Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Big Red

Southern Tier Brewing Company
Lakewood, NY

Style: Amber Ale
ABV: 9.5%

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

Get closer with Big Red!

If my memory serves me correctly, drinking Big Red will make hot women want to make out with me, as my breath will smell fresh and clean and cinnamon-y. I used to believe that Big Red was some sort of gum, but it was the 1980s when I last saw those TV ads and Nigel was just a wee tot, so I may have been mistaken. After all, the more you drink, the more you think women must be attracted to you; I’ve never had that happen while chewing gum.

Big Red is yet another offering in the powerful imperial line from Southern Tier, a series that I’ve already touched on with reviews for Un*Earthly Imperial IPA, Imperial Gemini (another IPA), and Back Burner (a barley wine). Franz has also ventured into the imperial line with Imperial Gemini and Choklat Stout (Franz is also a proud owner of a bottle of Big Red, so I hope I’m not stepping on his toes with this review). I’ve also had, but not reviewed, Hoppe, yet another IPA in the imperial series. Needless to say, Nigel likes his beers big, brawny, and loaded with hops, and Southern Tier has properly obliged.

Ah, yes … hops. Southern Tier has clearly established themselves as a brewery for hopheads, especially when it comes to the imperial brews. I’m expecting Big Red to be hoppy as well, despite its classification as an amber/red … er, uh imperial amber/red ale. Back Burner was hoppy for a barley wine, and the IPAs were all extreme hop monsters (I’ve not had the Choklat Stout, so I cannot comment on that). I’m expecting Big Red to prove that you can in fact hop up the typically tame amber/red style. I’m also happy to report that there is now only one beer style that hasn’t gone “imperial”: American macro lager. I guess it’s hard to make imperial toilet water.

Big Red checks in at 9.5 percent ABV, an early indicator that this is going to be unlike any red ale I’ve ever experienced. I’ve stated on numerous occasions that I find this style to be timid, boring, and completely lacking in character, so any brewer that can make one that is unique and powerful is a friend of Nigel. Inexplicably, I chose a standard pint glass for this rather than the more appropriate snifter-style glass or imperial pint, so the pour may be a bit off.

Big Red pours with a thick white pillow, which quickly settles into a moderate creamy trace. The color shocked me; I was expecting a deep amber hue, but instead discovered a brew that was golden brown, with only the slightest amber tinge. Light amounts of sedimentation are present, making this more translucent than transparent (that’s a good thing, as it would otherwise resemble a basic pilsner). The aroma is much weaker than I anticipated, though the general profile is about what you’d expect. Initial aromas of sweet caramel malt are quickly joined by tangy, grassy hops. Southern Tier utilizes exclusively Hallertau hops (Magnum, Perle, and Tradition), so the aroma is earthier and more tempered than you typically get with American hops. It doesn’t really smell like a red ale, but rather an English pale ale or similar brew.

The taste is excellent, but after much debate I’m going with a high three mug rating, as I can’t quite justify this reaching the four mug threshold. It’s one of the better amber/red ales I’ve had, though it’s hard to consider it a red at times; Big Red has numerous characteristics that fall outside of the typical parameters of the style, so it sort of defies classification. A noticeable earthy flavor comes through, equal parts malt and hops. Two row pale and caramel malts are quite noticeable, giving it a lighter malt profile with a noticeable grassy tinge. The Hallertau hops add to this, as they are far grainier than the sweeter, more bitter hops typically found in the Pacific Northwest. Southern Tier also uses chocolate malt in Big Red, but I really couldn’t detect any presence of it in either the aroma or the flavor. There is only the slightest tinge of fruitiness, mainly neutral fruits like pear, red apple, and navel orange, but it’s essentially a two-dimensional brew. I feel somewhat guilty labeling this as a seemingly average three mugger, but I was expecting a bit more bite from something that claims to be “imperial”; the flavor is very good, but it didn’t impress as I hoped it would. Medium to full bodied, Big Red goes down smooth with a mild aftertaste, and does an excellent job of masking the 9.5 percent ABV.

All in all, this is another excellent beer in the imperial line from Southern Tier, but it falls just a hair shy of a four mug rating. It’s hoppy for the style and the European Hallertau hops seem to work better than Northwest hops would, but there is a slight malaise in both the flavor and aroma that I can’t explain. Big Red shouldn’t feel ashamed by being labeled as the weakest offering in the Imperial line, but it’s a designation I can’t avoid making for now. It’s still worth a shot should you find a bomber at the local retailer, but there are plenty of Southern Tier brews more impressive than this.


Reviewed by Nigel Tanner on May 14, 2008.
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