After a show at the Sprint Center on Friday we found ourselves at Flying Saucer and I got a chance to try a couple beers off the chalkboard that I’ve never had before. I’d never even heard of these beers, so it was a nice change of pace to be able to taste a couple beers without any prior knowledge of what they’d be.

I was in the mood for something dark and complex, so when I saw a Bell’s beer on the board that I’d never heard of, and the fact that we are into Fall and colder months, I thought, “Well, the chances of this being a big, dark, complex beer from Bell’s is pretty good, so….” Imagine my surprise when our server brought be a pint of very light, golden beer topped by a fluffy white head!

On first sip I was surprised to taste what seemed to me a bit like a kölsch at first (minus that green grape undertone common to kölsch). I quickly changed my opinion and figured Bell’s Oarsman Ale was a pilsner. I was wrong, but not TOO far off, as they classify it as an American wheat, which tend to be beers that are clean, refreshing, not too hop-heavy and have a decent amount of carbonation, all of which describe Oarsman to a “T.”

According to Bell’s website, Oarsman Ale comes in at 4.0% and is designed to be a “session beer,” a term that comes from English pub society and is applied to beers that have low alcohol and can be enjoyed throughout an evening without leading to too much loss of sobriety. I like that the session beer trend seems to be picking up steam, and, according to what I’ve heard from brewers and homebrewers, good, flavorful low alcohol beers are much harder to make than good high alcohol beers, so a surprising amount of work goes into these beers from the brewer.

To me, Oarsman Ale tasted like a pilsner. Clean, refreshing, nicely balanced, and just a great beer that was a little on the malty side. I think it would be fantastic with food. I was a little disappointed in the fact that I was hoping for something dark and stout-y from Bell’s, but this was a pleasant surprise and I would strongly recommend this as a craft beer alternative to the Lite’s when you need a session beer or are having a party and what something good but not complicated for your guests with more limited palates. That said, even a seasoned beer drinker like myself will find plenty to like with this! On a side note, I absolutely love the label art for this beer. An all-around nice package!

My next beer choice off the new arrivals board was Phin and Matt’s, from Southern Tier. I have not had a lot of Southern Tier’s beers. The couple I’ve had in the past were a long time ago and I was just getting into craft beers in a more serious way, but I do remember the common complaint that they tend to be sweet and sticky or syrupy. I didn’t find that with Phin and Matt’s. I had absolutely no idea what I would be getting with this beer, and it arrived in a big beer snifter. The aroma was really unique, with a lot of fruity, floral character. I had no idea what was going to be inside!

Upon my first sip I told my table, “Wow, I’ve NEVER tasted anything like this” and I was really blown away. I got a huge flavor of floral, almost potpourri, fruits, just a gigantic melange of flavors I wasn’t expecting. I was very surprised this morning, then, when I looked the beer up and saw it classified as a simple “American Pale Ale.” APA’s tend to run the gamut from pretty lightly hopped, boring beers to more aggressive IPA-like beers as you go West, but this definitely was nothing like any APA I’ve ever had. For me, tasting this and, for example, Boulevard’s Pale Ale (which I also like, don’t get me wrong), in the same seating I wouldn’t even think they were the same beer. I looked at a few other reviews and no one else seems to think this is a standout beer, but I was really blown away by the complexity of it.

As I drank, my palate got a little attenuated to some of the less common flavors I was picking up and I started detecting the slightly more earthy and piney notes of the hops, but this retained that unusual fruitiness, flowery undertone with a bit of tartness throughout the glass and I was really impressed by this beer. Two big thumbs-up from me for this beer!

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