The Twin Cities grow thick with new breweries taking turns at traditional styles of beer, and it’s far from a bad thing — it’s raising the bar for quality in a noticeable way. And the last thing we’d bemoan is too much consistently good beer.
But still we’re drawn to the oddballs, the one-offs, the shots in the dark (even those that miss the target). We love it when brewers go out on a limb, and at face value, that’s what Summit is offering with its Unchained Series. As we sip on its fourteenth entry, the bière de garde, we find the series continues its two recent trends: always satisfying and rarely exciting. Don’t get us wrong, the bière de garde is toasty, comforting, and supremely drinkable. It’s one we’d order again but it’s one we feel like we’ve ordered before.
The beer casts a nearly opaque shade of coffee brown. It comes on with Newcastle-like sweetness before coalescing around burly toffee and malt flavors and a faint bitterness. The alcohol sits on the mid-palate before slipping beneath a clean, dry finish. There’s lots of pleasant malt to enjoy in a hearty sip that screams autumn, doubtless a fine companion for something braised or stewed. The official release is next Monday at the Nook.
It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Unchained Series — a balanced, prim and proper draught. But that’s the problem: For the Unchained Series, this beer is securely on the chain. We remember the unique Kolsch and a stunning Wee Heavy. As of late, it’s trending conventionally, with two light, hoppy ales leading to this brew that strikes a familiar fall profile.
This beer is good, it’s textbook good, with a flavor profile photocopied straight from the BJCP guidelines. Look, we’re not expecting Summit to go all Sam Calagione and craft a fig-flavored, kafir-fermented, millet-based imperial sour. But how about a lambic or other fruit beer? Partner with an orchard and bottle a snakebite. Make a good shandy. Make us angry. Make a mistake.
They’re already doing firkins and small experimental batches for their Friday tap room hours, so the willingness to branch out must surely exist. And that’s good, because there are some different avenues to explore before other conventional styles get unchained. Summit has made an EPA the most successful Twin Cities beer of the last quarter century. We have to imagine that kind of brewing muscle has room to flex in a way we haven’t yet seen.
Summit Unchained #14:
Bière de Garde
Malts: Pilsen, Special Aromatic, Biscuit, Vienna, Cara Red & De-bittered Black
Yeast: Scottish Ale