Reviewed: Kern River Pumps, Bumps, N Rollers
Official description: Whether you Pump your Mountain Bike through the single track, Ski the Bumps in the backcountry or brave the Rollers on the Mighty Kern, this beer is a great way to end your adventure. Our American take on a Kolsch-style beer is crisp, refreshing and made for the outdoors. If you are looking for a light American beer that won’t slow you down, Pumps Bumps and Rollers is as domestic as it gets.
Kern River Brewing Co. – Kern River Pumps, Bumps, N Rollers – 12oz can served in stemless snifter – 4.8% ABV
You may know Kern River for their Just Outstanding IPA and Citra Double IPA. Even in Southern California, Kern River is tough to find on store shelves. But while perusing my local bottle shop, I noticed this new release and the staff recommended I give it a try. On the front of the can, Kern River calls this an “American Light Ale.” But it won first place in the California State Fair for Kölsch in June 2019. For those unfamiliar with this rare style, Kölsch is a hybrid style of beer from Cologne, Germany that ferments warm with ale yeast but is then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager. (It’s also worth noting that Kern River’s website simultaneously lists this beer at 4.8%, 5%, and 5.3% ABV. I’m going with 4.8% since that’s what’s in giant font on the front of the can – part of its selling point no doubt.)
I’m reviewing Pumps, Bumps, N Rollers (PBR for short, err…) from a 12oz can that I picked up at my local bottle shop for $2 plus tax. Investigating the can, there’s no packaging or best by date written anywhere. Into my glass, PBNR is clear pale straw with decent, bleach white foam that fizzles out in less than a minute. The aroma starts off with applesauce, honey, and white bread. Since there’s not much aroma or head retention to speak of, I’d recommend just drinking it straight from the can.
Flavor-wise, PBNR is surprisingly delicious. My tasting notes read, “Your granpappy’s Budweiser.” In many ways, this beer has a historical, Pre-Prohibition quality to it. PBNR is smooth as hell with lots of sourdough and honey wheat breadiness. It’s richly malty with farmy grain flavors, but it doesn’t taste bland or soapy like its macro counterparts. There’s some subtle acidity that builds in the back of the palate like you get with wet sourdough. Though PBNR has only a hint of bitterness for balance, it never becomes sticky or cloyingly sweet. That may be in part to its full attenuation and low alcohol. PBNR finishes neutral and is sessionable to the max. It’s a perfect everyday drinking beer.
Now, I didn’t fully read up on this beer beforehand, so during my initial review, I kept calling it an American light lager. Like I said in my review of Coronado’s Salty Crew, the real-world flavor profile between some blonde ales and pale lagers can be negligible especially when they omit hop-derived bitterness. Make a hybrid of the two, i.e. Kölsch, and the differences are even blurrier.
Perceived Specs for Kern River Pumps, Bumps, N Rollers
Kern River absolutely nailed it for the “domestic” tasting, blue-collar light beer. Pumps, Bumps, N Rollers is one of the few wholly malt-focused beers that finds balance through low overall sweetness and sourdough-driven subtle acidity. And since it’s not much of a looker nor impressive in aroma, I recommend drinking it straight from the can. It’s lawnmower beer at its finest.
Kölsch is a rare style. I’ve only reviewed one other, Definitive Brewing’s Contee Kölsch. That one was more dynamic, hoppier, and had even more perceived acidity. Kern River’s version blurs the lines with macro pale lager, poising itself as a nebulous “American Light Ale.” It has more in common with some non-hoppy blonde ales like Firestone Walker 805, Coronado Salty Crew, or Green Flash GFB Blonde Ale. On the pale lager side of things, PBNR is similar to non-hoppy macro killers like Sierra Nevada Summerfest, Firestone Lager, Great Divide American Lager, Hardywood Richmond Lager, Folksbier Old Bavarian Lager, Upland Champagne Velvet, New Glarus Totally Naked, et al.
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