Sud Savant: 21st Amendment – Brew Free! Or Die IPA

Today marks the official 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the beaches and fields of Normandy, France. I know I just got off my soapbox from Memorial Day, but there is no way we can possibly honor too highly the memory and deeds of these soldiers. In short, watch the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan and you should be able to accurately visualize about 30% of the horror these men endured and eventually conquered. Ken Burn series “The War” (episode 4) is also a great perspective on this historic day. What other beer could I possibly drink besides 21st Amendment’s Brew Free! or Die IPA. I’ve never had it before, but based on my other 21A experiences, I don’t plan on being disappointed. Let’s pour!

But before we do, check out this kick ass can art! It’s awesome enough to come in a can, but to wrap the can in this great artwork is just one other way that 21A is setting the bar higher. For those that aren’t familiar with Abraham Lincoln’s exploit smashing through mountains, you’ll be extra surprised when you see him killing scores of vampires.

Aroma 10/12: It seems like it has been a while since an IPA entreated me with a nice, distinct pine aroma so this brew is a refreshing change of pace. Behind the pine is a light herbal note and an even fainter sharp citrus. The beer smells thick and balances the hops extremely well with a rich, bready malt. This is no sweet bread, but a thick slice of homemade wheat bread. Extra points for the balance even if the citrus malts do get a bit stronger as the beer warms.

Appearance 3/3: It shows a great head size, fair retention, and little lacing. The head was a nice ivory color that threatens to take up a hue or two from the orange beer beneath it. The color is a cheerful shade of fresh spaghetti squash that enjoys being made brighter by the beer’s high clarity. It’s a blend of gold and copper and takes for its own the luminosity of both these metals.

Flavor 14/20: Boy, was I right on the mark before about the malts not being sweet! The first sips are dry, crackery, bready malts with a fair amount of hop bitterness. To those expecting something a bit sweeter, this may come off as bland, but rest assured those malts are in there not only giving some flavors but also adding to the big body of this beer. By holding the beer in the mouth, one finds a continuation of the initial flavors but with more grain flavors and an ever-so-faint citrus. Extremely faint tropical fruits are detectable on an exhale, but even a wine taster’s slurp yields very little additional flavor. The finish shows more pale malts, but little else. Oddly, some additional flavors come to light in the aftertaste when on the occasional exhale one can nice whiff of a dried tropical fruit; it also has a lingering bitter. For an IPA, this really is lacking in hop flavor. In full disclosure, it was canned on 1/05/2012, so I’d love to try this fresh and be completely wrong about it.

Mouthfeel 5/5: All the aforementioned malts give this beer a full-bodied, rolling feeling in the mouth, and with the perfect amount of “barely there” carbonation I can see myself drinking this beer even on the hottest of days. I’m not sure I’d call it 70 IBUs, but then again hop deterioration might just be to blame. The 7% ABV is also completely undetectable.

Overall Impression 7/10: There is a lot going for this beer: a pleasant aroma, great mouthfeel and body, and a bright color. However, the flavor seemed to fall flat. All that remained was really a bitter note that went with the bready malt; I found none of the great hop flavors! Overall it tasted like a milquetoast version of a pale ale, but with a heavier body and none of a pale ale’s great crispness. Does 5 months kill almost all hop flavor? Apparently so in this brew, though I have sampled others that were not this effected. I wonder what makes the difference.

Total 39/50: I fear that I may have underscored this beer based on a less than fresh can (5 months old), but I can only score what I have in front of me. I’d love to try this again fresh, but until then I’m afraid this review remains. This is not a sweet IPA. In fact, it’s not much of an IPA at all. I take that back, it has the body and mouthfeel, and even meets us halfway in the aroma, but as far as taste… this comes off as rather bland. The malts are good, even if they don’t lean toward a sweeter flavor. That’s fine. IPAs are varied and don’t have to have a sweet malt present for balance. However, when the hops are absent in an IPA, then we have problems. The only thing this beer took from the hops was a “good” aroma and some bitter. Other than that, the flavors and aromas, which should be strong and forward, are not even meek, they’re nonexistant. This was a disappointment after having 21A’s Bitter American (which I would gladly buy a case of), but I look forward to trying this beer again when fresh. Until then try a different IPA… and remember our veterans.

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!