I have had good blueberry wheat ales. This is not one of them. When people say “blueberry ale” I am immediately reminded of several experiences across two extremes. On one hand, there is Eagle Brook Blueberry Ale, which I became fond of while working at the saloon of the same name during college. It is a skillfully made ale, contract brewed by Ipswich Brewing, that has blueberry flavor without making it unbearable. The other extreme, which I present as a cautionary tale to all who will listen, has always been Sea Dog Blueberry Ale. Purchased at Trader Joe’s, it was not long after cracking this beer and experiencing the full nature of its poor quality that I did some digging around on the internet, discovering that Kennebunkport Brewing Company and Sea Dog are in fact one in the same, both brewed by their parent company Pugsley’s Brewing Projects International.
My fist experience with Sea Dog Blueberry Ale was years ago and I remember vividly feeling outright accosted by the flavor. It is one of those beers that lives on the social wall of shame and like other extreme fruit beers like Sam Adam’s Cherry Wheat, is hard to even give away if someone has had it in the past. It takes only a sip to remember all the reasons I have warned people against Sea Dog, which I present now.
Quickly ripping off the twisted cap, I race to get a good poor and capture at least some of the short lived fizzy head. As is usually the case with cheap fruity beers, the pour looks and behaves more like a soda than a wheat beer. The appearance is yellowish/orange with more filtration and clarity than one would expect from a wheat-based ale. The beer looks crisp and clean, but there is already evidence that this will not be good. Mainly, the smell of blueberry fills the room, which means however this beer was created it was surely overdone. That combined with a total lack of head or lace have set my hopes pretty low.
Sometimes you want a glass to accentuate aroma, in this case I wish it didn’t. The blueberry scent reminds me more of Boo Berry cereal than anything handpicked in Maine. There is already an apparent artifice at work here and I haven’t even tasted the beer. The first sip is overly carbonated, which I expected after watching the head fizzle away in mere moments. The blueberry flavor itself is not entirely awful, but is immediately followed by a nosedive into a harsh chemical aftertaste, making the “beer” highly unpleasant.
This downright gross metallic aftertaste is just one factor that leads to my developing a strong headache about halfway through the glass. This has happened to me before, but only while drinking beers I was sure contained some foreign element. There is nothing I know of in the natural brewing process that is prone to causing headaches. “Natural flavor added” on the label tells me all I need to know. In a “Soylent Green“-style future this beer would surely be a bestseller, but in the modern beer market it is only money wasted. With so many good options in the fruity realm it is kind of amazing that beers like Sea Dog continue to sell. They seem to be marketed directly toward those who hate the taste of beer entirely, which leaves me wondering why these people drink badly made beer instead of just drinking something that isn’t beer.
With a 73 on Beer Advocate and a mere 35 on Rate Beer (As Sea Dog), I am clearly not alone in my disliking this beer. I do feel a bit bamboozled by the sneaky label change, but no one can blame them for wanting to contract brew for a chain as large as Trader Joe’s, who’s clever marketing strategy is to deceive customers by relabeling existing products as their own. In any case, I think this beer is miles away from palatable. I think it might be a good idea to do some research before buying anything labelled as a blueberry wheat ale. Of all beer styles, this one has one of the rockiest track records for quality and taste. Clearly the labels can not be trusted.
I hate this beer.