Wednesday, June 18, 2003

This California ale bubbles with comfort


By Ed Westemeier
Enquirer contributor

Everyone needs a little comfort food now and then. So, it shouldn't be surprising we beer geeks also regularly sip comfort beers.

For more than a decade, one of my favorites has been California's Red Seal Ale. This is either an American pale ale (that's what I call it) or an amber ale, depending on how you define the styles. It's medium copper in color, with an aroma infused with hops.

Unlike some American pale ales, Red Seal is not just an onslaught of citrus-like Cascade hops. Rather, the complexity of the hop blend shows itself in layers, and with enough bitterness to leave no doubt this is a hophead's beer.

But there is enough malt flavor and enough body to almost balance the hops, which is why this beer fits into the amber group as easily as pale ale.

Red Seal took home a gold medal from last year's Great American Beer Festival in Denver, which shows I'm not alone in my admiration. And despite averaging about $8 per 6-pack, this beer's popularity has been steadily increasing locally.

In 1989, when my wife and I first visited North Coast Brewing Co. in out-of-the-way Fort Bragg, Calif., it was only a tiny brewpub. So you can imagine my surprise to find some of the best beers I'd ever tasted. Since then, North Coast has grown to distribute in 30 states.

I think such growth is eloquent testimony to the value of producing outstanding beer. It's also a warning to those microbreweries that cut corners in the hope of appealing to the mass-market beer drinker. North Coast has stuck to its high standards in making Red Seal Ale, and the beer has won awards and loyal fans.

Contact Ed Westemeier by e-mail:

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