I am generally of the opinion that when someone offers you some beer, you take the beer. You don’t ask a lot of questions about the beer’s origin, or why it’s green, or where the strange, white powder that rims the glass came from. You just take, take, take, and try to remember to stop long enough to give thanks for the stroke of luck.
And so, when Aleheads received an email from Woodland Hills, California brewery Firemans Brew, asking us to taste a few beers, I stepped up to do my sacred duty. I must admit that I had never heard of the brewery before, and assumed (correctly) that this was probably a company on the gimmicky side if everything was fireman related, but I think I’ve already explained the persuasiveness of their argument–”want a beer?” They knew my one weakness.
Being a curious guy/part-time journalist, I searched around the web for more information on Firemans Brew while I waited for a few bottles to make the cross-country trip. This is a small brewery, but seemingly not that small, as its products are now available in Colorado and Illinois in addition to California. They only make three beers and stick largely to craft brewing archetypes–pilsner, amber ale, doppelbock. They haven’t done particularly well on the grading scale of a place like beeradvocate, but with the biases in a place like that toward unknown and non-hyped beer sources, I figured I would make my mind up for myself. Here’s your tasting notes:
Firemans* Brew Blonde: This beer, labeled as a “pilser-style lager,” is very light, straw-yellow in color, and brilliantly clear. The aroma is of very lightly toasty grains, like a bowl of Rice Krispies. There is an odd, almost smoked aroma as well that is very light, but certainly unexpected. It tastes sweeter than expected, and less crisp than a typical lager. This beer has the mouthfeel and body of a light ale instead of a lager. Depth of flavor is certainly not an issue, because it’s fairly assertive, but it’s all malt. I almost taste a touch of vanilla? As you can probably tell, this one threw me for a bit of a loop.
Likewise, this is the kind of beer I often find hard to judge, because it’s not what I expected going in and also not what I expect from a style with the word “pilsner” on the bottle. Now that I think about it, the “pilsner-style lager” description is probably their way of admitting this. Either way, this is not an unpleasant beer, but it’s very far off from what I–and by extension a body like the Beer Judge Certification Program–think of as a pils. It’s largely missing a hop presence, and I’ve never had a pils with this kind of sweetness or body. I feel like my issue is all in labeling here. If you took the same beer and re-labeled it as an “American cream ale,” that would seem more appropriate. As is, I give it 2.5 hops.
*You’ll have to forgive me, but I have no idea if this should have an apostraphe or not. The Firemans Brew website is very inconsistent, using apostraphes in some palces but not in others. Since it’s apostraphe-less on the bottle itself, that’s what I’ll go with.
Firemans Brew Redhead Ale: This beer is essentially the ubiquitous amber ale that most breweries and brewpubs have made at some point in their histories. Sooner or later, everyone makes a beer like this.
That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. The Redhead pours dark red with a finger of white foam. It smells fruity, with dark and dried fruit aromas of black cherry and raisin, and a little bit of grassy and floral hops. Tastewise, it brings forward some sweet, rounded malt flavors with lots of caramel malt there and not a lot else. There is a little bit of toasty breadiness, but it’s hard for much to get past the crystal malt flavors. I have to say, I kept thinking while drinking this that it would probably be really good to simmer some brats or braise a pork shoulder in.
It’s a pretty standard amber ale that is similar to many you could find in old-school brewpubs around the country. I say “old-school” because it’s the kind of beer that certainly doesn’t get really geeky beer drinkers excited in 2012. For its style, it’s acceptable but somewhat one-dimensional. If you’re a person that loves amber ales, there’s a good chance you’ll like this. It reminds me of the kind of beer that first got me interested in the craft movement. Drinking it today, I give it 2.5 hops.
Firemans Brew Brunette Beer: The third beer is a doppelbock that pours surprisingly dark and opaque. It is nearly black in color and looks pretty much just like a porter or stout in the glass. This is honestly the darkest-looking doppelbock I’ve ever seen. There is some sediment in the bottle (the others didn’t have any) and more carbonation than expected.
Aroma-wise it’s not very strong but does seem style-appropriate, with faint nuttiness, raisin and chocolate.
The taste is quite interesting. Instead of the chewy malt and fruity flavors one normally associates with doppelbock, this one emphasizes the roast (as the color would suggest). There is a pleasant strand of milk chocolate-type flavor running throughout. It drinks easily and the 8% abv is completely hidden–you’d never know it was there. It finishes nutty, like a nut brown ale. This does not have a lot of “German” character, nor the fruitiness that the style almost always has, but it’s pretty tasty overall. Definitely my favorite of the three juding by taste alone. I will say though, if I was tasting this blind, I would guess it’s a really dark brown ale or porter, without a doubt. Still, rewarding its taste, I give this one 3 hops.
What did we learn about the full three-beer product line of Firemans Brew? A lot, I think. It seems clear to me that a company like this, opened and operated by firefighters, was started by guys who were beer fans and who wanted to brew the kind of beer they enjoy drinking. They don’t have the most “ambitious” tastes, but that’s not a bad thing. Among all the funky barrel-aging and wild yeast culturing of the craft beer scene’s hipster zenith, there’s always going to be a place for breweries like this that offer what the geekiest among us would think of as “entry level” offerings. It might even be that at this point in history, breweries like Firemans Brew are more important than ever to serve as a welcoming committee and first friend of drinkers making the switch from macro to craft beer. Someone’s got to be there to hand those drinkers an uncomplicated amber ale, lest they try a barrel-aged sour for the first time and get scared away from trying anything new ever again.
And so, if you have access to Firemans Brew, and are trying to get somebody into craft beer, by all means have them try a Redhead or Brunette–especially if someone hands one to you.