My bad. I thought “synergy” meant, approximately, “two distinct things combining to equal a new product greater than the sum of its parts“. Yet according to Miriam Webster online, it actually refers to a “combined action or operation” or perhaps “a mutually advantageous conjunction or compatibility of distinct business participants or elements (as resources or efforts)”. No “greater than” necessary, just two things put together and going relatively well. Like a relationship but, well, not necessarily that awesome of a relationship.
This was exactly what I was going to say about Central Coast Brewing’s Chai Cream Ale: Chai is good, ale is good, put ‘em together and they’re good. But not “blow your pants off” good. There wasn’t the synergy I was hoping for in combining these two beverages. There’s no third, magical element. But since I was wrong on the very concept, which is more lackluster than I’d always thought, I now have to argue that this is a synergistic beer. Confused? Yeah, me too.
I discovered this combo beer while visiting my family in San Luis Obispo County after reading a profile of its instigator, Joel Pace, in the local free weekly. Pace had already been making the organic SLO Chai for over a year. When a brewer approached
him after overhearing him and his wife at lunch talking about the chai biz, they went into cream ale cahoots. He said the first recipe was too aggressive on the hops to be marketable to the general public (though I’d like to hear what the imperial IPA people have to say about this). He mellowed out the recipe and perfected his double-brewing technique, making the beer and chai separately but mixing them together before fermentation. Today, Pace runs Soel24 Beer Company, and has sold his chai business. Now he focuses on combining action and operations, a mediator of synergy.
Alcohol by volume (ABV): A mellow 4.5%
Color: Golden tangerine
Style: Modification on a cream ale. Cream ales are an American style of beer. They are brewed as ales, meaning the yeast is fermented at the top of the vat and generally at a warmer temperature than lagers, which are bottom-fermented at a cooler temperature. But cream ales are related to pale lagers, being often finished off with a species of lager yeast as opposed to an ale one.
Nose: Slightly hoppy, even more slightly spicy
Flavor: Pace said, “I didn’t want the chai flavor to be over the top, but it’s in there. It’s refreshing and familiar, but with something a little more exciting.” This is an accurate description, from the maker himself. There’s a good amount of carbonation, adding to the light and thirst-quenching feel. The initial impression is one of bitterness — not nearly as targeted and ambitious as an IPA, but subtler, with the spices fighting their way through the astringency. The chai aspects linger on the tongue, but are in no way out of control. This is not my favorite beer ever, but I appreciate the hoppy heat and spicy warmth, and think I would’ve liked it better had I paired it with Tandoori chicken, samosas, and lots and lots of naan. Because food and beer? That’s synergy, too.