It’s been a long time since I’ve offered a Pick of the Month, and I’ve certainly been drinking some wonderful new-to-me beers over the past few weeks and months. The best way I know to play catch-up is to offer a (somewhat artificial) month-by-month pick to catch us up to speed. (Artificial, because I might have two absolute winners during August, and then nothing worth posting about during September. It all comes out in the wash.)
Courtesy of the Harviestoun Brewery, the makers of Old Engine Oil, here is a version of the OEO that has been aged in Highland Park Whisky barrels. There are a number of varieties, each assigned a number related to the age of the whisky that lived in the barrel. The “30,” therefore, housed a 30-year-aged whisky prior to the beer taking up residence.
Appearance: Pitch black: thick, viscous, opaque, with just a hint of sand-tan head. Like a black old ale. (5/5)
Aroma: The most amazing black-beer nose I’ve ever experienced: Tar, tobacco, sorghum molasses, raw honey, freshly cut grass, and….coconut? Incredible. (5/5)
Taste: Wonderful bitterness. 70% cocoa dark chocolate, coffee, nutmeg, tobacco, sorghum, Scotch whisky, toasted malt, cardamom. Heavenly. (5/5)
Palate: Finishes like a thick, beery single malt Scotch. Just a hair too sweet on the finish, keeping it from a 5.0 score for me. (4.5/5)
Overall: If I pay $15 for a 12 oz. bottle (in a box), I want it to taste like this. SO much smoother than the 12-yr. version I had last November. Food pairings? Only the deepest, richest, multi-layer chocolate extravagance. Or a top-shelf cigar. (5/5)
Stunningly highly recommended.
Appearance: It’s black — deep, impenetrable black. A nice foamy dark-tan head sits atop, but fades to a thin lace before long. (4.5/5)
Aroma: Thick and rich — chocolate, coffee, licorice, malt, dark hops, graham crackers, honey. (5/5)
Taste: Damn good. Definite wow-factor with this one. Strong and rich, follows the nose closely, with a hint of a mineral edge. Tons of dark chocolate-malt abound, and tobacco as well. (5/5)
Palate: Definitely strong and proud of it. A bit sweet on the finish — I’d prefer it a bit drier, if I were being nit-picky. (4.5/5)
Overall: Very rich — its only fault is in being *too* rich for standard drinking. The 12 oz bottle is almost too much for one sitting. This would be superb with dessert: raspberry chocolate something, German chocolate cake, dark mousse, creme brulee….OR spicy rich (homemade) mole dishes. (4.5/5)
A quick history lesson: hops have been associated with European beer since the 11th century, and have been a universal primary ingredient in beer since the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (earlier in Germany and Bohemia, later in England and Scotland). That is to say, hops have been associated with European beer only since the 11th-15th centuries: let us recall that beer dates back to the ancient Sumerians. Prior to the use of hops, a whole host of herbs, botanicals, and the like were used to bitter, flavor, and preserve beer. Gruit is the name given to the collection of herbs commonly used to flavor and bitter beer in Western Europe during the middle ages, and, as a result, is also the name now used to refer to that style of beer. Prof. Fritz Briem, of the Siebel Institute, has recreated a recipe of medieval Continental gruit ale and brewed it under the auspices of the Weihenstephaner Brewery.
I honestly had no idea what to expect from this, and I really *wanted* to like it — so a certain trepidation factor entered in, and I was preparing myself for disappointment. There was no need. This is the most surprising — and surprisingly different — brew I’ve had in quite a while. The closest thing I’ve had to this would be the offerings from Williams Brothers (makers of Heather Ale and such), but this one really picks up where they leave off. In summary: I love it. The $7 price tag (ouch!) might keep me from having a steady supply on hand, but otherwise I’d make this a staple in my house.
