“The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.” This is the start of the 21st Amendment, and what a glorious way to start a constitutional amendment! The 18th Amendment, in case you forgot, was the draconian measure that banned the transportation and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States, lobbied for by groups like the “Anti-Saloon League” and other annoyingly puritanical Buzz Killingtons.
Such a joke the temperance movement was. I mean, nobody really followed the rules of Prohibition anyway. Everyone’s favorite Pennsylvania brewery, Yuengling, even sent a celebratory truckload of beer to President Roosevelt the day after Prohibition was repealed. Beer takes weeks to make — you do the math. What do you think Frank Yuengling was up to during those 13 years?
The 21st Amendment is so awesome that Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan decided to name their brewery after it. As the duo was researching the history of brewing in the Bay Area, they discovered that, before Prohibition, San Francisco was home to over 40 local breweries. They lamented that a once-vibrant brewing culture was squashed by Prohibition, and in 2000 they opened 21st Amendment Brewery in hopes of revitalizing that culture. The brewery grew quickly and was forced to contract out much of their production brewing to keep up with demand. Recently, they’ve announced that the company is expanding to a brand new production facility near Oakland, Calif.
This week, I picked up some of their Back in Black IPA, which is made with darker, roasted grains, unlike a standard IPA. It also comes in a can. To an average beer drinker, canned beer evokes an image of cheap-o light beer — the kind typically consumed in the parking lot before a Kenny Chesney concert through a hole poked in the side of the can with the key to your buddy’s Jeep. We high-falootin’ craft beer snobs should snub cans, right?
Well, it turns out that packaging beer in cans makes a lot of sense environmentally. For one, cans are about six times lighter than glass bottles, meaning less energy is wasted in transportation and handling. In addition, aluminum is very easy to recycle into more beer cans. From a taste perspective, cans are impenetrable to light and oxygen, both of which can cause nasty staling reactions in the beer. Craft brewers are picking up on the trend, and more and more breweries are shifting from bottles to cans.
I popped open a can of the Back in Black IPA to a satisfying hiss. Pouring it into a pint glass, I was instantly greeted with a fabulous bouquet. The smell is outstanding, perfectly balancing earthy hop aromas and sweet, rich and toasty malt notes. The beer is also a beautiful sight, with a very deep, ruby red color, good clarity, and a voluminous off-white foam stand. Full marks for aroma and appearance. Unfortunately, the taste doesn’t follow suit. It’s bitter up front, with smooth and sweet roasted malt flavors that are a little too far toward burnt. The finish is also a bit harsh and drying.
Overall, the Back in Black IPA is a very attractive beer with an awesome aroma. The taste is smooth, but the flavors delve a bit too far into the burnt, acrid range for my liking. Indeed, black IPA is a tricky style to brew, since bitterness comes from both the hops and the roasted malts, which can easily overwhelm the palette. Get this beer just for the aroma, but if you’re looking for a great example of this style, go for something like Duck-Rabbit’s Hoppy Bunny instead. Either way, here’s to the 21st Amendment!
6.8 percent ABV