For the third year in a row, beloved local rock band the Toadies have teamed up with Martin House Brewing in Fort Worth to brew something they can crush on stage. And indeed, the sudsy hits keep coming as the two beers released on Sunday, Hell Below, a strong black ale, and Stars Above, a raspberry sour ale, are both worthy additions to the previous Toadies-inspired Martin House brews, Rubberneck Red and Bockslider.
Unveiled to almost 2,000 heat worshippers on the brewery grounds along the banks of the Trinity River, tasting multiple new brews made killing a couple hours before the band took the stage rather enjoyable. Though only two official beers were introduced, a third concoction, a 50/50 mix of the two new beers called Purgatory, was every bit the star attraction. But before entering into Purgatory, looking into the merits of each individual beer was the way to go.
There may not be a better local beer for the sweltering summer than the tart Stars Above. Instantly offering a fruity aroma, the dry but naturally sweet raspberry flavor carried itself well through a smooth sip and into a pleasing aftertaste. This 5.2 percent kettle-soured beer isn’t going to freak anyone’s buds out the way a funkier sour from Fort Worth’s Collective Brewing or Austin Jester King does. It may well be a good gateway into those more adventurous ales, as the sour note leans towards sweet more than it does wild. It’s doubtful anyone will confuse Stars Above for Martin House’s fine pucker-punch Salty Lady, a gose. The clean finish and crisp fruitiness make Stars Above a great beer for cider lovers and pool partiers.
Hell Below, more so than its sour sister brew, is a great year-round choice. Creamy without the thickness of an imperial stout, this beer is perilously close to a stout without actually being named as such. The thick coffee-colored head sat atop a deep, dark body full of the classic roasted notes that lend the better dark beers some character. And at 8.7 percent ABV, Hell Below is a full-bodied brew that doesn't ease up for the sake of approachability.
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Aside from the Toadies-themed names and can designs, the novelty of combining the two beers in one glass was also intriguing. The bartender pulled Stars Above first, then pulled Hell Below to top it off, but the visual effect of pouring a light and dark beer together was lost inside the black plastic cup each attendee was given. Seeing the colorful effervescent collision would've been quite the sight in one of the clear pint glasses the brewery typically hands out during its weekly Saturday tours.
The thought of combining fruity with roasty isn’t immediately appealing, but it absolutely worked. The Purgatory managed to offer a well-balanced experience, though the raspberry of Stars Above again managed to be the most prominent note. The bold nature of the beer’s malty body provided an ample backbone and after a few sips, the combo carried a sense of, “This shouldn’t work — but it really does.” If you were to take a Black IPA from Austin’s (512) Brewing and replace the hops with berries, you might get a similar vibe to the Purgatory beer blend.
With four Martin House beers now sitting on the Toadies gold record-lined shelf, it’ll likely be an annual point of anticipation to find out what flavors and styles come next. Not unlike the sometimes overlooked 2001 album from which these well thought out beers get their names, they are fantastic, though may not be as accessible for the masses as their predecessor — and that’s fine. The unique nature and the successfully tasty execution of this year’s duo have certainly set expectations higher moving forward. The beer is out now around DFW in cans.