Appearance: Yellow. Bold, sparkly, glowing, translucently-cloudy yellow. With a billowy white sea-foam top. In my Duvel goblet, it looks divinely perfect. For some reason I was expecting a much darker brew (thanks to Williams Brothers). Lovely. (5/5)
Aroma: Wow. This smell is incredible — like the way I hope my kitchen smells on good days! Bay leaves, ginger, anise, cardamom, peppercorns, coriander, sour cherry, pear, and cinnamon. (5/5)
Taste: Mulling spices meet Belgian farmhouse meet heather ale. This is absolutely out-of-this-world. My fear was that the “herbiness” would quickly become tiresome and over-the-top, but the opposite happened — it becomes increasingly catchy and addictive the more I sip. Extremely thirst-quenching and unendingly intriguing. I could honestly stand it to be stronger in the malt, or overall-strength, department, but that’s my only (slight) complaint. (4.5/5)
Mouthfeel: Perfect. Juicy, piquant, scrubby-bubbles, off-dry. It would even work as a lawnmower beer for some days. (5/5)
Drinkability: Again, the hefty price tag for a 16.9 fl oz bottle, but geezus this is delicious stuff. I’m going to have to show superhero restraint, put the rest of my unconsumed glass in the fridge, and cook up some vegetarian Indian food to go with this. It’s begging for it. It would also be a winner with my “Chaucerian” spiced-Venison pie. (4.5/5)
Holy cow I’m in love with this beer.
First of all, I need to take some time to describe the meal this was paired with, because it was an EXCELLENT food-to-beer match and I’m damn proud of it.
A summer dinner salad with arugula (home-grown), green leaf lettuce (mom-grown), grilled German potato salad (potatoes, green beans, bell pepper, corn, oil-vinegar dressing), prosciutto, hard-boiled eggs, and baked goat cheese. The Local 2 was fantastic with the salad as a whole, and truly sang in perfect heavenly harmony with the goat cheese.
Now, on to the beer:
My first thought is, “Brooklyn does Unibroue.” As I continue to sip and taste, though, I realize this ale has its own thing to say from its own brewery. It is a seamlessly smooth Strong Dark Ale, but I’m tempted to call it a Dubbel because it’s very close in character to my favorite representations of those.
An earthy nose is prevalent, with an ongoing nutty, roasted malt quality and something wonderful I can only describe as “savory caramel.” Strong hints of chocolate continue to show up as well. Not at all too rich or sweet (on the one hand), OR too watery (on the other), as some of this style can be. Great spritz at the end. The 9% is hidden well, and it goes down *very* easily.
“Well-balanced” describes this one well, and it is equally enjoyable on its own or with food. It doesn’t quite possess the “wow factor” to merit all 5’s, but I have nothing but praise for this one.
In addition to the aforementioned food pairing, try with anything roasted, or duck, or wild game sausages, or French (lavender, sage) meat dishes.
Appearance: 4.5/5 Aroma: 5/5 Taste: 4.5/5 Palate: 5/5 Overall: 4.5/5
New Belgium Hoptober Golden Ale
This is my new favorite New Belgium offering, hands-down. The “American Blonde Ale” designation does not even begin to do justice to this multifaceted, complex brew. In the best of the American Craft tradition, this one takes simple genre, tips its hat to it, and then leaves it far behind.
Appearance: Just beautiful. Golden, shimmery, clear, sparkly, with a snow-white pillow of foam atop. Looks like the best of the Czech pilsener world, as it smiles at me in its glass. (4.5/5)
Aroma: Earthy, crisp, mellow, dark, woodsy. I’m reminded of laurels and boxwoods after a rainshower, and expect to hear a wood thrush start singing any minute. Rye, dark hops, green apple, and wheat bread round out the nose. This smell is stupendous, comforting, and slightly intoxicating. (5/5)
Taste: Delicious and refreshing. Surprisingly complex for its color and clarity, and also for its unassuming beginning (but remember that nose…). A delicious rye-wheat note marries perfectly with the ever-so-fresh hop quintet, and something rather perfumey (but in a good way) finishes it off. (4.5/5)
Palate: Sublime and divine, if maybe flirting with being ever-so-slightly thin. (4.5/5)
Overall/Drinkability: Highly drinkable. Scarily drinkable, in fact. I’m kicking myself for buying only a single instead of a sixer. I could drink this all day, all summer and fall — this would, in fact, be perfect on a crisp, warm autumn day. I see this one working perfectly with any number of foods, from smoked (or unsmoked) craft cheeses, to seafood, to Mexican dishes, to fish, omelettes….I had mine with a yesterday-picked fresh mountain green apple, and it was divine. (5/5)