Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Special Brew

I haven’t written a blog entry in a while, partially because my creative energies have been focused elsewhere, and partially because I haven’t had cause to do so. On Saturday, that changed. I spent the day eating pie and drinking beer while helping out at Emerson’s beer and pie competition. Not only that, but I got the chance to hear food and beer experts discuss the finer points of food and beer pairing as they judged the various entries. While the whole day certainly ranks as one of the high points of my stay in New Zealand, there was one part of the day that was particularly memorable. That was when Richard brought out some 3 year-old (I think) Bourbon Porter.

Emerson’s Bourbon Porter is a beer I knew of before coming to New Zealand. Namely, because one of beeradvocate’s Alstrom bros, gave the beer an A rating. This beer is not for the faint of heart, coming in at a sizeable 9.2% alcohol, a good deal of which comes from the bourbon cask aging. The strong influence of the bourbon came through straight away on the nose with a big hit of bourbon and the accompanying vanilla and oak from the casks. As you would expect, there was also a sizeable amount of heat, but age appears to have softened the alcohol from what was probably (I do not know what the beer smelled like fresh but can guess it was pretty hot) a harsh smack in the face, to a gentle, pleasant component of the aroma. There was also an interesting savory soy sauce or marmite like note to the nose from autolysis of the yeast, a smell that could perhaps be seen as a flaw, but which I found added to the complexity of the nose in a positive way.

The palate was much more subdued than the nose. The malt backbone has held up well over three years, lending structure to the body, and a brown sugar like sweetness across the palate. The finish was super dry (probably from the beer sitting on a pile of yeast for a long period of time) with yeast and a bit of bitterness at the back and a pleasant warming sensation down the throat.

Other beers of note that I have tried in the past weeks:

Harrington’s Wintertide:
Style: Winter Warmer
ABV: 6.8%

Pours a clear dark reddish brown with a two inch tan head. Smell is banana like sweetness with faint cloves. Taste is sweet upfront with a spicy kick from cloves and coriander and a bit of oily bitterness at the back. There is a nice balance between sweet honey and malt flavors and the spices and hops. Sweetness deepens and becomes more dark-fruit like as the beer warms. Body is medium with light carbonation and a slick finish. Honey presents itself on the palate, contributing to a slick tongue coating like quality. Overall an interesting beer, that employs spices and honey in a restrained enough way to preserve balance while keeping things interesting.

Harrington’s Big John Special Reserve:
Style: Wee Heavy
ABV: 6.5%

Pours an opaque near black with big foamy tan head. leaves significant lacing down the glass. Smell is whisky and oak upfront followed by dark fruit/brown sugar sweetness. Just a hint of alcohol as the beer warms. Taste is caramelized sugar with some oaky/earhty notes through the palate. Closes with a gentle roasted bitterness and a slight kick from the alcohol. Mouthfeel is almost creamy but comes up a bit thin. medium body and low carbonation. Alcohol and mouthfeel are weak for the style, but otherwise a solid brew.

Emerson’s Harvest Ale:
Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 5.3%

The beer pours a medium amber with two inch foamy head. Smell is big resinous pine and citrus hops with a detectable sweet malt underneath (level of hop aroma reminds me of home). Palate is more subdued, probably because the beer isn't super fresh, with sweet passion fruit coming first, followed by gentle malt sweetness that lasts until a subdued but oily hop bitterness at the end. Body is a bit thinner than I would like, with low carbonation and an oily finish.

Moa St. Josephs Tripel
Style: Tripel
ABV: 9.5%

Pours a ruby/orange with big fluffy slightly off-white head and noticeable carbonation bub bling through the beer. Leaves patches of lacing down the glass. Smell is cloves and heat from the alcohol at first. When the bottle is emptied, yeast becomes a component of the nose. A little bit of banana or sweet fruit comes through as well. Taste is sweet upfront followed shortly by peppery spice that lasts through the sip until hot alcohol at the end of the sip and down the throat. Again, sourdough like quality comes through form the yeast when I empty the bottle, acts to balance out some of the heat. Overall not an overly complex flavor profile but well balanced and quite enjoyable. Fizzy carbonation but relatively low carbonation. Yeast dries out the finish.

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