“Don’t float the mainstream” has been echoing from the tanks at SweetWater Brewing Co. since 1996.
With 16 different craft beer offerings, and an extensive list of awards for many of them, SweetWater is not one to be overlooked. Just to be sure you don’t miss them though, founders Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney maintain their history of selecting some unique titles and catchphrases for their brews.
With an apparent bent for all things Haight-Ashbury-esque, SweetWater employs names like 420, Take Two Pils, Hop Hash (pour, pour, pass) and Road Trip. To keep things flying high, each beer is saturated with vibrant product artwork, and more fonts than a ransom letter. It’s no doubt that the whole crew at SweetWater has fun with what they do.
Sample the beer you can also be certain that its American Brewers Guild background is just as unmistakable.
The subject of this review is SweetWater’s India brown ale called Hash Brown. It is a hop hash-infused brown ale that can be better described as a combination of a single (possibly imperial) India pale ale and a traditional brown ale. To my tastes though, it’s more the former than the latter. This 70:30 ratio of IPA to brown ale is largely thanks to the infusion of the hop hash. What in the Cheech and Chong is hop hash you say? It is a byproduct of hop pellet production. When fresh hops are processed through the Willy Wonka machine that makes the widely recognized hop pellet, there is a collection of pieces of the fresh hops, resin, and oils. This collection is then further processed to make a saleable item – hash. The flavors that are imparted to Hash Brown from this hop hash is everything we all know and love about that tiny green cone… except for the more subtle notes of any desired citrus, tropical fruit, or sweetness. This is a very hop forward and aggressive 60 IBU beverage.
The pour is an amber colored brown crowned with a one-finger khaki head. The visual attributes of this beer are very captivating prior to imbibery. Throughout the entire drinking experience, the lacing completely layered the glass. SweetWater really made Hash Brown a stunner. Most unfortunately though, this is where the beer began to lose some footing. The aromas of pine, dank & musty hops, and fermented dark fruit quickly faded. Maybe the hash was getting to my head, but halfway through the glass and there was very little aroma remaining. The mouthfeel was an interesting shift from a smooth beginning to a very dry and crisp end. As if the brown ale arrived through the front, and then the IPA left through the back. Tasting notes as mentioned were dominated by the hop hash.
In order of appearance, there were mainly characteristics of grassy and herbal organic matter (no sticks and stems), followed by a subdued grain and sweetness. Generally the receptors involved were on the rear of the tongue, and even the soft palate region of the mouth. At this point the disappointment further set in. I think this brew would be better received if equal parts brown ale and IPA, but the balance just lends itself to another, albeit good, variant of the crowd pleasing India pale ale. The brown ale features just couldn’t survive the hop assault brought on by the sticky hash nugget. For a product built on the theme of uniqueness, it just didn’t deliver. My hopes and anticipation of this advertised beer duo were dashed in the end.