Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Kalamazoo Royal Amber

Bell’s Brewery, Inc.
Galesburg, MI

Style: Altbier

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

An ex-colleague of mine, a guy by the name of Pid Purdy, once had a roommate who was a legendary drinker. How legendary, you ask? Well, the dude had a stroke when he was 30. Good enough? Anyway, this roommate of Pid’s had what he called the one rule of bar hopping: When you enter a new bar, walk in like you own the place.

And I’ve gotta say, it’s a good rule.

So as soon as I heard that Bell’s had reentered the market in Illinois with a brand new beer, I immediately snuck out of the basement, “borrowed” the parents’ Gremlin, and high-tailed it over to the closest place that was serving this new brew (“closest” being an extremely relatively term here): the Silver Cloud in Chicago’s über-trendy Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood. And, heeding Pid’s roomie’s rule, I strutted in and looked around like I was Cæsar surveying that giant chunk of Germania he just subdued.

Of course, no one even looked at me, including the hostess in charge of seating newcomers in the small dining room toward the back. The place was full but not crowded, especially for a Saturday night, but something very fateful happened just then, almost like a beam of light from the heavens illuminating some momentous …uh … thing. There was a single empty stool at the otherwise packed bar, and that stool sat right in front of a tap handle of the latest and greatest to come out of Kalamazoo: Royal Amber.

For a long second I just stood there and looked around, suspecting some sort of trap. Things were just too eerily going my way. Maybe the folks had noticed the Gremlin missing and called the FBI, like that time last year when I tried to sneak out and go to Dark Lord Day. But no, I was still being studiously ignored by everyone in the bar, especially the waitstaff. So I ambled over to the open stool, plopped down, and ordered up a beer.

Royal Amber pours a little bit on the light side for the style, but is gorgeous nonetheless: a gradient of dark to light from top to bottom. Kind of like a darker, filtered Oberon. The head is small but thick and sticky, leaving some decent lacing on the glass. Very little by the way of aroma wafted off the top—some maltiness, but definitely much more muted than what you’d find in Bell’s standard amber. Upon tasting, the very first thing that strikes me is how spicy and sharp it is—drier than most Midwest ambers, with a little less body. Not quite as Belgian-like as Dark Horse’s take on the amber style, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that Larry Bell has been playing with some new yeasties for this one. At the end of the sip is a bit of the tinniness that you get in your more authentic alts—which can also find in Bell’s Amber, although way in the background—but the overall taste is sharp, clean, and highly drinkable.

After I heard that Bell’s was introducing supposedly new amber, IPA, and wheat beers when they re-entered the Illinois market, I surmised that these would just be repackaged versions of their Amber, Two-Hearted, and Oberon. As far as their first entry, though, I was 100 percent wrong. Kalamazoo Royal Amber is without doubt a different beer than Bell’s Amber, and a very good one at that. So if you find yourself in Illinois, track some down and give it a taste.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on December 10, 2007.
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