April 24 2014 05:20 PM

The label's fine print holds important clues

Photo by Ian Cheesman

I've never fretted much about climate change. I'm a flexible guy. The way I figure it, soaring ambient temperatures just means I'll need to start whittling down my cellar beer supply a little sooner than expected. That suits me just fine, especially since I'll be sequestered indoors to avoid heat stroke along with the rest of humanity. I just think of it as a vacation, except that the me-time extends into perpetuity, the scenic vistas are obscured by sandstorms and you may have to eat your dog when provisions run thin. 

Still, in the interest of preparing for any eventuality, I wonder what beer would pair best with global warming. 

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the thirst-curbing nature of a bitter quaff would be the ticket for enduring catastrophic greenhouse effects, but I'm not so sure. Is more bitterness really what a world torn asunder needs? Perhaps, in a broader sense, our gravity toward such extremes is part of what got us into this mess in the first place. (Deep, right? It's like, whoa.)

No, the more poetic choice would embrace balance, a liquid testimony to the harmony we neglected with Gaia until she got all huffy about dwindling polar ice caps and plunged all coastal cities into a watery grave. 

I was scouring store shelves for a suitable altbier or pale ale that might fit the profile of this review when I noticed the Lightning Amber Ale. Actually, if I'm being honest, I noticed the blinding glare from its foil label halfway across the store's parking lot. Clearly, this is not the beer of choice for ninjas, snipers or anyone engaged in covert operations. On the plus side, being so reflective means that I could upcycle the label into a very tiny solar oven, which would be helpful in any post-apocalyptic scenario. I pulled on my protective welding visor and grabbed a bottle.

The Lightning Amber Ale pours a deep ruddy amber with a thick pillowy head. It has a biscuit-like, almost-caramel smell complemented by soft, flowery aromas. The first sip is bready with a pronounced apricot sweetness up front. This gives way to a robust flowery, citrus-y bitterness that borders on aggressive but definitely gives it a distinctive pop. The finish is medium-bodied and a little oily, offering a lasting jolt of grapefruit in the mouth. 

This didn't deliver what I expect from an amber ale; however, that comes as no surprise to Lightning. The label describes it as an ESB with more of an American sensibility to the malt / hop balance, which encapsulates it very well. It retains the ESB's ability to slake your thirst, but the richer biscuit and toffee notes give it fuller presence. So, yeah, the name is a little misleading, but I'll wager it's a misunderstanding most would be quite happy to encounter.

If you seek a balanced brew that's as much ESB as it is amber, Lightning Amber Ale is an excellent companion to a brisk spring evening or life in an interminable dustbowl. It also pairs exceedingly well with rat terrier braised in a dry white wine, should it ever come up.

Write to ianc@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com, or follow @iancheesman on Twitter or read his blog, iancheesman.wordpress.com.


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