What’s Brewin’? Mendocino supplies original, off-the-wall craft brews

By Tyler Estabrook

Staff Writer

While browsing through Woodman’s bargain pints, I came across an overlooked, but capable, American craft brewer, northern California’s Mendocino Brewing Company.

When you’re picking out craft brew pints on a whim, you may end up with something surprisingly delicious or disappointingly cringe-worthy, but at least you tried something new.

For about $2 per 22-ounce bottle, I picked up two interesting brews from Mendocino: Black Eye Ale, an uncommonly rich pre-packaged black and tan, and the strong and tart Talon True Style Barley Wine Ale.

The Black Eye Ale, a mixture of the Mendocino Brewing Company’s Black Hawk Stout and Eye of the Hawk Select Ale, is considerably darker than most commercial black and tans I have seen, like Mississippi Mud. With pre-packaged black and tans, there is no separation of the layers as there is from the tap, but an even blend of the dark and pale flavors.

In the case of the Black Eye Ale, you are first greeted with an almost Irish Stout character of velvety dryness on the tongue, which fades into a mellow, almost porter-like milk chocolate sweetness. All in all, this is something a bit stronger than other pre-mixed black and tans, a bit more on the black side than the tan side. It’s very tasty in my book as well, like a full-blown Imperial Stout with a bit of the edge taken off.

The Talon True Style Barley Wine Ale is something much stronger. I hadn’t tried something specifically called “barley wine” before, but this gave a name to some of the harsher, more generously-hopped ales I have had. It almost reminds me of the sharp, earthy intensity of rye beer, but the Talon is decidedly barley-based. Barley wines are aged ales, generally amber in color, with a seriously tart fruit-like bite in the aftertaste and high alcohol content.

As someone who can handle some pretty heavy and strong ales, the Talon lies slightly outside even my comfort zone. This is challenging stuff, something only the most open-minded beer drinkers might be able to handle. Because of my inexperience with the style, I don’t know how the Talon stacks up in comparison to other barley wines. But what I can say is that the Talon is a reddish, almost purple-hued, ale with a strong, highly-alcoholic flavor and a nearly acrid plum and/or raisin-like aftertaste. It’s definitely not an everyday kind of beer, and getting through 22 ounces of it can be a trial, but the Black Eye Ale I could get used to.

Send questions or beer recommendations to Tyler Estabrook at whatsbrewin@gmail.com.

from the Aug. 26-Sept. 1, 2009 issue

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