“LET ME SEE YOUR HORNS!” cried Santa as he guided his reindeer toward the Slayer concert. Well, at least, that’s how I interpret the label for Ninkasi Brewing Company’s Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale.
So I’m running way behind on my installments of BREWHEADS, but a belated Happy New Beer’s Day to you all! I started this review back on New Year’s Day 2016, but there is a good reason for the delay. I was waiting to hear from Ninkasi about their Sleigh’r Dark Double Alt Ale. It was worth the wait; they gave me some great insights into their tribute beer to SLAYER!
Some of you may wonder what the hell an Alt Ale is since they are not that common in the United States. Alts, or Altbiers, technically are ales that you brew like lagers by fermenting at a lower temperature and cold-conditioning the beer for up to two months. There is a genuine art to brewing Altbier and its German cousin Kolsch ale. Altbier translates from German as Old Beer. I’m not going to get too beer-nerd-scientific or historical on you, but here is the German Beer Institute’s blurb about Altbier found on their website:
One of only a handful of traditional German ales. Altbier is Copper-colored, cool-fermented, cold-conditioned, clean-tasting, with an aromatic hop presence, a firm creamy head, a medium body, and a dry finish. It is indigenous to the Rheinland, which is part of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the northwestern part of Germany, near the Dutch border. The best-known Altbiers come from the Düsseldorf, the state capital.
I reached out to the good folks at Ninkasi Brewing Company based in Eugene, Oregon to find out more about Sleigh’r. Ali AAsum, Ninkasi’s Communications Director, and Jamie Floyd, the founding brewer, were gracious enough to answer my questions that I want to share with you. Thanks, guys, and cheers!
Q: Ninkasi has several heavy metal-themed beers. Who is the driving force behind these beers? Is it a particular brewer, owner, or the collective brewery staff?
A: Ali AAsum — “To us, drinking beer and metal go hand-in-hand. Our love for metal is deep-rooted at Ninkasi. One of the first beers Jamie [Floyd – founding brewer] brewed professionally was a Rush-themed beer at Steelhead Brewing. Even though we do reference metal on some of our labels, music as a whole is a big part of what we do. We opened our own in-house recording studio in 2014 to support artists throughout all areas where our beer is sold. Check out our Ninkasi Studios page here”: http://www.ninkasibrewing.com/about/ninkasi-studios/
Q: Aside from the one photo floating around the internet, has the band Slayer ever contacted the brewery about the beer? Has the band unofficially endorsed the beer? Has there been any interaction between Slayer and Ninkasi?
A. Jamie Floyd — “Much like we expected, Slayer fans and the band were totally down. The first time we saw him [Kerry King, Slayer guitarist] with a beer in his hand, while it wasn’t an official endorsement, it felt very much like one. I was honored to hear that Kerry King visited a bar in Portland and requested our beer. There’s nothing more powerful than a Ninkasi-loving Sleigh’r/Slayer fan – they love the beer, they love the band with the same passion we do. We are not trying to overdo our homage to them, but if their fans enjoy the beer, then it’s a great mix of all things great. For us – we love music, we love beer, and we’re happy when the bands we work with or reference feel the same way.”
Q: On a separate note, was Ninkasi forced to change the font of the Maiden the Shade [Iron Maiden tribute beer]? What is the reasoning behind the change?
A: Jamie Floyd — “When Trooper was imported to the U.S., the organization that represents Iron Maiden sent us a cease & desist. Because of that, we ultimately had to change the font. We’re not about holding grudges though and are hoping to have some special Maiden the Shade on tap in Vegas when Iron Maiden performs later this month.”
I poured some Sleigh’r into my battered Slayer mug that I’ve had for years. The bottle was dated 042016, which I assume means drink by April 2016. The beer poured a deep brown color and had excellent clarity. This clarity partly results from the long lagering process, which allows the yeast, hops, etc. to drop out of suspension as the beer hangs out in a cold and pressurized fermenter. That is your nerdy beer science factoid for the day.
Sleigh’r Ale’s aroma is dominated by roasted malt and its distinct German Ale yeast strain, which can produce a faint Sulfur smell in Altbier and Kolsch. This beer drinks very crisp with a nice malt backbone. I get some bitterness up front by way of the 50 IBUs from Nugget hops, but it quickly fades into malt sweetness and then it finishes dry, which again accentuates the hop bitterness.
Ironically, Sleigh’r is a nuanced and balanced beer that has subtle characteristics, which Slayer does not. This beer is not in your face, brutal, or controversial. It’s not slaying your pallet with hops or alcohol – 7.2% ABV. Instead, Sleigh’r is an easy drinking approachable beer that is perfectly balanced. Well done Ninkasi! It is difficult beer to review because no single ingredient dominates. It’s a well made Altbier worthy of a Slayer tribute.
Do yourself a favor and check out Aaron Mediola’s review of Sleigh’r on his website www.beermetaldude.com. While you’re at it, read the Sleigh’r feature in the Holy Metal Beer Bible AKA The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers by the Metal Beer Guru Adem Tepedelem. If you like craft beer and heavy metal, you should get to know these two fine gentlemen.
I have to give props to Ninkasi for flying the metal beer flag. Aside from Sleigh’r, they also brew Imperial Sleigh’r, Imperial Pumpkin Sleigh’r, Maiden the Shade (Iron Maiden Tribute), Helles Belles (AC/DC tribute) as well as Dawn of the Red whose label features the signature “horns” used by metal heads around the world. Keep ‘em coming, Ninkasi!
Sleigh’r probably is the most famous Slayer tribute beer in the United States. However, there are others. Off the top of my head, I can think of: South of Eleven by Hoof Hearted Brewing; Rain in Blood by Dark Horse Brewing; and Hop Slayer by Wild Onion Brewing. Even Fair Winds Brewing Company—where I brew—makes a session IPA called Sessions in the Abyss. I’m sure there are dozens more.
I recently found out Slayer last year commissioned Nils Oscar Brewing in Sweden to brew an official Slayer 666 Red Ale. Unfortunately, it’s only available in Europe. RANT ALERT: Slayer is an American band, and there are more than 4,000 breweries here—many of which are run by metal heads. Couldn’t Slayer find a single American brewery to make their beer? Why not Ninkasi? I venture to say the demand for an American-made Slayer beer would be insane. Call me criminally insane! Nonetheless, I want to try the beer and add it to my collection. Slayer also commissioned Reign in Blood Wine made in California but only sold in Europe – sigh.
If you are lucky enough to still find Sleigh’r in the market, buy it now, drink it now while watching these guys shred their banjos to Raining Blood! Cheers!