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Beer culture is coming of age. At any store, restaurant, bar, or friend's house you can now find at least a few good brews. In fact, there seem to be so many new beers, breweries and bars it's difficult to separate the good, the bad, and the mediocre.

If you're going spend $10 on one beer, what should you buy? If you're going to drive 2 hours to check out a brewery, what's worth your time? If you're going to plan a Friday night, what has a good selection and friendly atmosphere? We're here to help you answer these questions.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Showdown: Mendocino Pale Ales Blue Heron vs. Acme

Acme (L) Blue Heron (R)
 Northern California is home to many great craft breweries. A portion of those are located along the northwest coast in the County of Mendocino including; Mendocino Brewing Company, Anderson Valley Brewing Company, and North Coast Brewing Company.

Mendocino was one of the earliest areas to produce hops in California. In 1871 60,000 pounds of hops were produced on 200 acres. By 1882 that number was 130,000 pounds on 480 acres.  By the beginning of  WWII 1.6 million pounds of hops were being produced or 18% of California's production.

However, in the late 1950's the wine industry was taking off at the same time low-hopped beers were gaining popularity. So, by 1960 zero pounds of hops were produced in Mendocino county. Wine grapes replaced hops. To this day wine grapes are still the largest crop grown in the County with only minimal hop production. However, the legacy of the hops lives on in the great breweries that call the county home. And in the town named Hopland.

Pale ales which showcase hops and malts are a popular style of beer, with most breweries using it as there flagship beer. You can tell a lot about a brewery about how they make their pale ale. Breweries will make beers using a similar yeast, malt and hop template. This is what gives the beer from each brewery its unique flavors.

North Coast Brewing Company
ABV: 5%
IBUs: 21
Awards: Silver at the World Beer Championship for 6 years, 2000-2006
Beer Advocate: 3.44 out of 5
Rate Beer:  2.87 out of 5

Pours golden orange color with a short, fluffy head that leaves strong lacings. The aroma is sweet with bready malts and citrus/floral hops. The taste is sweet, with stone fruit, the bready malts and light citrus and floral hops. The hops and the malt are well balanced. The body is medium light with light carbonation, smooth finish.
Mendocino Brewing Company
ABV: 6.1%
IBU: 30
Awards: Gold Medal Underground Wine Journal 1997
Beer Advocate: 3.43 out of 5
Rate Beer: 2.97 out of 5

Pours a yellow color with little head that quickly dissipates and leaves little lacings. The aroma is sweet with bready malts, citrus hops, and a bit of bitterness. The taste has light malts with citrus and grapefruit hops that have a very strong bite, almost astringent. The body is medium light with heavier carbonation than ACME. There is a lingering bitter aftertaste.

Who Won

Overall we liked ACME hands down. ACME has a great balance of malt and hops, where as the balance was off in Blue Heron. The Blue Heron hops had too much of a bite (and we like hop bite) that overwhelmed the malt. The lingering taste of Blue Heron was not enjoyable.

When I look for a good Pale Ale, I look for balance between malt and hops - they are companions. When I look for an IPA, I look for hops being showcased by a backbone of malt. ACME succeeded in being a Pale Ale while Blue heron seemed to miss the mark and tried being an IPA.

A caveat - we've had Blue Heron before and don't remember it being this flavor. Times change as do brewers, so we're not sure if a new brewer changed the recipe or if this is not the freshest batch.

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