Thank God for Hop River Brewing Co. in Fort Wayne!
Now, before you get ahead of yourself and you think that I think that Hop River makes the best beer in the universe, let me dispel that thought immediately. I certainly do not like absolutely everything that Hop River brews, but in the context of the contemporary US beer scene, I do tend to gravitate toward both their beer and their philosophy over there on Harrison Street. What is that philosophy? Well, I’m not necessarily 100% sure, mostly because I’ve never spoken to anyone from the brewing side at any length (hopefully I’ll do that soon), but what I do know is this. Mainly traditional styles, brewed in close proximity to what a legacy drinker would expect, made largely without adjuncts, and in the absence of pastry, seltzer, haze and other such alternative beverage machinations, is what comes out of the brewery. As I say, thank God for Hop River, and all traditional brewers like them.
Angel’s Paw is not the best beer I’ve had from Hop River either – that accolade is reserved for beers like Great Heron, Wingspan, and Driving Miss Mandy – however, it gives a pretty reasonable impression of a Belgian Strong Pale, and who am I to turn my nose up at such a thing here in Fort Wayne? The beer pours from the 16oz can with, for my money, a level of carbonation that is a little low. On draft it felt better, but I think it lacks a little life in both cases. Perhaps paradoxically, there is a decent, thin white film of head left after pouring, and some slightly better than average, sticky, white lace. The body is without question clear and golden in color, so Hop River’s description of the beer as a Belgian Golden Strong (25C on BJCP styles list, but what I would simply call a Belgian Strong Pale) is very fair. As a general rule, that’s another good thing, i.e., the beer does what it says on the (literal) can!
The nose offers plenty of estery, fruit sweetness. Bananas are detectable for me, as are some other soft fruits like pineapple and pear.
The first sips reflect the nose, but also give a slight, solvent alcohol note. Solvent elements can be a hard ones to get a handle on. They can tread a fine line between being too overt and giving a nasty, ethanol based experience, but also adding a crucial element to the experience of a beer in this style. Is it an ester I get, or is it a less rounded, more burning ethanol note? It’s (mostly) the former. The back end of the glass has a tiny touch of bitterness, or is that a white pepper, spicy element perhaps more reminiscent of a Tripel?
It’s pretty drinkable, and very light considering both the style and the ABV. No cloying factors for me here. In fact, I might even say a little too light in terms of the body to be truly representing the style. In the end, this beer is slightly more than the sum of its parts, and that’s a pretty darn handy asset to have. In the end I’m plenty pleased with this. It’s not the best Belgian Strong Pale in the world, and frankly why (and how) could it be? But Angel’s Paw does fall well within in the parameters of the style, it’s brewed competently, and drinks easily. In that respect, it’s kinda what best attributes of local beer really should be.
Notes on the French Oak Edition of Angel’s Paw.