At Home With Southern Star Brewing

Today I’m giving the Southern Star Brewing Company “Texas Heritage” twelve pack a once-over and so here I sit at my desk, preparing to taste and review four different cans of beer on a day-drinking mission courtesy of the popular brewery in Conroe, Texas. It’s not even noon as I write, and this feels a bit wrong, but I bet it’s going to be alright. While I’m neither a great philosopher of hops and barley, nor a seasoned connoisseur of the frothy beverage, I enjoy a good craft beer and wield a dangerous keyboard so here we go.

The “Texas Heritage” collection comes with three of the brewery’s mainstays: Bombshell Blonde Ale, Pine Belt Pale Ale and Conspiracy Theory IPA. The fun factor is the mysterious fourth option labeled on the box as “Current Seasonal” accompanied by the image of a grayed-out can that begged for further analysis. I’ll just say right here that this is a bit of marketing genius because I was almost immediately taken back to my baseball card collecting days and the fact that you never knew what cards you were going to get once the package was ripped open. Would I get the special Nolan Ryan card worth $15? I was about to find out.

After the obligatory untouched box photo was taken it was go time. Typically, I like a cold beer in a colder glass, but since these guys claim “First to Can Craft in Texas” on their cans, I kept the pint glasses in the freezer.

Bombshell Blonde Ale

Admittedly, I’ve had the Bombshell Blonde Ale several times so this wasn’t so much a first introduction as it was simply saying hello to an old acquaintance. We already knew each other so there wasn’t going to be that awkward dialogue in the beginning and the putting on of airs. No puffed chests and no idle conversation. At this reunion, we skipped straight to the drinking.

Right away a smooth beginning, middle and end captures your palate. There isn’t that abrupt change in flavors that other brands can give you because all the ingredients here blend very well. There’s no sucker punch to the taste buds that a lesser beer will give you due to a haphazard flavor array. This golden libation was delightfully pleasant across the taste spectrum.

With a super clean finish, the texture of this craft beer is creamy, almost frothy right out of the can. This lighter ale is thicker than many mainstream lagers, but not nearly a milkshake like a Guinness either. Sort of like the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, this beer was just right.

Malt:     Rahr Special Pale Wyermann Vienna
Hops:    Saphir, Sterling
Yeast:    California Ale
ABV:      5.25%
IBU:       20

Pine Belt Pale Ale

A woodsy aroma met me as I cracked open the Pine Belt Pale Ale. I’ve never tasted this particular beer so unlike the Bombshell Blonde, this was exploring new territory. However, not one to marinate in small talk and pleasantries, I’m going to give you my unencumbered opinion. Malty texture. Slightly thick. It’s pretty good. Not great in my opinion due to an enveloping mouth feel as you initially drink it, but I imagine this is an acquired taste and sensation that a more experienced craft beer guru comes to look forward to.

I can also see where it gets its name – Pine Belt – due to the feeling that I’m in the woods drinking this rather than my office desk. While I’m not in love with the overall flavor, for some reason I’m hit with an East Texas nostalgia factor that keeps me taking sips. My family is from a small East Texas town that I visited all the time in my youth, so something in this can is triggering the essence of that place – and it’s oddly enticing.

The connection between flavors and memory are intriguing here. Not memories of events, but of places. In this instance: Jefferson, Texas. Perhaps it’s a personalized psychological journey everyone takes to a different place when drinking this beer, but I find that the more I drink this beer, the less I care about the slightly shrinking mouth feel and the more I think it’s a solid contender.

Malt:     Rahr special pale, Simpsons 30-37, Crisp 45
Hops:    Galena, CTZ, Horizon
Yeast:    California Ale
ABV:      6.3%
IBU:       50

Conspiracy Theory IPA

Going to admit right off the bat that I dig conspiracy theories, so the name alone intrigues me, as does the can’s artwork with the all-seeing eye and Area 51 sign. Very cool.

A wave of a caramel flavor skips over your tongue and bashes into the back of your throat very quickly. While the hints of caramel bolt soon after take-off, there’s a lingering flavor and tingling sensation that remains to dance on your tongue. There’s no clean finish since the waning flavors hang around to meet up with the next wave of troops. It’s likely you’ll be tasting this beer long after the can is gone – which may not be a bad thing because the taste grows on you.

The beer is about as thick as the Pine Belt Pale Ale, but goes down a bit smoother and has a cleaner finish. This is what I imagine craft beer is supposed to be like. It doesn’t taste like it was made by robots on some heartless assembly line. It tastes homebrewed. It tastes authentic. Perhaps that’s the whole thing about an IPA (India Pale Ale) or maybe it’s just that Southern Star Brewing Company nailed it with this one.

Malt:     Two Row Weyermann Vienna Simpsons 30/37 Weyermann Carafoam
Hops:    Amarillo Simcoe Galena Centennial
Yeast:    California
ABV:      7.1%
IBU:       60

Winter Warmer (aka. “Current Seasonal”)

Digging through the twelve pack box, I was a kid at Christmas looking to unwrap the mystery gift. I pulled out can after can, comparing them to those pictured on the box, until one thing didn’t look like the others. In my hand was the answer to what “Current Seasonal” meant. I held up a can of Winter Warmer.

It’s winter, but instead of visions of sugarplums dancing in my head, the taste of toffee danced on my taste buds. It wasn’t overwhelming, but perhaps a bit unexpected. But, hey, who doesn’t like surprises?

Very clean finish. Great mouth feel. A malty, yet balanced texture. Not at all pretentious, but also not afraid to show its generous flavor profile either. I’d say this was the next best thing to Bombshell Blonde, though the flavors and complexities couldn’t be further apart. This just goes to show you that each craft beer must be considered innocent until proven guilty in the court of alcohol.

This seasonal ale was a nice surprise in the bottom of my twelve pack just like finding a cool decoder ring in the bottom of your Cracker Jack box.

Malt: Two Row Weyermann Munich Baird’s Crystal 60 Weyermann Special W
Hops: Perle Willamette
Yeast: California
ABV: 7%
IBU: 40

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