Name: Foam Top by Beachwood
Style: Cream Ale/Blonde Ale
Numbers: 5.5% ABV, IBUs unknown (RateBeer says 12, Taphunter says 17)
Brewer: Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Long Beach CA
Beachwood BBQ & Brewing should be way more famous than it is.
I was first introduced to it by my friend Lloyd “The Craft Beer Guy” Brown who rates it as the finest brewery in the Los Angeles area. (With locations in Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach it’s really more in Orange County than LA County.)
I’d go further than that. I think Beachwood is arguably the best brewery on the west coast.
Its double digit haul of GABF and World Beer Cup medals across a wide spectrum of styles attest to Co-Founder and Brewmaster Julian Shrago’s chops. Shrago’s partner Gabe Gordon’s passionate foray into wild and sour beer with The Beachwood Blendery has met with unmitigated acclaim. The pair have created a brand that marries tongue-in-cheek rebelliousness with folksy whimsy. And three of their four locations serve up kick-ass barbecue to pair with their superlative ales and lagers.
And hey, I only said “arguably”.
The underlying driver of my bold provocation is just one beer. It’s called Foam Top, described by Beachwood as a blonde ale, but fitting every parameter of what the BJCP would call a cream ale.
Cream Ale is one of the few indigenous classic styles in North America. Fermented with relatively clean ale yeast, the style was created in the mid- to late-1800s as a cheaper (quicker to produce) alternative to the easy-drinking lagers proliferating at the time. The traditional standard-bearer is Genesee Cream Ale out of upstate New York; the contemporary darling is Spotted Cow by New Glarus, sold only in Wisconsin. Sometimes cold-conditioned, sometimes finished with lager yeast, often kräusened to achieve high levels of carbonation, cream ales always taste refreshing. People describe them as lawnmower beer.
In other words, not very interesting.
Except somehow Julian Shrago has created one of the most interesting beers I’ve tried. I’m not alone. Foam Top won gold in the Golden/Blonde Ale category at 2013’s Great American Beer Festival and a gold medal at 2012’s World Beer Cup. Jeff Alworth called it best-in-class in a recent tasting of cream ales for All About Beer.
What makes this beer so good?
The beer travels in disguise. The majority of Foam Top’s 70 BeerAdvocate reviews are 3/5, with words such as “bland”, “boring” and “simple” tossed around freely. I imagine these reviews delight the brewer, who designed a cream ale to be an accessible palate-pleaser. But, you see, Foam Top is the beer equivalent of ornate fractal artwork.
Tasting Foam Top is so simple at first pass. It’s lightly malty, like a baguette, and its hop aroma is noble and herbal. But wait, what kind of bread? Which herbs can I smell? Second, third and fourth pass evoke discrete impressions of specific grains, earthy and faintly spicy notes, a hint of fresh cut straw. It’s clean, sure, but in the same way polished ivory at first seems white, when you take a closer look this beer has an intricate funkiness and ever-so-gentle estery character.
Foam Top by Beachwood is brewed from simple ingredients, clearly expressed in the packaged product. Yet Julian Shrago has given a sweet kiss of X factor during the making of it.
And therein sits the true genius. Ultimately this is a straightforward drinking beer. Sure, you can go diving for pearls, but you can also just enjoy an invigorating dip in the ocean.
This is beer to crack after a hard half hour mowing the lawn after all.