Despite what could be a pretty decent pun of a name, since Black Mesa Brewing is in Norman, the name of this beer is actually a reference to the eastern collared lizard. The mountain boomer is the official state lizard of Oklahoma—we all knew that right? Anyways, this kolsch-style ale is an interesting beer that has a lot of history, and is brewed by a truly Oklahoman brewery that also has plenty of history as well. So first let's dive into what exactly makes a kolsch.
Per the Oxford Companion to Beer, kolsch is a style of beer that has been around since 874 AD(!) and the name itself is actually a protected term. Like how champagne has to be made in the Champagne region of France, kolsch has to be made in or around Cologne, Germany to bear the name. This legal protection does not seem to be enforced outside of the European Union, but I appreciate that Black Mesa Brewing shows the respect and calls their beer a kolsch-style ale. This beer is also unique in that it uses an ale yeast, but it is somewhat treated like a lager beer.
Basically there are two types of beers: lagers and ales. Now beer nerds everywhere will be upset about this gross generalization and bring up "wild beers" and sour beers, but for this explanation it is just lagers and ales.
Ale yeast makes beer at a little warmer temperatures, is considered "top-fermenting," and can usually be produced quicker.
Lager yeast makes beer at cooler temperatures, is termed "bottom-fermenting," and generally requires a cold aging process (or lagering) to achieve a clean crisp beer. With a kolsch we have a beer made with ale yeast, but it goes through a lagering period and comes out clean and crisp with just a little bit of fruitiness. These beers are generally made with pilsner malt, although a little malted wheat is acceptable, and they are hopped with noble (old European) hop varieties. Kolsch is a very refreshing product and if you were to order one in a Cologne beer bar, it would be served in it's own unique glass called a stangen, which is a tall, cylindrical glass that only holds six ounces.
That seems like a nightmare for the servers at these beer bars since the beer goes down quick and easily. It is said kolsch taps never close once they are opened.
This beer style used to be fairly obscure. It's drinkability has helped it grow considerably in America, and it has been a good gateway to craft beer for people who were brought up on industrial macro lager. Black Mesa is pretty good at nailing interesting European beers, especially considering their Extra Special Bitter (ESB) won gold at the World Beer Cup in 2014. As far as I know, Black Mesa is the only Oklahoma brewery to win a gold medal at this prestigious competition. Not bad for a brewery that was practically destroyed six months into its existence.
Black Mesa once shared space with Anthem Brewing and Redbud Brewing (which no longer exists), but when a tornado in May of 2013 lifted the roof off of their building and wrecked all their equipment, they had to go on the move. Black Mesa brewed out of St. Louis for a while through a partnership with O'Fallon Brewing (also a good brewery), but they felt the pull to be back in Oklahoma and set up shop in Norman.
They felt Norman wasn't adequately being represented by the local brewing scene, with multiple new breweries mostly opening up in OKC. Black Mesa's shiny new brewery and tap house is quite impressive, and they have left themselves plenty of room to grow. Considering they suffered what could have been a fatal blow early in their careers, Black Mesa has shown considerable grit to get to where they are now. So without further ado, on to the review.
Mountain Boomer comes in at a session-able 5.2 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), which is at the very high end of what the BJCP allows per the style guidelines. The can lists 27 IBUs (international bitterness units), also near the high end of a style that calls for between 18-30 IBUs. The can is 12 oz, which is standard, but I think I could really get behind tall skinny six oz cans.
Aroma and Appearance
This beer opens up with a nice earthy noble hop aroma, and I do believe they used Saaz hops in this thing. After that little hop whiff, you can smell a little bit of that fruitiness that comes from the ale yeast fermentation. The beer is crystal clear and light gold in color. The head is a soft little layer of fluff, with plenty of head retention.
Flavor and Mouthfeel
The initial taste of this beer is just a little hop bitterness, that may be a little high for the style, but not aggressive at all. The beer has a nice sweet malt backbone that props it up, and it is exceptionally crisp and goes down way too easy. The beer definitely has a pilsner feel to it, but that variation in flavor due to the yeast sets it apart and lets you know that you are drinking a really unique beer.
I really like this beer, and I really like Black Mesa. I am very impressed with how much resolve they've shown after losing almost everything, and how they are able to put out world-class beers such as this kolsch-style ale. If you know someone who really only cares about their beer being yellow, clear, and fizzy, have them try one of these and open them up to some new and interesting flavors. Also if you live down in Norman, and your tailgate isn't stocked with Mountain Boomer this football season, what are you even doing with your life? Because you know every time you say "hand me a Mountain Boomer" someone is inevitably going to shout "SOONER!"