First in an occasional series highlighting the best single beer from various Arizona breweries. [If you're only going to drink one, drink THIS:]
Sunnyslope’s North Mountain Brewing was my first true beer love. It was the first brewery I frequented when I started to take beer study seriously and they are (more or less) responsible for me falling in love with the beverage. I’ve highlighted them more times than I can count on this blog, attended their annual blues festival at least once, and toured their brewery floor when they were gracious enough to open their doors. I’ve introduced work colleagues to North Mountain who after visiting raved about it. For those reasons (and probably a few others), I celebrate them with the first “Best Beer” column on this site.
Having said that…(drum roll)…
If you are going to visit North Mountain Brewing only once in your life, you should get their C.R.E.E.M. Ale.
I’ve been to plenty of craft beer bars and breweries when newbies came to visit—people who have never set foot in a craft brewery before. It’s easy to spot them. They look painfully lost. They will peruse the menu and then ask a server “What do you have that’s like Bud/Coors/Miller Light?” Every time this has happened, the server will generally suggest a blonde lager or pilsner. As far as I can tell, the newbie has always been happy.
If your beer experience revolves around Bud/Coors/Miller Light, when you visit North Mountain Brewing, you should order a C.R.E.E.M. Ale. Not because it resembles any of the above, but because it doesn't. It's familiar, yes, but waaaay better.
North Mountain’s C.R.E.E.M. Ale is…an ale. Let’s start there. It’s not a lager, like 95% of most American beers. It’s a tad bolder, slightly less effervescent, and has just the tiniest hint of fruitiness (that’s likely due to the ale-based yeast) than all those other beers. It’s also a golden ale so it will be darker and have more visual umph. It’s not “yellow-gold” like a Blonde Ale but rather, it’s “gold-gold.” It’s a super clear brew so it’s basically like looking gold bars in Fort Knox. It will come to you in a tall, slim vase so you can ogle it in all its beauty.
The menu description states C.R.E.E.M. Ale is brewed with “oats, rye, and Arizona Desert Blossom Honey.” Oats often are used to give beer a creaminess. Higher proteins found in oats also serve to help create foam. North Mountain's C.R.E.E.M Ale isn't foamy, but the mouthfeel is noticeably fuller than your standard lager. The beer is not slick or syrupy but it’s not overly fizzy like a soda either.
Likewise, the honey is not over-done or too sweet. The Desert Blossom honey gives the beer a subtle citrus-like sweetness, almost like oranges. The typical clover honey you get at the store doesn’t quite have the same fruitiness. As for the rye? Well, honestly, I’m still trying to figure that out. It seems the rye gives the beer a little bite. I can’t discern any single hop profile here, so perhaps the rye is used with whatever hops are in this to tone down the honey. On the whole, there’s just so much more flavor here than Bud/Coors/Miller.
On a lark one day, I took some Desert Blossom honey out of my pantry at home and mixed it with a spoonful of plain, unsweetened oatmeal. The taste came pretty darn close to what you’d get with a C.R.E.E.M Ale. But trust me…you’d rather drink what North Mountain is brewing rather than what I stir up in my kitchen. What they’ll give you is like drinking pure gold.
Finally, you might be asking why they call this a “C.R.E.E.M.” ale, if it isn’t really creamy? The answer to that is always on the menu: “C.R.E.E.M.” is a tribute to brewer Rob Berkner’s family.
Second beer: If you are going to have a second beer at North Mountain, have the Hefe Endings. It’s a Hefeweizen for people who may not like Hefeweizens. All the flavor of a hefe, just lighter.
North Mountain Brewing’s C.R.E.E.M. Ale
ABV = 5.9%
IBU = 16
SRM = 7 - 10 [my estimate]