As the summer comes to a close it is about time to polish off the last Summer Solstice from Anderson Valley Brewing Company. (http://www.avbc.com) In addition to a standard review, I decided to do a comparison of Keg vs. Bottle vs. Can. Hence the late review, since I wanted to give the can and the bottle some time to sit in the fridge.
Review on Summer Solstice
History – My first experience with Summer Solstice was in the summer of 2006. Once I tasted it, I knew it was a winner! That summer I had a full 13.5 gal keg. Living in Southern California, that was my only keg choice. Now we have the availability of 5.3’s which helps if you get through two fresh kegs before the end of the run! This beer is the close sibling to the Winter Solstice, which is where some of the spice notes are influenced. Since its inception, it has gone through a bit of a transformation… This includes the dropping on the original tag line “Cerveza Crema” and the additional hops that have been introduced to help with longevity of the product!
Appearance – A very inviting beautiful medium copper color with bone white head that retains for good while with its tight bubble pattern. Nice glass lacing as well.
Aroma – Carmel and Malt goodness play a key role in this easy drinking summer beer. Vanilla as well and it has some nice bread and grain notes. Very pleasing and inviting aroma that makes you almost salivate for that first sip!
Flavor – Sweet Carmel and Vanilla notes ring through. These are flavors are not as subtle as in years past but still are very inviting and acceptable to my tastes. Detectible citrus flavors give it the summer spin that finish of with some hints of clove and possibly cinnamon (Or maybe that is the vanilla working!). The flavor profile of this beer is complex and changes as the beer warms up. You will also get some different flavors if you are coming straight from the can vs. pouring it in a glass or cup. The sweetness my be a bit surprising for some people, but for me I enjoy something multidimensional and it is somewhat deceptive with everything going on in this beer.
Mouth feel – Creaminess is excellent. Very good medium carbonation with a light-medium body. Nice mouth coating with a clean finish.
Overall Impression – A very enjoyable, easy drinking summer beer. At 5.0 ABV you can chill with your pals by the pool and keep pace with the festivities. I always look forward to this beer and start asking for kegs around April 1st. With any luck I am able to get atleast two kegs in before summers end!
Now for the Vessel Comparison – Keg vs. Bottle vs. Can!
The Keg along with the can and the bottle were purchased at around the same time at Bevmo in Chino Hills, CA. (The cans and bottles were out on the floor so they were at room temp up until I purchased them!) I let them sit for about 3 weeks in the kegerator along with the keg to keep roughly the same temp before I cracked the first set for the comparison!
All three examples were poured into pint glasses. Again this helps to keep the playing field level. This also helps to get the aroma out of the beer and is needed in order to get key indicators like head retention, color and overall appearance.
Of all the examples, the most head retention was the bottle. This may have been due to the pour! But for the most part, the product in the bottle seemed to break down a bit. Versus the other examples, it seemed not as balance and the sweetness was more evident. It did not seem as fresh as the other two examples. The age of this been was maybe close to 3 months on this comparison, so that could be the reason!
Of course, the freshest and best tasting beer comes from the Keg. I can really taste the difference. Head retention is good and the overall balance of the beer is great. Of course the carbination from the keg delivery system helps as well! But, for the most part, many people will not have this choice, especially if you are not within the key distribution areas.
So this gets me over to the Can vs. Bottle debate.
Canned beer has been around for a long time, but this is not your grand fathers can of Olympia! The technology that has been put into cans has improved greatly since then. Each can has a special lining (Actually a water based polymer in the case of Ball Manufacturing that produces the majority of the cans for the industry) http://www.ball.com/beverage-containers/ that is designed to prevent any contamination or affect the overall taste of the product.
Overall shelf life.
Sept 3rd tasting. Of course the Keg did not last until this date. I did notice a tailing off at the end of about early August. (Which is about the 3 month period)
The bottle example I tried today had a date of April 13th, 2012. (Julian dates are on the bottles only currently, it is a bit hard to detect and it is located between the collar and main label at the bottom of the neck. It is best to shine a light or hold up to an open window to let the daylight shine through the glass! Calculation can be done via this website http://www.longpelaexpertise.com.au/toolsJulian.php ) which puts it at 4.5 months. My personal pallet would say it about 3 to 4 months should be the breaking point for the bottle.
The can on the other hand was still really good. Unfortunately, I did not have a date to go with, I am hoping at some point AVBC starts this practice. Other craft can makers already have this technology! I am assuming the same batch so equal age to the bottle! The can was opened and poured into only cups this time. (A couple of friends would not let me finish the last one alone!) Aside from maybe some of the spice notes dissipating, it was really good. (I am looking for more to try again)
It also has a tad bit more bitterness in its flavor. (But not over powering) Some of this has been done to help extend the shelf life of this beer.
This year examples are very close in most aspects. There are some very slight nuances that I detected about each one of the methods. Just to prove the difference in batches, one year my keg had much more citrus and lightness in the color versus the much sweeter bottle. This year was not the case.
Head retention – Good retention on Can and Keg versions. The Bottle seems to dissipate pretty quickly.
With the addition of the cans, you can really extent your months of enjoyment of the beer. (Although, maybe it is a mind trick, but it seems much more refreshing coming from the can and obviously will retain more chill for that hot summer day rehydration ration! From the keg, a chilled glass will also keep it cool or pour it into a pitcher with and ice cavity. (Like the one from Kegworks.com) The moral of the story is to keep it cool! The first examples will for the most part be very close, as time goes on, the actual clear winner will be the can. I plan to do this same test with Winter Solstice as well. Including some cans from last year!
You might be able to still find some of this, as the summer seems to be extending itself for us this year! If you see both cans and bottles, you now know which one to grab!
Cheers! El Hefe