Late last year Green Flash Brewing announced the purchase of another local favorite, Alpine Beer Company. Alpine, a much smaller operation, had acquired somewhat of a cult status since its high-quality beer was almost impossible to find outside the small mountain burb. With the acquisition by Green Flash, Alpine's beer would finally be mass-produced and distributed nationwide, and its employees would gain the type of benefits associated with larger companies.
This was a tough pill for some local hop-heads. Since then, many have taken to social media and beer forums lamenting the new "Gelson," a derogatory nickname for the Green Flash-brewed version of Alpine's widely acclaimed Nelson IPA. It was all wrong, many claimed. It didn't look, smell or taste right. Could this be true? Was a legendary local beer being watered-down and sacrificed on the altar of capitalism? Or, was a strong selection bias at work in the already made-up minds of local aficionados? I decided to find out.
I invited a handful of friends over for a blind taste-test. We had both growlered and bottled Nelson from Alpine, as well as another growler from Green Flash. Each participant was asked to rate each sample on color, smell, mouthfeel and overall taste. The sample size was small, with only six tasters, but they represented a decent cross-section of the market, from the casual to the serious craft beer fan. Would they be able to tell the difference?
Color. Green Flash's version was noticeably cloudier than either sample from Alpine. Alpine's had the signature haziness, but was slightly brighter in color than the deep yellow-orange Green Flash variant. This was noted by all.
Nose. Opinions here diverged. Two found Alpine more fragrant, one picked Green Flash, and half noticed no difference.
Mouthfeel. Here we had more consensus as all but one found Alpine's samples to be a bit more carbonated than Green Flash's. This could be attributed to leakage from the growler, but considering it came straight from the brewery to my kitchen, I'm hesitant to attribute it as such.
Taste. Upon tasting everyone struggled to differentiate between the beers. As the samples warmed, subtle differences presented themselves, mainly attributable to the disparity in carbonation. Fresh pours of chilled beer erased these discrepancies, and by the time our samples were depleted the fact there was any controversy at all was washed away from the conversation.
I'm not a cicerone, and I don't possess a particularly refined palate. But neither do 99.9 percent of those across the country thirsty for Alpine beer. I understand. It used to be our special thing, a feather in the hat of elitist beer geeks taunting our friends back east and up the coast. Exclusivity has a value of its own and in the minds of some, perhaps, Alpine's reputation is tarnished; our special thing is no longer as special. I found the discrepancies negligible and the persistent online backlash much ado about nothing. Alpine's slogan is "Drink Alpine ale or go to bed," which is exactly where I consider this non-troversy: put to bed.