Currently Alabama has only one brewpub. This should change rapidly in coming years, but being the only one at present has put Patriot Joe’s into the spotlight.
Heroes Grill – the restaurant that houses PJ’s – is a rather normal looking roadhouse restaurant. Their menu is well thought-out to meet the needs of their clientele, but how do the beers stack up?
Patriot Joe’s Hefeweizen pours a slightly cloudy golden yellow. The smell is sweet and subtly spiced – I picked up notes of cloves and hints of bubblegum. The flavor follows through on the promise of the nose, being wheaty, sweet, subtly clove-spice. The aftertaste is a very gentle bitterness. An easy, approachable quaffer.
The American IPA category is hugely competitive, with world+dog producing ever more highly hopped, ever higher ABV examples. In this arms race something has been lost – that an IPA should be a sipping beer, not a “melt your fillings” beer. PJ’s have not lost sight of this with their take on the IPA style – it pours a clear, light golden brown and has a caramel, bready, slightly hop funk-y nose. The flavor comes through from the smell with a nice caramel sweetness followed by an assertive – but not aggressive – hop snap, and finishes with a lingering bitter after-taste. Unlike a lot of American IPAs, Joe’s eschews the grapefruity, citrussy hop attack and goes for a much more British style, broad palate-pleasing bitterness that makes this beer an easier companion to food.
A quick note on what I expect in a porter and what, for me, separates a porter from a stout. A porter should show ruby red highlights when held to a light source, the flavor and smell should be chocolate-forward, coffee should be a background note, and the hops should be restrained. A stout, to me, should be jet black, opaque, strongly coffee-forward, with background notes of chocolate. Hops can be a bit more pronounced, but should not be aggressive. (This entirely subjective note is to explain what preconceptions I have when I go into reviewing a porter or a stout.)
With the above caveat out of the way, how does PJ’s porter stack up to my expectations? The beer pours a very dark woody brown. When held to a light source, ruby highlights come through. The nose is sweet and chocolatey. The flavor follows through properly – a subtle smokiness (quite unexpected but delicious), chocolate, and with a gently evanescent bitterness, leaving a smoky chocolate after-taste. Wonderful.
Leaving aside my quibbles about the authenticity of the use of the word “Scotch” to describe an ale, let’s take a slurp at PJ’s “Scotch” ale.
Appearance – a pleasing mid-brown color. Smell – caramel malts. A very promising start, there is almost no hop presence here. Taste – oh, wow. Alcohol, pancake syrup, toffee, dark fruits, all powering through to a Christmas Cake after-taste. When I asked Joe what beer he modeled this after, he told me Traquair House Ale. Nicely done, and a wonderful beer that doesn’t hide its 12% ABV – not that it should. When sipping one of these you should know what you are letting yourself in for!
Pours a cloudy woody brown. The smell is brown sugar. The flavor reveals itself coyly – it starts with a brown sugar sweetness, then pops you across the palate with a broad gentle bitterness. (I wonder how it would pair with some authentic German pork sausage?) The after-taste is a clean, subtle hop funk.
Patriot Joe’s brewmaster, Joe Donahue, has obviously modeled his recipes after a more European style. This is a good approach as European brewers have centuries of tweaking recipes to match with their food and their culture – Patriot Joe’s is bringing that tradition of eating, drinking, and generally having a good time into his neighborhood. The other aspect to his choice reflects the whole ethos of “think drink local”: Joe knows his target demographic, because he lives there. He tunes his beers to appeal to the local palate and food culture, which is exactly what thinking local is all about.
Go see for yourself – not because Patriot Joe’s is the first brewpub in post-Brewery Modernization Act Alabama, but because Patriot Joe’s and Heroes Grille are part of what the future holds for Alabama.