Columnist Michael Paull says Grassroots Ale has a hoppy base ornamented with intriguing spicy notes.
If you think that a tall, refreshing beer at the end of a day working outside is a recent innovation, and the beers of yore are thick and dark and brewed for monks, Great Lakes Brewing has something for you this summer.
Grassroots Ale ($7.99 a six pack in most stores) is a saison, a light, refreshing variety of pale ale from Belgium historically brewed in the cold months to be consumed during the harvest season. Some sources, including
Great Lakes' own web site, describes the style as low in alcohol, but others cite its brewed-for-storage nature as evidence to the contrary, and this example measures up with 6.9 percent alcohol by volume.
With higher alcohol content, spicy Belgian yeast strains and a good dose of bitter hops to extend the shelf life, the trick is to find balance between intense flavors. Sometimes this is achieved by cranking up the sweetness
and the malty character by using Belgian sugars and kilned barley or wheat malts, but Great Lakes takes a novel approach with Grassroots by spicing it up with coriander, lemon balm, chamomile and lemon basil.
But enough about the spice cabinet, what's in the bottle?
Whether you are cracking open a bottle or hovering over a pint pulled off a tap, you will know right away that this beer is a little bit different than anything you have had before. A slick, white head of tiny bubbles coat the
surface of a golden, effervescent brew that gives off a complex aroma of biscuits, wild flowers, Belgian-yeasty banana and a pinch of grassy sourness.
The nose grows tarter as you get closer, which might turn off some drinkers, but those who persevere will be rewarded with a soft, satisfying mouthful perfectly suited to the bitter, alcohol-hot flavors early in the pour. Each
sip finishes slightly sour, with an intense spice that the alcohol eases very nicely.
In fact, this beer is a great study in balance. Crisp and smooth, sour and sweet, zippy and earthy Grassroots is an adventurous brew that might not be to everyone's liking, but you probably won't reject it for being too much
of any one thing.
There is a growing bitterness as you drink a glass down, and it is hard to put your finger on any one of those herbs in the flavor. The carbonation level feels a little high, which keeps it from feeling heavy, despite a very rich
and complex mix of flavors.
The bouquet of spices in Grassroots is not entirely without precedent. Chamomile is one of the herbs that was used to bitter beers before hops become standard, and early Belgian brewing techniques included the use of
gruit, a mixture of herbs including yarrow, sage and pine resin.
To make Grassroots Ale, which was previously available on tap at the brewery in Cleveland as Hale Ale, Great Lakes grows some of its own herbs on a farm in Bath, Ohio, where workers compost their spent brewing grains.
They named their beer in honor of their commitment to Mother Earth, and this big, adventurous, spicy ale does her proud.