed by my review in it’s totality.
Originally released in May of ’06 and available seasonally around mid-May, this American Blonde ale is brewed using American cascade hops and German Alsace and Hallertau hops. Another interesting fact is that this is a 100% caramel malt beer – no adjuncts were used in brewing this ale. To further impress the beer geeks among us, Beach Bum Blonde Ale is also dry-hopped in order to impart additional spicy hop aromas to the brew. How did it all come together? Read on …
Beach Bum Blonde pours a bright and lively golden color with brilliant orange highlights when held to the light. A tight, rocky head of pure white crowns the beer and holds in the active carbonation bubbles racing up from the bottom of the pub glass. As the head diminishes slightly, solid rings of lace surround the inside of the glass. A very nice-looking beer with impeccable clarity.
The nose is pleasingly spicy thanks to the dry-hopping, and also carries with it some nice floral and citrus notes. Underneath the aroma of fresh hops a warm, bready malt foundation can be detected giving this beer a good balance between drying hops and sweet malt. This beer smells very clean and is devoid of “heavy” aromas which would be counterproductive to a summer brew.
The palate is wholly consistent with the nose and delivers a nice hop attack right up front that is aggressive but not overwhelming. The floral and citrus flavors are quickly balanced out by the slightly sweet caramel malts and leaves a very well-balanced and expertly crafted flavor profile. The malt character is decidedly bready and substantial enough to give this beer a smooth and substantive mouth feel. The finish is clean and dry, thanks again to the hop additions. In some ways, this beer reminds me of a good Czech pilsner (hop profile) but it also has the warm and bready character of a mild, though without any of the fruitiness produced by the ale yeast. Possibly a little hoppy for a prototypical blonde ale but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The generous hops give this beer a lively and interesting aspect missing from a lot of blonde ales I’ve sampled. Over all, a very good and extremely drinkable summer ale. I’d put this one right up there with many of the better craft ales released this time of year.
So, while it is true I don’t care for the label, I can’t deny this particular beer makes up for the offense. For my die-hard beer geek friends, who will be wondering why I’m reviewing an A-B product … favorably no less … I’d propose a challenge. Pour this beer into a nice clean pint or pub glass, swirl it around a bit, and then sniff. After you’ve done that a couple of times, give it a sip and let the beer linger on the tongue for a moment … now, forget for a moment you know that this is an Anheuser Busch product going in … I think if you’re able to suspend your biases for a moment you’ll have to admit this is a credible and enjoyable summer ale in every respect. Let’s face it, it could be easily confused for a “true” craft beer. I’m in no way suggesting you give up your craft beer scruples, or sell out, but I am suggesting we all give a little credit where it is due sometimes. This, and several other Anheuser Busch beers, are very well-crafted, tasty brews in their own right.
Admitting this won’t cause your beer snob license to be revoked. I don’t think.
A quick parting shot … Check out this video introduction from Anheuser Busch brewmaster, Florian Kuplent about Beach Bum Blonde Ale.