Thursday, August 9, 2012

Beer reviews - International flair

Most of the styles of beer brewed today originated in Europe - Czech pilsner, German bock, Flemish sours, British pale ales, porters, and stouts. In many respects, however, American craft brewers have surpassed their European antecedents. There's virtually not a single style of beer that isn't brewed by some American craft brewer, and indeed Americans have resurrected many beers that had gone extinct (or nearly so) in their native lands. In addition, Americans love to tinker, and many have taken traditional beer styles as their starting point and been wildly inventive with them, experimenting with new techniques and ingredients.

Today's review, however is dedicated to the spirit of internationalism, wherein we have an American brewer who's taken a less well-known European style and made something all their own with it, and Swiss and Danish brewers inspired by American craft brewers to make, in one case, an exceptional beer from another European culture, and in the other, a rather new invention that's taken America by storm (at least, on the tiny scale that craft brewers can).

(Thanks again to my friend Andrew for bringing these to last week's RPG session, and to the good gents at The Jug Shop for recommending them to him!)

Jolly Pumpkin, Baudelaire beer iO saison

Our first beer comes from the exotic land of... Dexter MI, and the good folks at Jolly Pumpkin (you may remember that we picked up a bottle of their La Roja oak-aged amber at Little Vine last week - that was a quite good sour). Jolly Pumpkin has a large repettoire of excellent beers, many of them barrel aged. Their Baudelaire series (which currently comprises only two beers, the iO Saison and the Ale Absurd Rye Trippel) are intended to be even more "artistic" beers, and the iO Saison certainly lives up to the author's dark, romantic reputation on that account.

They started with a saison, or Belgian farmhouse ale, which is one of my favorite style of beers. (I'll discuss it at greater length when I do my posting on "gateway beers.") It's light, kinda fizzily, kinda fruity, kinda funky. Traditionally, it's sometimes enhanced with spices like coriander, dried orange peel, or peppery grains of paradise. For the iO, JP used hibscus flowers, rose petals, and rose hips, which give it a slightly citrusy, slightly floral perfume, an almost dreamy quality. It's really quite wonderful.

Biere Trois Dames, Sauvageonne

In contrast, we have the Sauvageonne, literally "wild girl," from Biere Trois Dames, a Swiss homebrewer who loved the hobby so much he bought a nano-brewery, spent a year visiting breweries in the US and Canada, and then went home and went commercial, making primarily styles popular in North America, like Northwest pale ale, IPA, and stout.

With the Sauvageonne, however, he seems to have gone a little crazy, and this mouth-shrivellingly sour amber truly lives up to its name. Imagine the most tart nectarine you've ever bitten into, and now multiply that by about 10, and that will give you an idea of what you're in for. It's full of delicious fruit tones, while avoiding some of the nastier "barnyard" aromas that can come out of a sour beer fermentation. If you like sour beers, this one's for you!

Mikkeller, Beer Geek Brunch

And now, the piece de resistance, which is an odd phrase to use since these fellows are Danish rather than French. But whatever. Mikkeller (AKA Mikkel Bjergsø and Kristian Keller) are a team of gypsy brewers who broke onto the craft brewing scene six years ago when they presented their beer at the Danish Beer Festival, including their coffee/oatmeal stout, the Beer Geek Breakfast. Their success got the attention of American distributors, and now they export to 40 countries and Mikkel is recognized as one of the world's most innovative craft brewers (Keller went on to other endeavours).

Beer Geek Brunch is similar to the Breakfast, but with a couple of notable exceptions. First, it's brewed with the famous (or perhaps infamous, or if you prefer, just plain disgusting) Vietnamese ca phe chon coffee or Kopa Luwak, some say the world's most expensive (at $160/lb, that's more expensive even than your damned Keurig), which is the coffee that's roast after it passes through the digestive tract of an Asian Palm civet. (Needless to say, I won't be feeding my cats coffee beans in an attempt to do this at home. I'm DIY, but not that DIY.) Then, the finished beer is aged in Calvados barrels, the Normandy apple brandy that's taken with coffee (among other ways) as the traditional morning wake-up jolt. I've tried this, and can't say I'm too fond of it, but the combination in the Beer Geek Brunch is absolutely wonderful, although a bit on the bitter side from the combination of the barrel wood tannins, coffee, and dark roast malts. The apple from the Calvados plays well off the fruit tones in the coffee, however (civet poop or no), and overall it's a truly remarkable beer.

Jolly Pumpkin, Baudelaire Beer iO Saison. 6.8% ABV, IBU rose by any other name...
Biere Trois Dames, Sauvageonne. 6% ABV, IBU who cares, pucker up!
Mikkeller, Beer Geek Brunch. 10.9% ABV, IBU only the civet knows for sure...

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