I've been into side-by-side tastings lately (read: this week). Tonight I compared North Coast Pranqster Belgian Ale with Goose Island Demoliton Ale. I respect the brewers at North Coast. I love Red Seal and maybe love Old Rasputin even more, but the particular bottle of Pranqster that I enjoyed just wasn't up to par. At first pour, the head of foam that formed was discouraging; the carbonation seemed off (maybe an old bottle) and the head didn't generate any Brussels lace. There was something in the aroma that was a bit unexpected...I seemed to pick up some mint, along with a sort of musty cellar smell, plenty of sugary sweetness and some alcohol - not bad I suppose. The Pranqster tasted primarily of sweet malt with some bubblegum fruitiness laced with alcohol - definitely some warming alcohol - despite the beer only being between 7 and 8 percent. The mouthfeel is very smooth, accentuating a bittersweet finish that coated my tongue with sugars. What bothered me about this beer was the sort of flat carbonation and sweetness without any real interesting flavors. I was a bit let down with this beer. I expected something paler and drier, and I guess a little prettier in the glass. Nothing really stands out with this one that would make me a fan of it compared to other North Coast brews such as Red Seal and Old Rasputin.
The Goose Island Demolition, on the other hand, was exactly what I want in a pale Belgian-style strong ale. I poured my bottle of Goose Island Demoltion into a tulip-shaped glass, which seemed to emphasize the creation of a beautiful, thick, white head of foam on top of a hazy straw-colored ale. The head fell slowly, leaving a fairly thick coating of lacework behind on the sides of the glass. I moved in to take a sniff and found a delicate aroma suggesting fresh cut hay. An extra few swirls of the glass revealed a subtle graininess, too. I was struck by the light mouthfeel and very light crisp, pilsner malt flavor mixed with a spicy, herbal hop character. All of this suggests high drinkability, but just a touch of warming alcohol in the lightly peppery, dry finish is a faint reminder of the strength of this brew - despite the light, dry, "airy" character of this beer, it is rather strong - stronger than the Pranqster.
I liked the Demolotion quite a bit over the Pranqster. Maybe I obtained an old bottle of the Pranqster and I don't necessarily blame the brewers; it could be that the beer distributor or the store's fault for improperly storing the beer. Without any freshness dating or bottling code, who knows how old the bottle might be? So far now, I have to say I prefer the Demoliton. It was just lighter on its feet, dancing around the seemingly more formidable Pranqster. I've had the Demolition at the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub (1800 N. Clybourn Ave. in Chicago) before and the bottled version is just as good (if note better) than what I recall tasting on draft. The dryness of this brew made it dangerously drinkable and very easy to drink; the light spicy-peppery hops kept it interesting and made for a very refreshing sip - especially during the summer.