Monday, August 23, 2010

Crazy beer at the Ale House

Dreary afternoon. Desperately needed rain, equally desperate need to get out of the house and do something amazing — or at least amusing. So, from the list of fun things to do and other strategies for avoiding boredom-inspired bickering: An afternoon of crazy beer at The Ale House. And, man, they've got some kinda crazy brewskis at the Carriagetown restaurant, located at the former site of Pow Wow River Grille: about thirty wild, intriguing brews on tap, three times that in bottles — from unique Belgian lambics to muscular imperial stouts brewed with coffee to, for all you high-rollers out there, a special Sammy described as other/unclassifiable, that clocks in at 27 percent alcohol and will set you back $22.50 for a 2.5-ounce taste. My goal was to get as far outside my comfort zone as I could and, if at all possible, shut up my buddy Jason — a hopeless task, no doubt — who says I'm just stuck in the sudsy mudsy because of my preoccupation with Czech pilsner. Not that I really care what he thinks. He's moving to Canada anyhow. Weirdo. The wife would be ordering because it was way too scary for me. 

The Ale House makes it easy to take a quick spin around the world, beer-wise, and to do it without getting the spins, with their four-barrel samplers, pictured, in which you can have a five-ounce taste of every draft the have on tap for half the cost of a full-pull, which runs from $4.50 for Mayflower summer rye, to $10 for the Dieu Du Ciel Peche Mortel, one of the coffee brews we were talking about. You don't have fill up a sampler, you can get a single, but that seemed wrong.  And, if you're intrigued by something, but aren't quite ready to commit, they'll bring you a little sample. Which is what we did, at our server's suggestion, with the Haverhill Cali Poms, a pomegranate and cherry wheat ale, surprisingly blond, not red. It's cloudy, lightly carbonated and just kind of sits there, meh? They add a new beer to the lineup every week or so, said Ale House manager and chief suds scout Matt Chase, as we sampled a Cantillon Cuvee St. Gilloise, a Belgian lambic, a beer brewed in the open air with wild yeast, to which Merlot grapes are added, before it is aged in wooden casks. "You'll love it or hate it," Chase said, "There's no in-between." It was sour. Very sour. And quite refreshing, even on a dreary Sunday afternoon, but felt more like a wine experience than beer.

The Ommegang Hennepin was dry and spicy, light and effervescent. The Southampton Pumpkin Ale, for me the scariest item on the menu, was actually quite pleasant, with the pumpkin taste, pronounced but not overwhelming, highlighted by interesting spice notes of nutmeg, cinnamon. Weihenstephaner Hefe, produced at what is purported to be the world's oldest brewery, had a nice bitter finish, but felt reserved, like something was missing. The Tripel Karmeliet came the closest to my comfort zone. It's a high-alcohol (8.4 %) that opens with a malty sweetness and finishes dry as dust. The unexpected, for me, star of the show was Dieu Du Ciel Peche Mortel. The  imperial stout, whose name means Mortal Sin, is infused with coffee during the brewing process. It's big, bold, black and very intense, with a very real kick. it's meant to be savored — because of its 9.5 percent alcohol content and because of the high-jitters caffeine content.

It may sound like a little too much for a Sunday afternoon, but it was all about sampling. Total beer consumed per person came in at just over a bottle a piece, but another trip, this time with a designated driver, seems to be in order. There's a whole big world of beer to be experienced. But, for the record, Jason, I still prefer my pilsner. 
JUST THE FACTS: The Ale House is located at 33 Main St., Amesbury. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, and from  noon to  10  p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 978.388.1950 or check out their webpage.


  1. You know, I got so carried away with the beer list that I forgot to mention that The Ale House is a full-service restaurant with a rock-solid menu — and a family-friendly attitude.

  2. It was great to see that the West Amesburyian climbed out of his comfort zone. It's a big tasty world out there full of good flavors. Not everything will be great but expanding your taste bud horizons is a big step.

    I loved the Ale House on our first visit. I wished I had more time to study the menu before ordering. I scanned for styles of beer and the ABVs of different beers. The waitress made recommendations that steered me to a good Belgian style beer.

    Dieu Du Ciel had an excellent RIGOR MORTIS ABT featured at the Vermont Brewers Festival that boasted at 10% ABV and what I thought was one of the best brews of the day. I'm looking forward to returning to the Ale House to try their other flavors.

    Perhaps my father's trips through the beer world by sampling various brands helped me to seek and enjoy different flavors. Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Miller High Life, Narragansett, Michelob, Lowenbrau, Molsen each are labels I remember from camping trips or our fridge. My belief, that beer should taste good, allows for many great flavors from craft brewers to major brew labels.

    A fruit beer? A vegetable beer? I'm surprised that either touched your lips. But, like the pumpkin, those brews can surprise you. And that what makes the taste exploration fun.

    And if not you could always drink tomorrow.