Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Snowshoe Ale

New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, WI

Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 5.7%

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

I give up …

As I’ve alluded to in the past, Nigel tries to keep up with the latest and greatest in the world of craft beer, particularly when it comes to Midwestern products. New releases, seasonal releases, limited-edition releases, new breweries, you name it … I try to sample as many as I can and review them as I see fit. I typically feel that these brews take precedence over other year-round releases, which I can review at any time when there’s a lull in the limited releases.

I’m beginning to rethink this policy, however, as I’ve come to realize something very important: the American craft beer movement is so dynamic, so fast paced, that there never really is a lull. Thus, I can’t try to be Nigel the Heroic and review everything that comes out in limited quantities while continuing to ignore the wide variety of fantastic (and not so fantastic) year-round brews. For one man to try and keep up with all of these developments is impossible, especially considering that I have other things to do besides drink and write about beer (OK, honestly … that’s not entirely true) and there are five other Senior Beer Review Correspondents here at that are just as capable of reviewing them, and they’re far more likely to be succinct and to the point (unlike my patented rambling diatribes). Thus, while Nigel will continue to review beers on a regular basis, I’m no longer going to pigeonhole myself by thinking “Ooh, it’s new … I better get it and review it!”

The perfect example of just how difficult it is to keep up with all things new is New Glarus Brewing Co. Nigel lives in Wisconsin, so New Glarus brews are as prevalent here as fat people and Packer fans (Nigel is neither of these). New Glarus completed work on a new brewery in 2007, which expanded their production capabilities despite the fact that their distribution continues to be limited to the Badger state. Thus, the past year or so has seen the Carey’s experimenting to the extreme, not only with the limited-edition Unplugged Series (under which three or four brews come out annually), but also a number of releases under the regular label. I won’t name them all here since it’s a long list, but in the past two years alone I would estimate there’s been at least a dozen new New Glarus brews, both regular and Unplugged. These have ranged from excellent (Copper Kettle Weiss, most of the Unplugged brews) to awful (Organic Revolution), but ultimately the point is this: regardless of the quality (with New Glarus, it’s usually very high), it is becoming damn near impossible to keep up with them all.

This leads me to my latest review, which is for New Glarus’ newest offering, Snowshoe Ale, and thus goes completely against everything I just said. However, I figured the best way to introduce my new policy ( Statute No. NT1754-123P) was to give the old policy a final farewell. Thus, this amber/red ale is going to get the Nigel treatment. On the surface, it would appear that Snowshoe is a standard craft American amber, as there is little you can do as a brewer to make this style too terribly exceptional. Checking in at a modest 5.7 percent ABV, I remain optimistic that New Glarus has crafted an amber that will rival the best the Midwest has to offer.

Snowshoe pours with a bountiful head; I was unable to empty the entire bottle into a pint glass in a single pour and then had to let it settle about 5 minutes or so before indulging. The thick white head steadily evaporates, leaving a creamy froth at the top throughout the drink (it settles to about an eighth of an inch), as well as a fair amount of residue on the side. It’s a beautiful dark red/mahogany color with good carbonation and very little sedimentation. It’s as picturesque an amber as you’ll find anywhere.

The aroma is slightly stronger than a typical American amber/red and very pleasant. The usual suspects are in abundance: malt dominates with scents both sweet and grassy, and Noble hops offer a faint secondary note. The aroma seems to indicate that this is indeed super-malty, but it’s more the grainy, earthy type than the sweet, sugary type. The flavor quickly verifies this fact. Abundant flavors of grassy malt come through, with a nice tinge of sweeter malt (caramel and toffee) to balance it off. The flavor is more complex than the aroma, as there is a nice secondary flavor of sweet fruit (some citrus, some tart cherry) and the slightest kiss of Noble hops. New Glarus claims that Snowshoe uses a blend of American and German malts, which then go through a “complicated decoction mash process,” adding to the already abundant malt flavors. I know not what this “decoction mash process” is, but their claims that it will ensure a rich, malty flavor is dead-on. The use of grassier German Noble hops helps add to the already profuse earthy taste. While the flavor is very well balanced, it’s also somewhat one-dimensional at times, as is often the case with amber ales. Medium bodied, Snowshoe is smooth on the palate and has a mild aftertaste that lingers for a bit. The smooth texture and tolerable ABV make this a prime candidate for a winter session brew.

Ultimately I settled on a high three mug rating. If I were rating this based on style, it’d easily be a four, as it’s on the higher end of the spectrum when it comes to amber ales. It’s a bit more flavorful than many ambers out there, and some of the key characteristics are nicely enhanced, which makes it a notch or two above average. I’m assuming this is available for a limited time only, as it surely won’t be long before the Careys roll out the next big thing in New Glarus. In the meantime, check this out should you see it, as it’s another fine example of a Midwestern amber … and yet another reason why we can do without Fat Tire!


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on February 5, 2008.
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