By Andy Phelps

Because my recent review for its milk stout was so well-received, here's a new one from Navigation Brewing! Its American Amber Ale, dry hopped with the Citra hop varietal, a hop that is very dear to my heart. With obvious citrus rind and tropical fruit character, Citra is a very juicy smelling hop which makes it a great dry hop addition, and, with the backing of some darker malts, I'm thinking this is going to be an interesting take on an under-represented style. The label is exactly like other Navigation beers; a very nice design with their sleek, modern logo and what I can only assume are the words "Limited Batch" covered by a sticker displaying the vitals of the beer. I love when breweries list these statistics, such as color, bitterness in IBUs and OG/FG to determine attenuation and, by extension, alcohol percentage by volume. My only complaint with this style of minimal labeling is that it seems very homebrew-y, but I do understand that PJ/Bob's batch size is small enough to make creating new labels for each style deviation somewhat overwhelming. Anyway, on to the beer, as that is always what ends up being the most important thing; the pour is even darker in color than expected, no doubt helped along by lack of filtration and heavy opacity from the yeast/hop solids remaining in the body. My first slightly aggressive pour yielded quite a voluminous, fluffy beige head that sticks around like that for a while. Not quite a gusher, but there's certainly a lot of carbonation sticking around in the bottle. The nose is definitively Citra up front, with big tropical fruit including guava, mango and kiwi as well as orange and, surprisingly, even some red apple coming out. However, behind that is caramel, toasted brown bread and a hint of sweet toffee. Interesting, and a bit blindsiding because of how it seems to shift so quickly and abruptly between the juicy hop aspects and the darker maltiness.

The beer actually seems similar to something like an Oktoberfest (though this is an ale, not a lager!) so far, though with an obvious dose of extra hops in the nose. Time to take a few sips and see if it tastes like one! Upon first gulp, my tongue is awash in carbonation, prickling and bubbling all over until the somewhat maltier-than-expected finish, and I can tell I'm gonna need to attune myself to this a little bit, as it's not quite like many other ambers I've had recently. It's hoppier than most, for sure, with some stone fruit and even herbal notes on the tongue, but it's not a Nugget Nectar or any other "hoppy red" in terms of character, which in this brew's case seems heavily biased towards the CaraMunich (one of the specialty grains used in lots of traditional German festbier recipes) and darker Crystal malted barley side of things. The body is thick in proteins and drinks on the heavier side of medium, though it does boast a low-ish ABV of 5.14%; this is an enigma so far, but it's certainly not a bad drink at all. Each pour adds several fingers of tenacious foam to the top of the beer, and retention is really good. The lacing is also fairly nice, making this an attractive brew when all is said and done. The apple from the nose comes through on the tongue; a bit like biting into a Red Delicious apple with that pulpy, semi-sweet and slightly-juicy taste in front of the deep malty base. There's a slight vegetal quality I can't place, too, but it quickly gets subsumed by smooth caramel and biscuity breadiness.

Towards the end of the bottle, I'm getting a lot more defined flavor for some reason, giving me a lot of chewier dark-ish malt notes combined with crisp and leafy hops that balance better than the first half of the bottle. Maybe this is better as it warms? Or at least it's less confusing to me now. Regardless, the hops make their presence known decently well, and the mouthfeel being a bit heady actually seems like it works in the beer's favor at this point. There's not a lot of complexity in the flavor here, but the way it drinks smoothly and cleanly is certainly nice. I still don't think this is quite "there" yet in terms of pushing the flavor and hoppy notes it seems to want to bring out, given the solid nose, but for an American Amber, it's not bad. Unfortunately, the style seems to be heavily co-opted by more bitter varieties, so if you think of this as trying to edge things back towards the full-bodied, caramel-leaning amber ale profile of yesteryear while still tipping its hat to the current trends, it seems somehow more approachable and enjoyable. Cheers!

The official breakdown:

  • Style: American Amber / Red Ale
  • ABV: 5.14%
  • Appearance: Deep amber/brown with huge, fluffy beige/off-white/dirty foam leaving consistently tiered lace; intensely opaque and full of visible yeast proteins
  • Scent: A nice bouquet of leafy, tropical and rindlike citric hop aspects; a bit of red apple skin alongside the deeply malty, caramel/toffee/brown bread
  • Taste: Like a heavier, fruitier Oktoberfest kind of beer, honestly; bready, chewy and substantive darker malt with notes of stone fruit and earthy/herbal hops
  • Mouthfeel: On the heavier side of medium with an initially shocking carbonation made apparent by the huge swaths of foam appearing with each pour, however small
  • Drinkability: Though not a big beer, you will probably feel full after this one; since it's limited edition, you should probably grab one to split with friends

From blogs.lowellsun.com/beer/.