Benford Brewing – Smoked O’Hickory Brown Ale

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Brewery: Benford Brewing

Style: Smoked, Brown

ABV: 5.5 %

Score: 4 out of 5

I remember the first time I drove through South Carolina’s back roads to the farm that houses Benford Brewing. I was excited to visit the brewery to collaborate with Brian O’Neil, the founder, and head brewer.At the time, I was working for a large beer retailer and I’d created a barrel-aged beer program. The program consisted of partnering with local breweries to create barrel-aged beers available only through the retailer. Area breweries responded well to the program and I was able to collaborate with, not only Benford Brewing, but RJ Rockers, Conquest Brewing, and others. Ironically, we spent the day smoking 3 lbs of Serrano, Jalapeño, and Anaheim peppers, which we then dropped in a “wet” Henry McKenna bourbon, and topped the barrel with 31 gallons of Smoked O’Hickory Brown Ale. The result: Delicious!!! But, that’s a post for another day.

Fast forward two years and I am enjoying this delicious beer again (sans the barrel aging and peppers). I was fortunate enough to visit the brewery again this weekend and came home with a few bottles of Benford’s beers. The pour ended with a finger of beige head which lingered for a minute or so. This gave way to a thick, sticky lacing that actually stuck around for quite a while. The reddish brown body feels a little on the lighter side of the scale for the style, but if that’s the biggest complaint I have about this beer, Benford is doing it very right. The nose immediately greets you with loads of smoked, charred wood. I can faintly detect some caramel sweetness in the back, but if you blink, you will miss it. The aroma is reminiscent of the way your clothes smell after spending an evening next to a campfire, simply amazing.

As expected, the palate is very faithful to the nose. A wallop of smoked, charred wood with a nice leathery/tobacco finish can be expected. The smoke in O’Hickory is perfectly balanced. In the realm of smoked beers, a little is always too much, but that is not the case here. Although it is predominantly a smoked beer, the smoke flavor is subdued and balanced enough that it only serves to enhance the beer, and not over-power it.

Smoked beers are always a tricky, and for beginners, scary territory. Most people who try a smoked beer of any kind for the first time typically walk away confused and, often, disgusted. Smoked O’Hickory will cause neither. I believe this is the perfect beer to introduce yourself, or a friend, to the wonderful world of delicious smoked beers.

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