We’re pleased to have a selection of Grand River Brewing’s beers available to us for a limited time. Over the next few weeks we hope to review four of their flagship beers. To start things off we have “Plowman’s Ale“.
I’ll be honest I’m not sure exactly what style Plowman’s Ale is intended to be. I don’t mean that in a a condescending, insulting way. Nor do I mean to say that it’s this weird undefinable mutant hybrid beer. The truth is neither the label nor the website state a style category. Their website does say that it’s a “traditional style beer” but that’s about it. Beer Advocate and Rate Beer call it an American Amber. It is amber. I don’t so much get the American (it is Canadian after all) and if you are going in expecting a slightly more malty-caramel APA with lots of American and New World hop flavours you will be sorely disappointed. But honestly, I don’t think that was ever Grand River’s intention so I will make an argument that these sites have it classified incorrectly and will not fault the beer for it.
In contrast, my initial impression of Plowman’s Ale was that, if reviewed as homebrew, it would be most appropriately placed in the BJCP 2015 11C Category for Strong Bitter, which falls under the “British Bitter” major heading. As this classification will lend it the most favourable review I will treat it as such. This is a great beer and I’m not going to slander it for being something it never said it was to begin with. Personally English style bitters are not my favorite style but it is my intention to review beers for what they are.
I believe this bottle was relatively fresh. I applaud Grand River’s effort to stamp a “bottled on date” but unfortunately it was completely smudged on the bottle. In fact all of the bottles I purchased of their various styles had illegible dates. Nothing major, but in case they ever read this: you might want to fix that or else just leave it off altogether. But really, who knows what misfortunes this beer saw as it travelled from Ontario to Newfoundland.
Reviewer’s Tip: Let this one warm up a bit. I didn’t think a whole lot of it at first but it really opened up with time and this was mandatory for the malt and hops to balance out.
I intend to use the BJCP scoresheet for my reviews simply because I am trying to get practice for the BJCP exam. I don’t actually take myself that seriously….
Appearance: Plowman’s Ale poured a beautiful copper orange. Brilliantly clear. I poured it fairly aggressively to achieve about one finger of off white, dense, shiny foam. This foam lingered the whole way down the glass. No faults here. 3/3 BJCP points for appearance.
Aroma: Admittedly this started out very shy immediately after being poured but woke up as the beer warmed. Low-moderate hop aroma with lots of earthy and herbal notes as well as a hint of citrus that seemed to blend in with the notable amount of fruity esters. Malt is present but a little nondescript. Hints of caramel underline a toasted graininess that can otherwise simply be described as “malty”. I generally hate using that vague term, but truly the smell was that of “malt”. 11/12 BJCP points for aroma.
Mouthfeel: Medium-full bodied and moderately carbonated. If this was on draft I’d say it’s maybe a bit too carbonated but will accept that this was bottled to be shipped out and they didn’t want people pouring up flat beer. A little heavier than I would like but within the guidelines I chose so 5/5 BJCP points for mouthfeel.
Flavour: Much like the aroma, the flavour was lost in this beer when it was cold. On my first few sips all I got was bitter without much else. Luckily this subsides quite quickly and I won’t fault the beer for my poor decisions as clearly I stored this too cold.
Earthy, grassy hops dominate immediately, followed by a sudden rush of bitterness. A touch of caramel sweetness tries to support this bitterness but falls just shy of hitting the mark, for my tastes at least.
If I had one slight criticism I’m thinking they may burtonize their water, which his fine, but to me it’s pushed a touch too far. There is a mineral flavour that begins to border on metallic that is maybe a little too present for my liking. Some people like that though so it’s a matter of opinion. If I’m wrong on that it could just be that the bittering is a bit too off balance and what I taste is a bit of astringency from the hops. Luckily this seems to come and go in a flash and does not take away from the beers strongest feature: its seemingly never ending, constantly evolving aftertaste.
The malt flavour lingers for an impressive duration leaving a slightly sweet whole grain dough taste along with some dark dried fruit and a supporting level of bitterness. Imagine Raisin Bran… if you poured a beer on it… only good. Even longer into the aftertaste (as in it’s been 10 minutes and I can still taste this beer) the malt is still holding strong with faint notes of freshly baked bread crust. Fruitiness from the yeast also lingers for quite a long time as does a slight citrus acidity on the tongue.
Again, I’m not sure what style Grand River would like Plowman’s Ale classified as, or if they even had a style in mind to begin with, so I’m trying to not to be too critical of what I perceive as a few minor style faults that very well may have been intentional. With that said, for my impression of the beer, I would say it’s a little too hop forward. Again, if they were aiming for a maltier, lower alcohol version of an English IPA then by all means they nailed it. But for a “balanced” beer it’s just off the mark. Overall I’d say 16 points out of 20 for flavour.
Overall Impression: Here’s where things get a little hard. I like this beer. I really like this beer. But it’s a confusing beer. At only 4.7% ABV you would think that this would be a beer that would fall in the “sessionable” category. But truth be told it’s almost a little too rich in flavour to be classified that way. I enjoyed drinking my beer but I didn’t immediately crave another. In fact, I found myself slowly sipping it over the course of an hour. The beauty in this beer is in its constantly evolving flavour. This would be lost if one simply “pounds it back”. In fact, I found myself thinking of this beer as the everyman’s sipping beer after a hard day’s work; a refreshing alternative to the high ABV flavour bombs that force you to sip them. And that’s when it hit me: The “Plowman” on this beer’s label would drink this beer at the end of the day. For the sake of continuity in treating this as a BJCP review under category 11C I’d give in an 8/10 for BJCP points. As a beer that chose not to define itself in the first place: 9/10.
Plowman’s Ale – Score Card
Overall Impression: 9/10
Total: 44/50 – “Excellent”
This review had no affiliation with Grand River Brewing, nor did they sponsor this post in any way. I do thank them for supporting our local craft beer community and sending their product all this way for us to enjoy.