Being a Nebraska native for over a decade now there were a number of things I had to get used to. Once you get passed the crappy weather, boring scenery and annoying stereotypes people around the country throw at you it’s not half bad. As a beer drinker though, your choices aren’t near as exciting as other parts of the country. It’s been gradually getting better in recent years, but it was slim pickens for a while- at least once I burned through the readily available choices.
Nebraska Brewing Company wasn’t always around when I first moved and to be honest, the first time I was able to try the majority of their lineup I wasn’t all that smitten. For several years all that was available as packaged in stores were their Reserve Series beers which all carried a $20 price tag per 750 ml bottle- which I don’t always tend to default to on my beer runs. Then February of this year (2014) the long awaited canned offerings started rolling into stores with their core lineup of Cardinal Pale Ale, IPA, EOS Hefeweizen and Brunette Brown Ale. Eventually I plan to write up each of them, but I wanted to start with what I consider the best of the bunch.
Nebraska’s Cardinal Pale Ale is nearly head to head with the IPA in terms of the canned offerings. What I appreciate more about Cardinal is that it’s the most easy drinking of the two and packs subtle but delicious flavor. Before I get too far ahead though Cardinal comes in six packs of 12 ounce cans- each can in Nebraska’s lineup has been designed perfectly and each one with a unique look. The cans scream their home state simply by having a UPC in the shape of Nebraska. The company also has two different can designs, one of which being six packs that come in cream colored plastic recyclable holders. Those particular cans have been designed with the 360 degree top that peels off completely to reveal the beer inside- these are not available in their entire footprint though.
Being in the home market, Nebraska has not greenlit the sale of cans with the 360 degree top, but the look and taste of this balanced beer remains the same. Anyway, Cardinal pours a beautiful golden color- pretty much what you might expect from a typical pale ale, but maybe a little more of an orange tint. As pales go, this thing is remarkably clear with zero haze as far as I can tell. The head starts off pretty standard, doesn’t dissipate too quickly and also leaves a thin layer on top once it settles.
Before ever taking my first smell of Cardinal I started preparing some preconceptions. One of those preconceptions came from a couple years back when I got a taster flight that included Cardinal- I remember not getting much of anything on the nose. The second was the memory of all my favorite pale ales from the past- I’m thinking specifically of Zombie Dust, psuedoSue and to a lesser extent 8-Bit. To compare anything to psuedoSue I’m already setting it up for failure- seeing as how Toppling Goliath’s delicious darling is one of my favorite beers of maybe….ever. Even with the unfair comparisons in the back of my mind I was able to smell Cardinal as if it were the first time. Is the smell as heavenly as psuedoSue, no. It doesn’t have to though. As I’ll get into with the taste Cardinal just aims to please all the way around.
From the pour to the appearance Cardinal aims to be inviting. Then the aroma follows and sells the same inviting tones. The aroma is slightly sweet, a subtle but present hoppy piney notes and a smooth character to biscuity malts. The blend of all notes together is what gives it such an easy drinking personality- if you’re one that describes beer as having personalities. More than anything though the aroma helps to solidify my upcoming point of Cardinal’s perfect balance.
The first sip and every subsequent sip takes every note from the aroma and delivers on every level. Slightly sweet, but with a subtle hop presence, biscuity malt and extremely mild bitterness. It’s amazing how smooth and easy drinking this beer really is. As far as readily available Midwest pale ales go Cardinal- for me- is second only to Tallgrass’ 8-Bit. Since being released in cans I’ve consumed an irresponsible amount of six packs in an even more irresponsible amount of time. It’s tastes amazingly well in this insanely inconsistent Midwest weather- which in transition from winter to Spring ranges from freezing to ungodly hot sometimes all in the same 24 hour time period.
Overall, when it comes to pale ales Cardinal ranks up there with some of the best, but does so without all the flash and hype. I feel the beer is unjustly underrated. If you go by all your typical beer rating applications (Beer Advocate, Rate Beer, Untappd etc) Cardinal ranks decently, but hovers merely in the “good” rank. To me it’s far more than good hence why I describe it as underrated. As mentioned, Cardinal is not what I would call a “world class” pale ale that people should be falling over themselves to get to, but it’s certainly worth getting excited about. Balance is the name of the game- as is the case with most of Nebraska Brewing Company’s beers and Cardinal is as balanced as they come. I’m perfectly fine with it not being a beer that people buy in droves to the point the shelf is empty 90% of the time- just means more for me to drink.