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Cambridge Brewing Co’s “Sgt Pepper” UPDATED

CBC's Sgt Pepper farmhouse ale

CBC’s Sgt Pepper farmhouse ale

UPDATE

Just wrote a long update and lost it when trying to repost. Will try to recapture my brilliance… or something like that.

After my initial negative reaction to this brew (see below) I finished the bomber one night later with a much different response. The second night, I had already eaten, and had a Victory Prima Pils with dinner. I opened my fridge only to be shot at with the rubber stopper I had placed in the Sgt Pepper bottle. (The bottle was on the door shelf, and therefore being shaken with every opening and closing of the door) I figured I had best pour the remainder, as I’m not one to dump beer. I was surprised to find that I was quick;y halfway through the glass and really enjoying the lingering pepper heat. Why the different reaction this time? Expectations.

The girl who sold me the Sgt Pepper had explained the pepper as not being too much, and not tasting it right away. So I went into this initially expecting to taste the familiar phenols associated with a farmhouse ale, plus a little bit of pepper. What I found was much more pepper in the nose and finish than I expected.

On the second night, I had a bit of a negative expectation as I poured the remainder of the bomber. But between the different expectations, and possibly the fact that I wasn’t having it with food, and had just finished a rather bitter pilsner, I had a very different experience with this beer. Granted, it’s not something I’d want all the time, but, it does go to show the effect one’s expectations can have on tasting a new beer. While virtually impossible, it’s best to try to limit your expectations, and know that there are many factors contributing to your “beer tasting experience.” Don’t rely solely on that first impression.

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I’ve not had too much from the CBC, but I did really enjoy their Big Man IPA and intend to try more of their beers. So when I stopped in at my local packie and they suggested trying their Sgt Pepper Farmhouse Ale, brewed with peppercorns and cracked black pepper, I felt adventurous enough to give it a shot. I like farmhouse ales, and this one uses rye, another plus in my book. The pepper spice seemed an interesting concept, and it was suggested the pepper wasn’t initially too present, but came around after a couple sips. So why not?

I grabbed a warm bomber and also a cold six of Notch Brewing‘s Session Pils, a local, reliable Czech pils.

I chilled the Sgt Pepper a couple days, and poured a glass to go with the pizza I was having at home with my girls. Poured a nice gold with a pretty good head that faded after a bit, leaving nice lacing. The aroma was a hint of Saison yeast but then boom! Pepper. Now the trademark of a saison or farmhouse ale is the flavors brought on by the particular style’s yeast. Yeast driven phenolics are as important to this style of beer as true Bavarian hefeweizen yeast is to a good hefe. Unfortunately, I found the pepper overpowered the aroma. Much of the same for the flavor. Not initially. The first sip you taste a bit of the farmhouse flavors (but not much, and no noticeable rye spiciness), but halfway through the sip the pepper hit the back of my tongue and the heat stayed there long after it was swallowed. There was no noticeable hop bitterness. The pepper took center stage. Honestly, it took me a while to finish the glass, and I put a stopper in the bomber and didn’t finish it that night either.

I was hoping for more subtle pepper influence. I still wanted it to taste like a farmhouse ale, but the pepper aroma and flavor dominated in such a way, it got to be all I could taste.

Now it won’t deter me from CBC beers at all. But it will make me think twice about venturing into beers that offer such non-traditional ingredients. I’ve always tended to avoid things like this, but curiosity got me the other night. I think this is why I’ve avoided gruits (CBC offers a gruit I believe as well). Gruits typically use herbs in place of hops. I cringe when I see something like Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero imperial stout. They were at my local doing a tasting and I didn’t even try a free sample. Chocolate is a common flavor in stouts, sure, but chillies? No thanks.

Still contemplating if I’ll pour the second glass from the bomber tonight. I don’t like to let an opened bomber go more than one day in the fridge. Despite the rubber stopper, the beer just won’t last. But if I do drink it, it’s just because I hate to dump beer. Not much of a recommendation, eh?

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One comment on “Cambridge Brewing Co’s “Sgt Pepper” UPDATED

  1. Great review. I agree that hype and expectations can let you down sometimes.

    The funny thing is that it’s named Sargent and the expectation was a subtleness. Watching WWF growing up, no one would say that Sargent Slaughter was subtle :). So, a subtle Sargent Pepper would be preposterous! (yes, I am well aware that the name of this beer means something else)

    I’m glad to read that you re-visited and you were pleasantly amazed. It may be uncomfortable at first, but I recommend that you keep trying those crazy beers (that you avoid) because it’s the best way to improve your palate.

    Cheers!

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