Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Third Coast Old Ale

Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Galesburg, MI

Style: Old Ale
ABV: 9.0%

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Outstanding within its style.)

First of all, I must admit it was a tad bit difficult for Nigel to review the tasty beer style known as “Old Ale”, a powerful, malty brew that is often hard to find. The reason for my reluctance is this: Nigel will be celebrating a birthday in a few months, and … sigh … it’s not exactly a milestone I’m looking forward to reaching. After 10 years of enjoying my carefree 20s (really, really enjoying in many cases), Nigel will hit the dreaded three-oh, and the prolonged depression since my last birthday is beginning to deepen (Note to family: I added this for dramatic effect—Nigel is not actually depressed … yet). I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about—just another day, after all—but most of Nigel’s friends are younger and like to rub in how incredibly old he is. On the plus side, I still retain the title of second youngest Beer Dork (damn you, Franz), so I got that going for me, which is nice.

Before I become suicidal, let’s put all this talk of old age aside and focus on Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale. This brew first popped up at my local good beer retailer around Memorial Day weekend, somewhat odd timing considering that most web sites, including Bell’s official site, refer to it as a winter release. This out-of-season timing isn’t unusual for Bell’s seasonals in my area, however, as I often find Double Cream Stout and Consecrator Dopplebock months after their normal release dates.

I have to admit that I passed this selection up the first few times I saw it, thinking it was Bell’s Third Coast Ale in a slightly different package (don’t laugh—Nigel was in a hurry). Bell’s Third Coast Ale is a year-round American Pale Ale that, in my opinion, is the weakest link in their otherwise stellar lineup. I often browse the Bell’s selections when looking for new brews to sample, and I scoff at the sight of Third Coast Ale wasting space between the solid offerings of Two Hearted Ale, Porter, Amber, Oberon, and other seasonals. When I finally realized that this was Third Coast Old Ale, a whole other selection all together, I scooped up a sixer and went home to indulge. Not sure why the folks at Bell’s found it necessary to recycle the “Third Coast” title.

Old ales are referred to as such due to the fact that they were traditionally aged in barrels or vats to be consumed at a later date, yet another example that fine brews can, and sometimes should be aged, so fuck you Anheuser-Busch and your ridiculous “born-on-date.” Also referred to as stock ales, old ales are typically not as thick and dark as stouts and are a bit sweeter, with caramel and toffee malt that most closely resembles a scottish ale or dopplebock.

Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale is a prime example of the style, very powerful at 9 percent ABV, but extremely tasty, with little hint of the fact that you’re drinking such a high-alcohol brew. This was one of the sweeter brews I’ve been fortunate enough to sample, but with a more noticeable hint of hops than other old ales I’ve had, which led to a complex flavor: sweet and spicy, without the alcoholic sting.

Third Coast Old Ale pours very nicely: a deep amber hue with a rich, creamy head on the pour that slowly dissipates, leaving a nice lace on the top of the glass. It’s a very cloudy brew, with a fair amount of sediment that dances in the glass, ultimately settling at the bottom. The aroma is enough to make those with a sweet tooth salivate. A very sweet, rich, sugary aroma of caramel, molasses, and toffee overwhelms the nostrils. The taste reflects this aroma, but with more balance due to a noticeable hop addition that can easily be tasted, but not smelled. Sugary malt dominates, as this is one of those brews that makes you feel like it’s going to leave you with a cavity if you drink more than one. The sweetness is balanced by an nice, but not overwhelming, hop bite. Again, the alcohol is really not detectable, which is a potential danger in this style of brew.

Third Coast Old Ale goes down fairly smooth, is medium to full bodied, and is far too strong to be considered a session brew. This past week, I noticed that it seems to have disappeared from the shelves at my local retailer, so it may be difficult to locate for awhile if it is in fact still a seasonal. While summer may not be the best time to enjoy this brew anyways, I would certainly recommend finding this at the next release date, as it is easily one of the finest examples of a unique and complex beer style out there.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on July 19, 2007.
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