Typically when coming across a Flying Dog brew, the drinker is greeted first with the jaunty, gonzo artistic stylings of Ralph Steadman, most famous for illustrations depicting the adventures of his late friend and literary icon, Hunter Thompson. Whether it is the dangling teats and snarling demon dog face upon the Raging Bitch IPA, or the upright smiling pig with arms outstretched on their Easy pale ale, the hard, irregular lines and acid trip quasi abstract styling is unmistakable, both as Steadman’s work and as a signal that the brew is from Flying Dog. However as you are strolling through your local beer shop, the dull, subdued hues of brown and grey which bring to view an altered version of Michelangelo’s “Last Supper,” which adorn the label of the Counter Culture may be enough to fool you.
Yes, of course this is a beer review and of course I should be launching into a description of this American amber, and I will. However as a longtime fan of Hunter Thompson and by extension, Ralph Steadman, such a departure from his chaotic and now iconic styling as this – the re-creation of a historical masterpiece – cannot be overlooked. This both for its artistic realities, as well as the noted departure by the brewery from the established norm of the brew style itself, as I am most accustomed to it.
To begin with, this amber ale possesses a nose that is altogether hoppier than I am used to from an amber. Brewed with Citra hops, the floral, slightly grassy scent comes through clean and curious, as such is typically not found in a red, at least not to such a degree. Upon a sip, the expected hop kick drawn from the nose of it is far less than anticipated, with a subtle and balanced malt notes stepping forward at the beginning, then giving way ever so slightly to the Citra hop profile.
In regards to texture, it possesses a light to medium-light body with a crispness rolling in just before the finish, which itself is generally clean, leaving only hints of malt and hop in its wake. Somewhat spicy, with elements of cinnamon and nutmeg, it is also a nutty amber with an additional slight taste of maple to it. All in all, it is surprisingly complex for an amber, which I am somewhat accustomed to being often simple style ales best suited to accompany a meal, rather than to sit and ponder on their own merits. With this amber however, I find in each sip, something different and curious to appreciate. With a respectable 6.0% abv, it brings little to no burn or bite from its alcohol content, while remaining respectably sweet on its own.
Perhaps what I like most about this beer, beyond its rich flavor, fine aroma, great pour and presentation, and, of course, more dynamic flavor profile and qualities, is that it is – like many other things I appreciate – a creation of curious diversion. From the divergent label art, featuring the Last Supper with Mary instead of Jesus at the center of the table (you do have to look a little close) to the bait and switch expectation set by its scent in comparison to its taste, it is a brew from which one does not know entirely what to expect.
Even upon receiving it in the shop, my coworker and I were at first a bit confused as to exactly where to place it and with what style. It was only after some reading up on what they had made that we cautiously placed it with the ales, much to our benefit. Then upon taking it home, this was one brew that I was almost hesitant to try out of the simple uncertainty of exactly what it might prove to be. However upon a sip and then several more and a fine consideration of the totality of the brew, I am happy to recommend it both as a single sipper to be enjoyed on its own either in peace or with company, as well as one which may as well be enjoyed with a good steak or burger.
To you, to Flying Dog and to its Counter Culture Ale, I say as always…
While the brewery may have provided the product mentioned above for free, I was not required to write a positive review, I did not receive any monetary compensation, and the honest opinions I have expressed are my own.
Nicholas Goroff is an actor, writer and craft beer reviewer at EveryJoe.com. Certified as a Cicerone beer server, he is working towards obtaining certification as a beer judge while employed at Bert’s Better Beers in Hooksett, NH. When not reviewing beer, wine and spirits, he is typically writing political essays, screenplays and short fiction. Follow him on Twitter @wizardofcause.
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