Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Seeing as I'm on holiday in the States I thought I'd take the opportunity to review a beer that I won't be able to get a hold of in the UK and after several pints, I had decided on New Belgium's excellent spring seasonal pale ale 'Dig' as it's been my most quaffed beer on this trip. However when I was lucky enough to run into one of New Belgium's famed Beer Rangers while out for a meal and was presented with a free can of their new lager 'Shift' I was equally as impressed, especially as being an ale-head it probably would not have caught my eye. I was so pleasantly surprised by Shift that it would be rude not to review this beer as well, especially as it's only just been released alongside an impressive marketing campaign and no doubt this lager will, well, shift lots of units this summer and beyond.
Dig in, for victory
I first encountered New Belgium almost two years ago when I first visited Fort Collins, Colorado and before I became the craft beer obsessive I am today. I consumed pint after pint of their Fat Tire ale which is now a staple across the 28 states within which it is sold. Fat Tire, along with their range of core beers such as 1554 black lager and Sunshine Wheat no longer appeals to my palate which generally asks a little more of their beers these days but their more experimental brews such as Belgo Belgian IPA and their awesome autumn seasonal Hoptober always leave me begging for more. I have contacted them asking if they will ever distribute to the UK but sadly it doesn't look that this is likely to happen anytime soon however if any fellow Brits reading this ever visit the States be sure to try some of their beers. If you ever find yourself in Colorado be sure to pay a visit to 'The Mothership' which is the New Belgium nick name for their Brewery and Tap room, it's a beautiful piece of architecture and the best brewery tour I've ever been on (you get to go down a slide!) but make sure you book online in advance as tours fill up fast.
Having visited Fort Collins on a few occasions now I've had plenty of time to speak to locals about their opinions on the local breweries and although there is a huge, steaming pile of love for New Belgium not everyone considers them a 'craft' brewer any more and the word 'macro' was bounced around on more than one occasion. You see, New Belgium produce one heck of a lot of beer, they are the largest independent brewery in Colorado and the third largest in the States (behind Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada respectively.) Their beer is everywhere so a few hardcore beer geeks I communed with have disowned them but their loss is everyone else's gain as New Belgium produce some seriously kick-ass beers.
Speaking of which, on with the review starting with Dig, a new spring seasonal pale ale. Dig is a pretty recent addition to the New Belgium lineup following a revamp of some of their seasonal beers, it's more experimental than some of their core range and features an intriguing combination of Target, Sorachi Ace, Nelson Sauvin, Centennial and Cascade hops which gives this pale ale a really unique character. I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Sorachi Ace hops, although many beer fans covet the strong herbal aromas Sorachi Ace produces I can find it a little medicinal tasting however when used well (such as in the excellent Thornbridge Bracia) it can really open up the flavour of a beer.
The good news is that I only have big, big love for Nelson Sauvin and C-hops so how will these five unique tasting hop varieties taste together? Dig pours with a deep golden hue and produces a small blonde head that lingers long enough to leave a nice lace around the glass as you take a swig. On the nose the first and most dominant aroma that I get is of dry white wine, no doubt due to the Nelson Sauvin plus a little bit of lemon peel and dried herbs. Despite these five hops being so different in character Dig combines them all in one glorious whole, lemon and grapefruit notes mingle with grape and white wine flavours with that herbal edge preventing the malts from being overly sweet. The finish is dry and very, very moreish, it's an excellent beer and very easy to drink, a perfectly light and yet flavorsome beer for the spring months.
You'll want several...
Now it's time to 'shift' the focus of this review (HAH!) to the brand new pale lager from New Belgium. These guys already produce a very refreshing pilsner called Blue Paddle, it's a great interpretation on the classic Czech style but not to my tastes. Shift is closer to the Helles style of lager and not a million miles away in terms of flavour from the excellent USA Hells from Camden Town Brewery which I also tried recently and thoroughly enjoyed. As I said earlier I probably wouldn't have ordered this beer based on the fact that it's a lager alone but when the offer of a free can (Shift is only available in 16oz cans, a clever marketing move in my opinion) came about I could hardly refuse.
The first thing that struck me about Shift is how prominent the aroma of lavender and elderflower is when you pour it from the can, it really slaps you in the face and indicates that this lager is seriously hopped. It is a true US interpretation of a European style, it pours the colour of pale straw with a very thin head and is very heavily carbonated as is typical of a lager but as well as being incredibly refreshing it hits you with a barrage of lemon, lime and elderflower and practically grabs you by the collar and demands you take another sip after you have swallowed your first. It is a truly wonderful lager, the second lager I've had on this trip that has really impressed me and proof that it's a style that craft brewers will make their own this year.
I think Shift will sell exceptionally well, not only because of a truly inspired marketing campaign but the superb branding and it will go a long was towards further increasing the market share that craft beer has in the United States. However as someone that can still remember when they found beers like this a little too hop forward I don't think it will make too many new beer geeks, on the contrary I think this is a lager that beer geeks like myself won't be ashamed to admit their love for because it's a stunner of a brew.
If, like me, you'd like to see New Belgium beers available in the UK, please harass them by clicking here to visit the contact us page so you can send them your request.