I haven’t got a story behind this week’s beer, and I’m not even sure what to make of the name or the artwork beyond its obvious avian inspiration – but there’s enough here to qualify it for a “Birds and Booze” review. Lead Feather, a “black ale” by the Half Acre Beer Company of Chicago, comes in a one-pint “tallboy” can decorated with a bizarre, pseudo-heraldic black-and-white raptor of indeterminate species depicted “spread eagle” (or “displayed”, to use the correct heraldic attitude), chained and wearing a plumed falconer’s hood, and gripping a mallet and sword in its talons. Even more oddly, there’s what looks like the Eye of Providence staring out at us from the vicinity of the bird’s vent. Illuminati confirmed?

As for the name, I assume the heteronymic “lead” refers to the heavy metal – so could our unidentified raptor be a Plumbeous Hawk, Plumbeous Kite, or even a Plumbeous Forest-Falcon? I suppose we shouldn’t get carried away. “Diurnal raptor sp.” it is.

Half Acre describes Lead Feather as a “black ale”, which may be the brewery’s sly way of not calling it a “black IPA”, a once-popular but ultimately faddish style that has declined drastically since its zenith in the late Aughts. Like a black IPA, Lead Feather is dark and hoppy, but it presents a roasted malt character generally absent in that style. On the other hand, I didn’t the hopping out of line with many of the robust stouts and porters produced by craft brewers today. In a blind tasting – in a plumed hood, please – I think I’d apply these more traditional names with confidence, but black ale works just as well.

“It’s like, ‘How much more black could this be?’ And the answer is none. None more black.”

Not surprisingly this is a very dark beer, inky black with an invitingly frothy, beige head. Many beers this dark offer little beyond an immediate aroma of deeply roasted coffee or chocolate, but Lead Feather mixes bittersweet cocoa with whiffs of freshly baked oatmeal cookies, earthy hints of pipe tobacco and cedar shavings, and a slightly citrus touch of hops. Hops are more evident in the palate, with traces of resinous pine edging a rich chocolate and molasses center. The finish dries out quickly to a near charcoal-like bitterness, but with enough residual dark chocolate sweetness to prevent it from tasting burnt.

Lead Feather was such an enjoyable cold-weather pint that I almost didn’t notice the Half Acre logo hidden on the back of the can, which is also avian-inspired, in a way: it features the unmistakable monkey-face of a Barn Owl head… but with tentacled octopus arms sprouting out from underneath. The origin and meaning of this chimera escapes me, and you shouldn’t worry about it either. Just enjoy the beer.

Happy drinking and good birding!


Half Acre Beer Company: Lead Feather

Three out of five feathers (Good)

Written by Tristan Lowery
Tristan Lowery’s busy homebrewing schedule took a hit in 2010 when he discovered birding and found that scanning the waterfowl at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on a frigid midwinter morning could be just as much fun as standing over a steaming mash tun in a sweltering Queens apartment in August. While his growing commitment to birding has undeniably diminished his brewing output of ales - fine and otherwise - Tristan finds that birding still affords him plenty of excuses to at least keep drinking beer, especially when celebrating life birds, lamenting unsuccessful chases, and capping off an exhausting Big Day or Christmas Bird Count. After leaving behind a hectic cooking career in New York City’s fine-dining scene, Tristan moved inland to the New York's Capital District, where the relative abundance of Pileated Woodpeckers almost makes up for the fact that he’s only seen a single Sanderling in Albany County ever. When he isn’t birding his local patches in urban Albany, Tristan works in energy regulation for the State of New York.