When Ratebeer rates a brewery as the no. 1 brewery in the United States (no. 3 worldwide), you sit up and take notice.But for AleSmith Brewing Company, an artisanal brewing company born out of the San Diego craft beer boom in the '90s, it's hardly a new accolade. AleSmith has been consistently ranked on Ratebeer's list of best breweries in the world for years, and was awarded the title of Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.
What is that AleSmith does so well, according to the general beer population's consensus? The brewery focuses on Belgian and British brewing styles, which has lent itself to classic year-round brews as well as innovative single releases. Barrel-aging is the norm for AleSmith; just recently, AleSmith has aged its Grand Cru in red wine barrels, and its Wee Heavy in bourbon barrels. Take just its Speedway Stout, a classic AleSmith beer found year-round: first, AleSmith released its bourbon-barrel aged stout, the Brewer's Reserve Speedway Stout. (The beer was called the best beer in the world by Ratebeer.) Then, AleSmith bottled the Vietnamese Speedway Stout, made with a blend of four Vietnamese coffees. Then, the brewery released the 2013 barrel-aged Speedway Stout to the very thirsty public. Then, the brewery announced that its latest collaboration beer, to be launched in March, would be made with Mostra Coffee's Blue Jamaican coffee beans, to brew a single varietal Speedway Stout. (Coffee nerdery meets beer nerdery!) It's how AleSmith continues to improve on the perfect.
We tried three of AleSmith's year-round brews, including the Speedway Stout made in collaboration with local coffee roaster Ryan Bros. Coffee.
The rich, dark brown color was reminiscent of a Coca-Cola or root beer -- minus the foam. With a finely carbonated head, the beer had a very clear, almost burnt-toffee appearance. Chocolate and molasses notes immediately hit the nose, while the hop aromas are hard to find. But the hops kick in just in time to give the beer a balanced, crisp finish and aftertaste, but not before chocolate and nutty flavors envelope your tongue. Despite its clear appearance, the beer had nearly a creamy mouthfeel, adding a new level of complexity to a very drinkable beer.
This Belgian Strong Ale is one devil indeed -- at a whopping 11% ABV, the beer's strong alcohol content is easily masked by Belgian candi, Belgian yeast, and a dash of coriander. Again, the head is finely carbonated, and the appearance is of a gorgeous straw gold. Citrus aromatics overwhelm any other aromas from the beer, but the taste is more bananas, and even bubble gum, more than citrus. It's a deceivingly strong brew that coats the back of the throat like a whiskey, and it warms up nicely -- much like our other favorite brown spirit.
It's hard to compete with the best: Speedway Stout is touted by AleSmith as one of the best beers in the world. And this Imperial Stout sure does set the bar high for any other stout. With a off-white, fluffy head, the first wafts of maple syrup, coffee, and pancakes comes through on the nose -- it's practically all the best parts of breakfast rolled into one. Dark, "chocolate rain" color comes through in the beer, with a creamy appearance that slightly resembles a milkshake (and boy, do we want to put it in a milkshake). And the milkshake cravings don't go away upon the first sip; the bold chocolate and espresso flavors give way to a malty and roasty balance that's surprisingly not overpowering, given its high alcohol content. We hesitated at a 12% ABV for such a bold stout, but then again, we couldn't put it down once the bottle was open.