Beer Money: Peak Organic Happy Hour Review

For the first review I did here at the Brunch Money blog, I talked about the brand-new Sapporo Premium Black lager and what I thought this new beer might mean in terms of where craft beer is going. Only a few days later, I was able to get my hands on Peak Organic Happy Hour, the latest pilsner hot off the canning line from Maine’s Peak Organic Brewing Company. On some level, this feels like kismet. How strange could it be that right after having a Sapporo Premium Black, I’d get my hands on yet another lager— this time, from a craft brewery.

This hearkens back to what I was saying earlier; that the next craft beer trend will be lagers and easy drinkers. (Thanks, Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild, for backing me up). Peak Organic Happy Hour is exactly that, and then some. It’s a light, no-frills pilsner that is as sessionable as it is tasty. Not too hoppy, not too sweet, and not too worried about impressing the beer geek commentariat, either. It appears that craft beer really is looking to win over the craft-averse—and this might be the first of many beers to do so successfully.

Much like your typical teenager, craft brewing has gone bigger and bolder to get attention. But now, the industry is growing up.

But first, to the beer itself. Peak Organic Happy Hour comes in a clean, blue and white can with few (if any) embellishments. I’m usually a fan of a more vibrant can design, but it matches their aesthetic and well, if you’re selling a beer that’s all about simple, refined flavors, you can’t really go too wild on the can (but I still love you, Pipeworks Brewing Co.’s Ninja vs. Unicorn!). You want something that matches the flavor profile, so you’ve got to go simple.

Peak Organic Happy Hour pours a light straw flavor with a respectable, fluffy head that dissipates somewhat rapidly in a Pilsner glass (I went with my favorite glass from Toronto’s Steam Whistle Brewery). All told, I was happy to see that this beer had some body before I even took a sip. A regular old pilsner Happy Hour is not.

brunch money blog peak organic happy hour review
Peak Organic Happy Hour: A regular pilsner this is not.

Now for the most important part—how it tastes. At first whiff, I immediately smelled an old familiar beer, stolen from family barbecues as a teenager and swilled at Labor Day parties ever since. On the nose, this beer smelled exactly like Budweiser (sorry, I meant America). I couldn’t believe how similar they were. Even though so many pilsners share a similar nose, this one was eerily similar.

But the taste of Peak Organic Happy Hour was a totally different story. We’ve gone beyond Bud here, without a doubt. The first sip is immediately refreshing. I understood exactly why they called this beer Happy Hour—it’s nearly impossible to only have one. The hop profile feels distinctly European as well. Nary a single New World hop could be detected from the first sip to the last. All told, this beer didn’t last very long: it’s a crushable, easy sipper that is made for having another.

And that’s what I liked most about it. Sure, it didn’t blow me away with big hops, exotic malt profiles, strange yeast strains, or wacky adjuncts. But that’s the point. Craft brewing is getting older, and as it does, it’s becoming more mature and confident in itself to produce beers that stand on their own two feet as easy sippers that don’t always have to make a statement. Much like your typical teenager, craft brewing has gone bigger and bolder to get attention. And for the last 10 years, the strategy has paid off—it grabbed headlines, market share, and made macro brews “uncool.” But now the industry is growing up and realizing that another way to stand out is by producing tried-and-true beer styles that are simply better than their competitors.

Peak Organic Happy Hour shows to me that my post-Sapporo hunch was right. The next war in the battle for good beer will be fought on the lager battlefront. It will be a subtle competition for refined palates, and we as drinkers may find our next challenge is determining what we don’t taste in a beer, rather than what we do.

Beer Money: Sapporo Premium Black Beer Review

A big part of why we started the Brunch Money blog was to talk about what we do in the beer industry, but we also wanted to create a place to talk about beer itself. Considering we taste more than a few brews in our line of work—many before they hit the shelves—it only makes sense to put together beer reviews from an insider’s perspective. So for the first beer review in the series (which we’ve named Beer Money because, obviously), we’re going with the new Sapporo Premium Black. I’ve got to say that when I heard that a Sapporo black lager was in the works, I was pretty surprised. And with good reason.

The only Japanese dark beer I’ve ever had prior to Sapporo Premium Black was Yo-Ho Brewing Co.’s Zenryaku Konominante Kiitenaize Sorry Kurogo Imperial Porter, which I absolutely loved. So I can’t say I’m an aficionado, mostly because, well, I don’t think of Japan when I think of bold, interesting beers. I think of adjunct-heavy lagers, rather than beers with a ton of depth and character. When the Sapporo folks sent over a can of their new black lager to try (which, rest assured, has absolutely no bearing on this review), I didn’t really know what to expect.

A beer so new, it doesn’t even have its own can yet.

But what I got in this beer was more than I expected. It pours with a moderate head that dissipates quickly, and is so dark that it is pretty much opaque. That was my first clue that I was in for a different experience than I was used to—Sapporo is a beer that I’m more used to swigging at my sushi joint. It’s predictable, it goes well with most foods, and, well, it doesn’t leave me with a huge impression one way or the other. But Sapporo Premium Black was a bit different—it had an almost vanilla-like nose with hints of chocolate and a slightly bitter bite on the back-end. Nothing unsurprising in a dark beer, but certainly something that I didn’t expect.

What struck me about Sapporo Premium Black was its character. Make no mistake, this isn’t a reboot of Sapporo Yebisu: it’s got far more body, bite, and flavor. In fact, it has a much more unique taste than I usually associate with the Sapporo, and more than I’ve even tasted in a few other black lagers to boot. But more importantly, this beer reaffirmed something that I’ve been mulling over: that lagers are way overdue for a reappraisal. A brewer friend of mine and I chatted about the next beer trend on a long subway ride back from Coney Island Brewing Co. earlier this summer. He argued that lagers are going to be the “next big thing,” but I wasn’t so sure. Would beer drinkers really go from drinking big, juicy double IPAs to appreciating just how difficult it is to make a good lager? I was more conservative—hell, I thought the public might go for gruits before they began to reappraise delicate, bottom-fermenting beers.

Up close and personal with the new Sapporo Premium Black lager.
Up close and personal with the new Sapporo Premium Black lager.

The fact that Sapporo Premium Black hits shelves next month has proven me wrong. Craft beer sees lagers as the next big wave that could strike a mortal wound in “big beer.” But big brewers might be in on it, too. And more than anything, at least one macrobrewer got their recipe right. I’m not sure if this is an ambitious effort to rejuvenate opinions on the Japanese export beer market, or a bold new shift for an ages-old macrobrewer, but it sure does seem like this beer suggests a few new trends on the horizon.

Brian O’Connor is one half of Brunch Money, as well as a homebrewer and freelance writer. He has written about beer for Extra Crispy and Paste Magazine, and once told the former prime minister of Norway about his tour of Oslo’s craft beer pubs (which went over surprisingly well). He tweets at @briantoconnor_.

We thank the folks at Sapporo for providing us with a sample to review. We receive no compensation for reviews, nor do we let them influence our opinions. And we’ll never review any of our clients’ products—ever. There’s enough BS on the internet as it is.