I went to the Meddlesome Moth on a whim yesterday for the Wednesday special tapping, without having looked up the beer to be featured. It turned out to be Left Hand Chainsaw Ale, about which I knew not a thing. I was about to Google it, and then decided it would be interesting to drink it blind and see how my impression compared to the brewery's description.
Would I even be able to identify what style it was supposed to be? I realized this could be a fun if potentially humbling game for a beer nerd to play whenever one encounters a completely unfamiliar brew. You could play it with a friend, but it works fine as a one-person game on those occasions when you find yourself at a bar and need to distract yourself from the nagging feeling that your beer snobbishness and your drinking alone might somehow be related.
I started with the name. It was an ale, so I could eliminate lager styles. Chainsaw is somewhat badass-sounding, so it would probably be a big, aggressive style, likely high in alcohol.
The color was a deep dark red, clear with a puffy white head that stuck to the glass. Slightly sweet, bready and caramel- or toffee-tinged malt notes dominated the nose, but the hops were very noticeable in the dry, bitter taste. Yet the hops weren't in-your-face piney or citrusy, but rather more of a spicy, earthy flavor. Maybe a double IPA, but with English rather than West Coast hops? It had very brisk, prickly carbonation and felt on the heavy side of medium-bodied without being syrupy, and had a very crisp, clean finish. The roasty, toasty maltiness became more noticeable as it warmed up. It was very well balanced and didn't have an off-putting alcoholic heat, but there was definitely some warmth. At least 6 or 7 percent ABV, maybe more. Perhaps a doubled-up red ale? I liked it a lot, but there wasn't any one dominant trait that led me to a particular style, so I decided my final guess would be the seemingly catch-all style "American strong ale."
As it turns out, Left Hand calls it a "double ESB," a 9 percent ABV riff on their Sawtooth Ale ESB. ESB (short for Extra Special Bitter) is an English beer style meant to be balanced and somewhat hoppy, though not as much as an IPA. I felt pretty good that I'd had the impression of English hops, and even better when I saw that Beer Advocate calls it an American strong ale. If I were a smarter man, I'd have picked up on the "saw" in the name referring to Sawtooth.
I played again with the red-ribbon happy-hour-priced Brooklyn Fiat Lux. The bartender had earlier told me it was a wheat, but I wondered if I could nail a specific style. Never having taken Latin or heard the phrase, the name meant nothing to me. It was a very clear yellow, so probably safe to eliminate hefeweizen. The nose had a pretty noticeable bubblegum and clove quality. It was refreshing and bitter and tangy. Witbier? But I don't usually like wits, and I liked this beer. And it had a fairly full body, the puffy white head leaving a lot of lacing on the glass. Probably more than 6 percent ABV. Maybe a saison? Very bitter, somewhat spicy, very complex. I was stumped.
As it turns out, it is a witbier. I should have trusted that first impression. Nailed the ABV, at least (6.1 percent), and a few of Brooklyn's descriptors like refreshing and bitter.
And now you've got a new solo drinking game, in case solitaire quarters and solitaire beer pong were getting old.