Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Ale Asylum
Madison, WI

Style: Amber Ale

Nigel’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Ambergeddon it … are you getting it … yes Ambergeddon it.

Ah, yes. Nigel is nothing if he isn’t completely unoriginal, so I thought I’d open my latest review with the song that popped into my head upon thinking about the beer. I did this a couple of weeks ago with my New Glarus Smoke on the Porter review, that time with the classic song “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple. The reaction to that was enormous (as in nobody reacted, so there was an enormous silence), so I thought I’d try it again. This time, it’s Def Leppard’s “Armageddon It,” a song that, unlike the Deep Purple one, actually came out during my lifetime and I remember listening to when it was popular (granted I was like, 9, but whatever). Nigel is now inspired to put on some 1980s-era Def Leppard while continuing the review rather than just putting the iTunes on shuffle, which can be a dangerous proposition (the Sage Francis/Barry Manilow/Atreyu mix is a bit unsettling).

Since I’m Ambergeddoning it, that means I’m back on board with Madison-based Ale Asylum. About a month ago I wrote a long, rambling review about how I felt Ale Asylum was overrated and had been largely disappointed with my few experiences. I intended to focus more on the brewery than the beer (Hopalicious), since Eddie had already written a dead-on review. In retrospect, I wish I had done what I was planning to do before I submitted it, which was to just scrap it and try again later with a different beer. It was one of those reviews where I knew what I wanted to say, felt like I had something interesting to say, but was never able to properly translate it into words, which made it just plain stupid. I felt even worse when I found out soon after that Franz had submitted a Hopalicious review literally hours after I had sent my rambling diatribe (honestly, if your looking for a good review for Hopalicious, read the first and last ones and ignore the one in the middle). I should have left well enough alone, but I nonetheless tried to make a point and in true Nigel fashion, failed miserably.

Still, I’m not yet willing to back off my initial claim that Ale Asylum is overrated, though I’m going to ignore that belief for now and try them anew, this time with the other beer they bottle and distribute outside of the Madison area, Ambergeddon. Like Hopalicious, it’s got a catchy name which is right in line for a brewery that tries to be hip and edgy. However, there really isn’t much you can do to a relatively timid, by-the-books style like an amber that will make it too terribly exciting. Making an amber ale appear “extreme” is the beer equivalent of making buttered toast look hip or making Des Moines the capital of coolness. It just ain’t gonna happen, bro’. I wish there was something else from Ale Asylum that I could review, but their bottled selections are pretty limited right now, and I don’t think I’ll be getting to Madison in the near future for a growler.

So, Ambergeddon it is. I checked around some web sites to get an ABV, and I only found a couple of unofficial listings that claimed it to be 6.9 percent. If this is in fact true, then it may be the strongest amber I’ve ever had, at least in terms of alcohol (I can’t verify that, however—there is no listing on AA’s website). According to Ale Asylum, Ambergeddon has “a fury of hop flavor and a hint of malt backbone.” This struck me as quite odd, since amber ales are typically reversed, with a fury of malt flavor and a hint of hop backbone. Being a total hophead who normally finds ambers to be bland and boring, this has the potential to be right up my alley.

Ambergeddon opens with an initial aroma of Northwest hops that has me drooling in anticipation, hoping I have finally hit the jackpot with a hophead’s amber. The pour is perfect: a nice, creamy head of about a half inch or so quickly dissipates, leaving a beautiful trace at the top of the glass throughout the drink. A cloudy, apricot color (it’s not really an amber amber), it’s a bit more lively than you would expect and a shade or two lighter, which again has me hoping it’s going to be all hopped up. The aromas in the glass are Northwest hops first and foremost, with a mild malty backdrop of caramel and roasted nuts. There is a lighter citrusy zip up front as well, with a hint of figs and other dark fruits in the background, along with a consistent earthy, grassy aroma. While aromatic, it’s not too extreme; the smell is more what you would expect from a malty pale ale.

So, every indication points to this having nice, crisp hop flavor with only a kiss of malt. The reality? Not so much. Yes, it’s definitely hoppier than your typical amber ale; there’s a nice hop addition (I’m tasting Centennial, though I could be mistaken), but it quickly fades after an initial bite. The hoppy zip is both piney and zesty due to citrusy notes of grapefruit and orange peel. This fades into the background quickly, however, and a grainy, earthy flavor takes over. This could be due to the type of hops utilized (if they are in fact Centennial, I’ve always found them to have a bit of a grassier, grainy texture than other prominent American hops) rather than malt, but I’m not sure … I can’t seem to get my finger on it. Ambergeddon claims to only have a hint of malt backbone, and while I do taste some caramel and roasted tinges on the back end, it’s not terribly noticeable. Therefore, I won’t point to the malt when trying to explain the graininess of this; I’m not quite sure what the origin is, but it’s not totally agreeable. Had this retained the initial hoppiness, it would be an awesome beer (though much more a pale ale than an amber). Had the sweet caramel and roasted malt come through more at the end, it would have been a solid amber. Instead, it’s sort of stuck in purgatory, making it not nearly as enjoyable as it could be. Medium bodied, Ambergeddon goes down fairly smooth with a strong aftertaste. I think the ABV may in fact be around the 7 percent mark, making this a dangerous proposition if your thinking about a session brew.

All in all, this was a pleasant drink but could have been better. If Ale Asylum wants to make a hoppy brew with only a slight malty tinge, then they should have just gone for an APA or an English IPA. Instead, they end up with a beer that’s not quite a pale ale, not quite an amber, and not quite as good as it could be due to an overwhelming grassy, grainy flavor that grows old after awhile. Ambergeddon is a good beer that is worth a try if you should find it, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on January 16, 2008.
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