by Hop Nation USA's Steve
I like to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about music. My tastes are varied enough I listen to more than just the screaming Scandinavian buzzsaws of black metal. One particular aspect of music I enjoy is the cover song, especially when it’s done by a metal band. A lot of times, it’s bands paying homage to their forebearers. For example, Between the Buried and Me does an entire album titled The Anatomy Of covering their influences from Queen to Pantera to Motley Crue.
Some of these songs can gimmicky fun like Children of Bodom’s cover of Britney Spears’ “Oops...I Did It Again.” Or they can be full on transformative exercises like iwrestledabearonce’s cover of Muse’s “Uprising” or Tori Amos’ cover of “Raining Blood.” They can also be arguably better versions of the original like Cradle of Filth’s “Hallowed Be Thy Name” Iron Maiden cover or Dimmu Borgir’s cover of the Twisted Sister song “Burn in Hell.”
You can also get unlistenable dog turds which should probably never been attempted like Disturbed’s version of “Sound of Silence.”
All of this is can be related to the beer world as it becomes more commonplace for brewers to ape non-traditional flavors found outside of the beer world. What is Duclaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus or Belching Beaver’s PB Milk Stout if not a cover of Reese’s Cups? If a Colorado brewery brews a Mexican-Style Lager, are they not just singing someone else’s song? Breweries want to capture not just the flavors, but the feelings and memories associated with an intended mimic. A number of breweries like Saucy and Hitchhiker make fruit punch flavored beers. Why? Because 90s kids want to be reminded of Hawaiian Punch but with booze.
Some breweries go the other way. Instead of adding booze to childhood favorites, they pay homage to adult cocktails. Cocktails are just as experimental and creative in nature as the American craft beer revolution itself. It’s not hard to see how the two would go hand in hand.
I’ve experienced good “cover songs” from Pittsburgh’s Hitchhiker and Abjuration brewing who both “covered” Painkiller. Both capture the tropical drinkability and warm weather feels, but they don’t need prepped and come in cans. However, the Mimosa Ale and Mint Julep from Flying Dog’s Brewhouse Rarities couldn’t be more disappointing unless they were the Fall Out Boy Ghostbusters Theme. Both completely fail to capture bright, flavorful nature of the cocktails. The Mimosa tasting much like orange juice poured into beer, which is just a beermosa, its own brunch phenomenom. The Mint Julep didn’t taste much like anything, certainly not even a trace of mint, and was barely palatable. Thankfully, it was retired.
This brings me to the most recent cocktail cover I drank, the Southern Tier Old Fashioned. As a whiskey drinker, both bourbon and Irish, I fell in like with Old Fashioneds at the suggestion of a friend. I fell in love with them during a New Orleans bachelor party where the more complex and regional Sazerac is common. The Southern Tier “cover” does not hold up.
A part of their Barrel House Series of barrel aged beers, it looks well enough. A nice, deep orange without much carbonation. It’s in the drinking where it falters. There’s only three main ingredients in an OF; bourbon, bitters and an orange peel. Because of this, the original cocktail relies heavily on the quality of booze, unlike a mixed cocktail like a daiquiri. Southern Tier, though, seems to play it pretty close to the vest as to where exactly they source their bourbon barrels from. It’s not hard to imagine the quality of bourbon is more Bird Dog than Bulleit. This is fine for other beers when you just want to impart some of the characteristics of the wood and bourbon on a beer, but as mentioned before the bourbon has to be upfront in this flavor profile. What you wind up with is a taste of somewhat cheap and muted hooch, but with hot burn. Also generally lost in this beer is a taste and aroma of fresh orange; the second most pivotal part of an old fashioned. The way a fresh orange peel and twist can open up the freshness and brightness of the cocktail is wonderful. Here, it’s like a bartender rinsed a glass in Sunny D and tossed in some well bourbon. Quality and freshness an Old Fashioned demands are simply two things breweries cannot compete with and expect to maintain a reasonable price point. I don’t fault them for trying, but maybe don’t try again.
While it’s not completely undrinkable, it’s hard to justify drinking this over an actual Old Fashioned or another better Southern Tier beer(try one of their Girl Scout Cookie covers.) This isn’t a famous band paying lip service to another famous band. It’s your uncle’s AC/DC cover band playing the same bar every third Thursday. You’ll just wind up craving the original more than ever having another.