Remember the great ska craze of the mid-90s? My memory of that era is a bit cloudy, but from what I recall it was a thankfully short-lived phenomenon in which kids rediscovered English ska punk from the '80s, which itself was a rediscovery of the original version of ska, a Jamaican dance music that English mods listened to, a trendy precursor to reggae in the '60s (which went on to influence later punk bands). Suddenly punk bands wore suits and formed a weird truce with the band geeks who knew how to play horns for a third-generation ska revival that rivals only the swing-dancing fad that followed in its stupidity.
Hang on, I'll get to the beer in a moment.
I had friends that were into ska punk, but I held my tongue and tolerated repeat plays of Reel Big Fish, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and other ska or ska-influenced bands. I could have done more to stop the spread, but I didn't. Maybe if one had gone so far as to permanently label himself or herself as a ska fan by, say, getting a Less Than Jake tattoo, I'd have intervened. I like to think that if one had started a business that's only tangentially related to music and named it "Ska" I'd have tried to talk them out of it.
OK, now: I wasn't around when Dave Thibodeu and Bill Graham brewed their first batch of beer in 1995 and decided to call it Ska. It's probably too late to suggest another name, and judging by the song on the brewery's web page (music warning), the guys' love of ska outlived that of the general public anyway.
Last month, Ben E. Keith began distributing beers from the Durango, Colorado, brewery, including Ska's True Blonde Ale and Pinstripe Red Ale. After the jump, my thoughts on both.
First off, let me just state that a six pack is a far better way to get to know a new beer than a single sample bottle. As I discovered with the True Blonde, some beers have such subtle flavor notes that it takes more than one to pick up on what the brewer is trying to achieve.
First, my thoughts on Pinstripe Red Ale. Though it's not a bock, this one tastes like a neutered version of Shiner's flagship beer with just a hint more hoppy bite. It's clear amber in color with a creamy head. Pinstripe is not overwhelmingly tasty or memorable, but then again it's certainly not bad. The brewers weren't trying to break any new ground with this one, staying safely in familiar amber beer territory. No great risk, no great reward. Maybe it's not quite as bad-ass as the label's skull clenching a hop between its teeth and smashing a couple of bowling pins would suggest, but it's no weakling either.
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Same song, different verse with True Blonde Ale, which is brewed with clover honey. This American-style ale looks like any clear golden lager, pouring a thin, quickly dissolving head. It has a definite sweet smell, malty and a bit sweet in flavor with a foamy mouth feel and crisp, sour finish that sticks to the tongue with an unfortunate sour aftertaste that's hard to get rid of. In fact, the only way to get rid of it is with another sip, making True Blonde almost compulsively drinkable. I wasn't impressed at first, but after a few I started to pick up on the brewer's intentions. Blonde ales aren't supposed to be especially robust, which is why I don't find them terribly exciting. But for someone accustomed to mass-produced American beers who is looking to make those first tentative steps into craft beers, they're a good place to start. To that end, True Blonde Ale would be a fine introduction. Plus, its label features a cute comic-art blonde on a Vespa.
Ska makes several other styles with clever and/or juvenile names like Steel Toe Stout, Ten Pin Porter and Buster Nut Brown Ale. I'm not sure if all Ska beers are available in Texas, but I'd like to try some of their more flavorful offerings--especially the Nefarious Ten Pin imperial porter and Decadent imperial IPA.