Sud Savant: Great River Bix Street Fest Copper Ale – Interesting Tricks in the Mouth

It feels like it has been quite some time since I reviewed a local beer and there’s no better way to break that unsavory streak that with a brewery who crafted a beer especially for a local city’s annual event. Great River makes some darn tasty beers and this year they again made their “Bix Street Fest,” a copper ale. For those unfamiliar with turn of the century jazz musicians (essentially ALL of us), Leon Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke was an Iowa boy born in 1903 and grew up in the Quad Cities area. He taugh himself to play cornet by ear, had his first gig at 18 in a band under his name, and was one of the most influential jazz soloists of the 1920’s. Unfortunately, he died in his Queens, NY apartment at the age of 28 and most of his music was not well known until after his death.

To remember this fine musician, every year the Quad Cities throws a street festival rife with live jazz music and hosts a 7 mile race known as “The Bix.”. Why seven miles? I have no idea. But regardless of its length, it’s a fairly grueling race because the downtown area of the city is built on hills thanks to its proximity to the Mississippi River Valley. It attracts runners from around the world and, no surprise here, is usually won by Kenyans. After the race, there is much celebrating and Great River prints this on their cans for the finishers,

“You’ve trained hard and the run is over, now it’s time to relax and enjoy a Street fest Copper Ale, brewed especially for the Bix weekend. Handcrated in a limited volume, you’ll find Street Fest Copper Ale to be smooth, refreshing, and light enough to keep you on your feet. Everyone wins with a Copper!”

Meanwhile in college, Bix was a great excuse to come back to college over the summer, hang out with all your friends, party, smoke cigars, cook out, and sleep on whatever couch you could find. Both events bring back fond memories and to date it’s the only “street fest” that makes me a bit nostalgic and reminds me of friends from my past. Let’s pour!

Aroma 10/12: While this beer is not a powerhouse style, it brings some nice things to the table. It starts out malt driven, is somewhat grainy, and shows a moderate amount of roast. Just behind that is a light citrus snap that keeps things fresh and clean smelling. It all feels rather simple until the beer warms a tad and a sweetness starts to develop. Eventually it shows itself to be toffee, but continues to evolve until there is also an unmistakable vanilla note.

Appearance 2/3: The color is as promised – copper – but not without some sunset oranges to add to its appeal. In a lighter style like this, I wouldn’t expect the colors to range so much, but this is definitely above average. I’m going to assume that this beer has a fuller mouthfeel than the style typically demands. The head is average at best. It gives about a finger in height, is a faded beige in color, creamy in texture, and leaves no lacing. I’m just happy there’s still some around the edge of my glass.

Flavor 17/20: As expected, this is a malt-centered beer, but thankfully there is more to it than that. It begins with a distinct dose of the copper malts and a faint hint of that great toffee from the aroma, but the main flavors of the beer rush in quickly to silence it. The backbone is more of the copper malts, however it has also added a slight spice, and that timid citrus which seems quite content to sit on the sides and tickle the edge of your tongue. The sweetness is definitely detectable, unfortunately the specific vanilla and toffee notes are lost and replaced with a general sweetness. The finish is a nice change of pace and tries to fool you into thinking you’re drinking a lager. It has a lager’s bitter and crispness yet maintains the great grain flavors of the copper ale instead of finishing clean. The aftertaste is more of the grain and roast flavors that linger on the crest of the tongue.

Mouthfeel 4/5: This beer pulls a couple of interesting tricks in the mouth.. First of all, the brewers know that this is going to be drank en masse by the Bix runners after the race, so they can’t make anything too heavy. That said, this beer has a medium body, is insanely & ridiculously smooth, and only employs minimal amounts of carbonation. What carbonation exists is tiny and likely drowned in the silky body. However, this is far from a monster beer. At 4.8% ABV and 25 IBUs, this beer’s numbers allow it to be something that macrobeer drinkers won’t feel uncomfortable drinking.

Overall Impression 7/10: This is a good beer, but far from the best that Great River makes. It’s refreshing, crisp, crazy smooth, shows some great malts, and smells like a million bucks. To its detriment, the smell doesn’t translate quite as well as I’d like into the flavor, the carbonation vanishes quickly, and it’s rather simple as a whole.

Total 40/50: Solid “B” material, which frankly might be the most a copper or amber ever gets from me. It just seems too hard to make one into a flavor rich version of the style. Not that this beer didn’t have flavor, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it rich. Nor SHOULD I call it rich! It’s supposed to be a lighter, more refreshing offering from a brewery known for putting vanilla beans into brown ale firkins on a whim. Indeed, it is lighter than most of their offerings and likely crafted to both please the throngs of festival goers as well as show them that beer can be more than just the flavorless macrobrews that are all too easy to purchase. I’d say that Great River succeeds on both counts. Unfortunately, when you make a beer to help introduce the masses to craft beer, it’s seldom a powerhouse of the style. I’d be happy to drink this on any hot summer day, but don’t sign me up for that 7-mile race just yet.

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!