This edition of Tasting Notes has me seeking out a new lager experience by pouring up a Basketcase American Helles from Starr Hill Brewery (Crozet, Virginia).
Before we pry off any bottle caps, let’s cover the background information on Basketcase American Helles. This beer is the latest installment in Starr Hill’s Heavy Rotation Series, a limited line of non-IPA brews that has their brewers exploring new styles and/or ingredients. This offering is a Munich Helles-style lager sporting an American twist of Cascade hops. 2-row, Munich and Carafoam round this 5.4% ABV beer off with a balancing malt presence. Basketcase is available now as a limited offering in Alabama and throughout Starr Hill’s distribution area. Look for this one at craft beer friendly establishments in the Fall Variety Pack mixed 12-pack, 6-packs of 12 oz. bottles and on draft.
My duty of supplying you with the facts is now fulfilled, so let’s get to sipping and opining with some Tasting Notes!
Tasting Notes for Basketcase American Helles from Starr Hill Brewery
Appearance: Basketcase American Helles hits the glass with a rich golden body. Held to direct light, the gold lightens to become a gleaming shade of yellow. A speedy and plentiful carbonation presence races throughout the crystal clear body. That carbonation is feeding the two fingers of bright white foam that was built off the pour. Retention is decent with the head eventually dropping to a loose, bubbly ring that is present for the majority of the experience.
Aroma: This beer casually fills the air with aromas distinct to a German Helles. The grain presence is clean and clear, leading the way with a light sweetness and breadiness. Spicy and floral hop notes then open things up and invite you to inhale deeply. The aroma closes out with a light citrus presence of grapefruit. It may sound a bit on the simple side, but these notes all mesh to produce a billowing and beautiful aroma.
Taste: Once again, I am more than a little surprised that this American take on a Munich Helles is nearly spot on. The hops come forth first to charm the palate with a very fresh floral and light citrus quality. These notes are further supported by an earthy, spicy character that has strength but is not at all aggressive in flexing those muscles. A sweet, bready malt presence lends balance by stifling almost all of the bite these hops could muster while still avoiding any possibility of being too pronounced or cloying. Lager yeast then sets in at the finish with a clean and unmistakable quality that brings it all together.
Mouthfeel: Basketcase is medium in body with a zippy carbonation level. This combination supplies a beer that is crisp, dry and clean to maximize drinkability while remaining a lager that still has some size to it on the palate. The 5.4% ABV is completely hidden and this makes the beer even more easy drinking. The aftertaste is just a touch of earthy, floral hop tones.
Final Thoughts: I was a little more than excited when I opened the Fall Variety Pack to find that Starr Hill Brewery had taken on a Helles Lager. I am even more delighted to report that the brewers absolutely nailed this beer. The use of Cascade hops had me a little worried that the beer may go too far in the direction of a beer that is dominated by citrus. That worry was quickly swept away as I found a level of craftsmanship that coaxed out the more European spicy and floral notes residing within this hop. That said, there is still a kiss of citrus left to linger and declare, “I’m made in America.” The attention to detail given to Basketcase American Helles supplies this offering with plenty of flavor while allowing it to keep a clean lager presentation that steers clear of overloading the palate with an unneeded level of challenging complexity. This Helles is all about being easy drinking with just the right amount of dynamics and personality. Fantastic and finely crafted. I finish with the inclination to thank Starr Hill for joining a select few other American craft breweries that are dedicated to restoring the good name of the lager. Prost!