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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 66.0° F  Fair
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Beer Here: Unplugged: Apple Ale from New Glarus Brewing
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Credit:Robin Shepard

Few beers reflect the bounty of the fall harvest like New Glarus Apple Ale. This limited-release seasonal brew has the qualities of both beer and cider. New Glarus brewmaster Dan Carey last made it in 2008, and brought it back this year to satisfy a faithful following. The beer is on store shelves now, and it makes a crisp addition to holiday meals and gatherings.


What is it? Apple Ale from New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wis.

Style: The base beer of New Glarus Apple Ale is a brown ale. As the name implies, these beers are deep copper to brown in color. They are medium bodied and commonly give emphasis to a mild but firm, sweet maltiness. They also may offer light roasted tones in the flavor profile and finish. Brown ales commonly range from 4% to 6% ABV. Generally, when fruit is added to a beer like this, the brewer is attempting to influence the flavor profile with obvious, yet harmonious fruit qualities; the fruit should not overwhelm the underlying style of beer.

Background: The brown ale at the heart of this brew is composed of at least three different malts and a mild amount of Cascade hops. To that, fresh appple juice is added from a blend of Jonathan, Haralson, Macintosh and Cortland varieties, among others. The apples were from the 2010 harvest and processed by Kickapoo Orchard of Gays Mills, and were actually squeezed into juice the day before being added to the fermenter and the awaiting beer. The beer takes about four weeks to ferment and finishes at about 4% ABV. It sells for around $9/four-pack

New Glarus Apple Ale has a number of awards to its credit. It received a gold medal as the best seasonal beer at the 2008 Jamesville Kiwanis Fall Fest-of-Ale Championships. In 1997, it was given a gold medal in the World Beer Championships and a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival.

Carey first made his Apple Ale in 1995, and initially marketed it in 750ml bottles that were sealed with black wax. It's now part of the New Glarus "Unplugged" series -- beers reflecting a free, untethered spirit. Carey says he's planning to change the name of that series to "Thumb Print" next year, though. He wants to make sure he differentiates his limited releases from other breweries that are using similar names for specialty beer lines. In early 2011, a new Thumb Print label design will be used for bottles, with the beer name specified by a unique neck label. Currently, if you look closely at New Glarus bottle caps, you'll notice that fingerprint design. Carey adds that he intends to make six different beers in that limited release series next year, but he's not ready to offer details as to what they'll be.

Tasting notes:

  • Aroma: Assertive apple.
  • Appearance: Clear, deep copper to bronze color with a medium bubbly tan head.
  • Texture: Light to medium bodied and bubbly. The effervesce and apple tones accentuate the beer's crispness.
  • Taste: The semi-sweet apple dominates. A light caramel maltiness in the background.
  • Finish/Aftertaste: The apple continues to dominate the ending.

Glassware: A wine glass or champagne flute will encourage sipping and show its color and effervescence.

Pairs well with: This is a wonderful pre-meal beer -- its fruity tartness and crispness will cleanse the palate and stimulate the appetite for the meal to come. For entrées it goes well with pork and chicken.

Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four).

The Consensus: A- (excellent) at BeerAdvocate and 97/99 (overall/style) at RateBeer. In 2010, RateBeer also ranked it as one of the Top 50 American Session Beers.

The Verdict: New Glarus Apple Ale was my family's Thanksgiving beer of choice, and it's earned a repeat performance for the holiday meals still to come in 2010. This is a beer for those who also enjoy cider. It offers a semi-sweet, crisp fruitiness that is assertive enough to make you wonder if you are drinking a cider. However, the deep copper bronze color and round mouthfeel from the underlying brown ale give it a beer character. This is a great fall seasonal that deserves a place at the holiday dinner table for beer and hard cider fans alike.

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