PERHAPS IT’S THE measured patience and poise that joins each flavor from the Perhaps it’s the implied culture and attention to detail. Or perhaps it’s just the first thing that came to mind after reading the lengthy list of vernal (i.e. a little flowery) additives. Whatever its origin, Solemn Oath’s Oxford Comma is a tastefully accentuated Belgian-style blonde ale–light enough for easy outdoor drinking, complex enough to appreciate at a leisurely pace, and smooth enough to pop back in a jiffy if one’s turn is up at [your favorite lawn sport].
Served in a tulip glass, Oxford Comma came with a medium white head with good lacing and medium carbonation apparent despite its opacity. It could just have been the several sours nearby on the draft list, but the Comma’s yellowy gold kind of color seemed to presage a little extra bite not attributable to hops. The aroma’s gentle bloom was perfect for an afternoon in the cozy beer garden of Logan Square’s Small Bar, where the magnanimous beer buyer Parker keeps an intriguing list in rotation and offers them all at perfectly reasonable prices. Zero beard pretention, all smiles, a welcome oasis. But back to the Comma’s bouquet: pale pilsner malt, a few whiffs of yeast tang, and then a softly pleasant array of scents seemingly made for bath salts (lavender, rosehip, lemon, etc.).
The beer is likewise gentle on the palate, showing fairly little of the spice or phenols, none of the alcohol, and only some of the sparkling carbonation that often define this style. Yet it feels more like a tastefully restrained homage than a poor one, since there is plenty left for the tongue to savor. The procession on the palate is similar to the aromas, leading with the malts, segueing into the sweeter midsection, then kissing off with a bit of yeast ester, ginger, and lemon. Mt. Hood hops are virtually indistinguishable (IBU of 11); ditto the ABV of 5.1%. Solemn Oath’s website says 5.9% but likely errs. Most other sites show 5.1% and Oath’s own Plato figures (12 to 2) imply the lower alcohol level, as does the flavor.
The finish is the first misstep and the last, being a little too thin with a touch too much water. It’s understandable in a beer striving for restraint and decorum, but a bit stronger carbonation might have helped leave a more confident last impression on the palate while still being readily accessible. Erring on the side of caution is understandable, though. Each of its additives could have been strengthened into a signature element, but instead they are all softly blended like pastel paints on a beige canvas. Or, less obtusely, a riper pinot grigio.
Or, if you take the brewery at their word, like the 1994 Alice in Chains EP ‘Jar of Flies’. The largely acoustic affair came one year before their final album of the classic era–a pensive album, fraught with emotional subtext but elegant in its presentation and miles more mature than the grunge scene at large. In fact, it’s one of the greatest EPs ever recorded. So perhaps Solemn Oath sets a bit too high a bar for Oxford Comma, but they do themselves, the band, and ultimately the Blonde solid honors in the effort.
Served: On tap (Logan Square Small Bar, Chicago)