Baxter Brewing Company’s Tarnation California-Style Lager

By: Benjamin Welton

There’s this particular bar in Oakland, California. It’s called Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon. According to popular lore, the “First and Last Chance Saloon” portion of Johnny Heinhold’s establishment came from the fact that sailors were destined to their first and last rounds at the bar before shipping off to Poseidon’s vast kingdom.
Beside being an important stomping ground for parched bluejackets, Heinhold’s First and Last Chance Saloon also served as the young Jack London’s study hall. While reading at the very same tables that still adorn the bar’s interior today, London not only learned the required materials for his high school education, but he also overheard the adventurous tales that the bar’s many seafaring customers brought from their extended stays. The bar not only influenced London’s later work, but because of the generosity of Johnny Heinhold, it also helped to put London through one year of college at the University of California, Berkeley.

I bring all of this up because the Tarnation California-Style Lager bring up images of Old California, and for a product from the great state of Maine, that’s some accomplishment. Smooth and crisp, the Tarnation California-Style Lager tastes like something those old salts would’ve enjoyed, plus it’s got the right amount of grit to appeal to the grizzled prospector in all of us.

First Impression: Since I’m a sucker for these types of things, the first thing that caught my eye was the color scheme. You can’t go wrong with muted reds and blues, and on top of that of that, there’s some good kitsch with can’s relaxed gold miner and Baxter’s winged moose. At first glance, this beer seemed like American quality in a can.

Pour: This beer pours rich and foamy and it has a bubbly and effervescent personality. The one major drawback is its can packaging, which, if one is not careful, can lead to some awkward pours full of wet, thick thuds and splotchy drizzles. Those types of things don’t make any gin blossom happy.

Taste: This beer’s bouquet is quiet, but not overwhelmingly bland. With hints of crystal malts, caramel, American Northern Brewer hops, the Tarnation California-Style Lager presents a potpourri that is neither spicy nor creamy. It smells delectable however, and this beer is certainly yummy. Beginning with a sharp tang then transitioning into a refreshing swallow, this beer is a near-perfect balance between bite and smoothness. It’s only drawback is its overall lack of pizzazz and its missing “wow” factor. Still, the Tarnation California-Style Lager is nothing to shake a head at, and this beer deserves at least a first and last chance.

Grade: B

ABV: 5.3%
IBU: ???

Baxter Brewery Lager

B