When you're working with fewer ingredients, you have a far smaller margin of error. Mistakes are amplified in the absence of massive hopping and dense body. A little too much of anything ruins the beer, a little too little and it's Bud.
So into this void comes BridgePort Haymaker, an "extra pale ale." The marketing department, much to BridgePort's shame, was allowed to write the copy, which reads:
Make Hay. It's an old, old phrase from a much simpler time. It's optimistic. It's positive. And it's the two words that sum up Haymaker Extra Pale Ale, the newest brew from BridgePort Brewing Company. Haymaker is a refreshing, extra pale ale that is simply sunshine in a bottle! It's a distinct blend of four malts and three varieties of hops that create a slightly complex, crisp and bright ale. So enjoy often and "Make Hay!"I love the early language there, which seems to have come out of a pitch meeting and accidently got left in the description. "It's optimistic. It's positive. It's the kind of beer you take home to meet your Mom!" And later, the "slightly complex" comment is a strange miscue. (Isn't the first rule of marketing never to weaken descriptions?) However, I guess it clears up why there's a rooster on the label. Sort of.
All right, I'll lay off the marketing, which in fact belie an impressive effort at a mild beer.
The brewers at BridgePort gave themselves a little more oomph to work with, brewing Haymaker from a 12.8° P recipe for a beer that is slightly bigger, at 5.3% than Mirror Pond (5%). However, they restricted themselves to a paltry 15 IBUs, just a third of Mirror Pond's 40. Nevertheless, they get a fair amount of flavor out of the hops they do use. (The less time hops spend in the boil, the less bitterness they contribute; however, they add more aroma and the flavor comes through more perceptibly.) Haymaker's are spritely and fresh; definitely a minor note, but they give the beer critical interest.
What emerges is a crisp, light beer that recalls kolsch rather than a light pilsner. It lacks the fruitiness characteristic of most West Coast ales; instead, it's dry and seems to have a faint acidity I associate with kolsches. Perhaps the brewers finished it so that almost no residual sugars remain. And one thing about the hokey ad copy is right--it looks like sunshine in a bottle. I have attempted to capture this in a crude phone cam photo, but perhaps language will render it more accurately. It's not actually extra pale; it's a rich, bright golden that captures light and refracts it into liquid sunshine.
My guess is that most people will find this beer underwhelming. Since it's the same price as BridgePort's IPA, and essentially the same strength, many people will find it a beer to admire (at most), not enjoy. I do enjoy it and admire it. I'll be careful about whom I recommend it to, though.
Hops: "three varieties"
Original Gravity: 2.8° Plato
Available: Western states, through the summer
Also, the brewery is hosting a release party on Wednesday. From the press release:
BridgePort Brewing Co. is inviting the community to make hay and come to the brewery on May 3, First Thursday, from 6 to 9 p.m. to celebrate the launch of Haymaker Extra Pale Ale. Admission to the event is free. The Haymaker launch party will feature complimentary samples of Haymaker, food specials, and live knee-slapping bluegrass music by The Josh Cole Band, a group of self-described flat-picking hooligans. Inspired by the pure, time-honored stylings of The Stanley Brothers, Josh Cole's heart-of-gold voice and the group's hard driving instrumentation are a perfect fit to celebrate the release of Haymaker.