Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

03 May, 2016

Melobraggot? Bragomel?: Marionberry Braggot by Rogue Ales

The final entry in my short run of brackett tastings is a fruited take on the style - Rogue's Marionberry Braggot. A mead made with fruit is called a melomel so perhaps this could be called a melobraggot. A bragomel? They just roll off the tongue, doesn't they? If you use it like a mouthwash, does it become a Gargamel?

I'm here all week. Tip your servers!

Rogue Ales is located in Newport, Oregon and I will cop to not being particularly familiar with the brewery. I have reviewed only one of their beers - Roguebier Rye Ale, which I liked. And that is about it as far as my Roguish knowledge extends. Marionberry Braggot is apparently part of the brewery's Rogue Farms series which I presume means that some percentage of the ingredients in the brew were grown on a Rogue farm. Rogue farms grow grains, hops, fruit, nuts, and also raise animals. I am sincerely hoping that I never see a Rogue free range chicken beer on offer.

The label indicates that several of the braggot's ingredients were grown on a Rogue farm including marionberries. I had to look them up because the name didn't sound at all familiar. Marionberries are a variety of blackberry brought to life in Oregon in 1956 which makes them hyper-local for Rogue.

As with the other bracketts and braggots I've sampled recently, my bottle of Marionberry Braggot has been aging in my cellar since I bought the bottle in 2014. That was a big year for braggots, apparently, as my previous two were also vintage 2014. That trend petered out quickly.

Marionberry Braggot pours a deep brown that has a reddish purple tint. Just like Sprecher's brew, this one was very turbid. I got a small light tan head that lasted for 20 seconds or thereabouts. If I held my glass to the light just right I could see some bubbles going up.

The aroma was very sweet with a lovely honey scent being supported by the marionberries. This certainly had the sweetest aroma of all my braggots.

The same can be said of the taste. Not only was the honey prominent but also fairly sweet. This braggot is 11.42% A.B.V. which makes me wonder exactly how much honey was used to make it that big and with that much sweetness. The berries were not shy about making themselves known either. They added a touch of sweetness and a bit of tart berry goodness. I was happy to taste some carbonation as well because it really helped tone down the sweetness.

This is a big, boozy beverage and I could most certainly taste it. That boozy heat was fairly restrained until the finish. Here the honey faded leaving the marionberry to deal with the alcoholic heat. I'd swear there was also a little bit of spicy hop bitterness in there for good measure. Lacing was completely absent.

Just like Sprecher's Braggot, Marionberry has large booze component to it. I think the marionberries and the marionberry juice helped tone down the alcohol sting here but it had still a very warm, astringent taste, especially at the finish. Beowulf could have made Molotov cocktails with this stuff and dispatched Grendel and his mother with ease.

In addition to having a great honey flavor that of the perfect level of sweetness, I really liked the fruit in this braggot. It made the brew a little more toothsome but also added some tarteness at the same time. However, just as with its Sprecher cousin, the alcohol taste was just too strong for my palate. It was too strong and stood out from the honey and fruit too distinctly. It may very well be my lack of cellaring know-how but, considering that Honey Queen didn't seem to suffer from a similar period of aging in my basement, I am beginning to think that high potency braggots are either fated to be fire water because grain somehow throws a spanner in the works or Rogue and Sprecher need to practice braggot making. Meads/melomels with higher A.B.V.s than 11% don't taste like this nor do (all) beers of double-digit potency.

Surely this means I must conduct more research.

Junk food pairing: Marionberry Braggot pairs well with Hostess fruit pies or their nearest generic equivalent. They will help take the edge off and complement the fine marionberry flavor of the brew.

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Heorot Awaits It: Braggot by Sprecher Brewing Company

Three – three braggots!! Ah, ah, ah, ah!

Number three comes courtesy of Sprecher Brewing in Milwaukee.

Sprecher is one of the granddaddies of Wisconsin microbrewing having been around since 1985. Sadly, I've read that they make more soda than beer these days and lately they've been making hay with the hard soda trend. And even more recently they've released a bevy of radlers to jump on the shandy/radler bandwagon that Leinenkugel built.

This is a shame became Sprecher Amber is a fantastic bier and I used to drink it by the gallon (it seemed) back in the 1990s when I spent more time than was healthy at the Paradise Lounge. Black Bavarian is also extremely tasty and I enjoy their seasonals quite a bit too. Yet I feel that the brewery is perceived as something of a one- or two-trick pony. An Amber or Black Bavarian when taking a brief respite from hoppy pale ales but that's it and only occasionally.

Yet Sprecher introduced two gluten free brews back in 2006 or so and have a line of fresh hop beers; a Belgian quad for an anniversary brew and sundry ales. I just view Sprecher as being a very good brewery with many tasty offerings that has more going for it than Bavarian-style biers but just hasn't been able to find its beer niche in a world of IPAs, sours, and barrel aged brews. Perhaps they are doing better than I realize and just fly under the radar without a trendy beer that causes a brouhaha upon release. If I'm right, then hopefully moving to 12oz bottles and some new labels that shed much of the traditional German imagery will appeal to younger drinkers or simply drinkers who ignore them.

Anyway, onto the braggot!

Back in 2014 Sprecher released their first ever braggot. I picked some up and have finally gotten around to dragging one out of the cellar and busting it open. As with my previous two bracketts/braggots, Sam Adams' Honey Queen and Viking's HoneyMoon, Sprecher's extolls the virtue of aging right on the bottle: "This product can benefit from extended aging when properly stored." I aged mine about two years in my cellar away from light and in at least moderately cool temperatures. You will never hear me brag about my cellaring prowess but I feel that Sprecher's brew was treated well.

It poured a deep yellow that was as cloudy as all get-out. I don't know if this is normal but I'm not afraid of some haze. I did not get any head in my glass and the braggot was so turbid as to be opaque so I couldn't judge the brew's effervescence. At this point I was unsure if I completely ruined the braggot in my basement and was about to go 1 for 3 or if all was well and these were just the meady equivalent of crow's feet and laugh lines.

I felt relief when I got a billow of honeyed sweetness up my nose. Braggot had a very sweet aroma overall with some bread dough in addition to the honey. Considering that the bottle had been in my cellar for almost two years and the brew had been aging in Sprecher's vats for something like 18 months, I was quite surprised to smell what I thought were hops – floral hops – that were accented really nicely by all the syrupy sugars.

It wasn't surprising to find that this hazy honey-colored nectar had a fairly heavy body. While it was not a sticky, viscous liquid like honey itself, it was much more hefty than the other braggots that I'd had. There was a luscious honey flavor yet there wasn't a whole lot of sweetness. Braggot has an A.B.V. of 11% so most of the honey sugar was eaten by the yeast and turned into alcohol but I expected a bigger malt sweetness. There was some but it tasted like the malt added more body than flavor. I also caught a little carbonation as well as a not insignificant burst of peppery hops which added an unexpected bitterness. Then the bitterness melded into a big boozy sting.

While there was a little lingering sweetness at the end, I mostly tasted alcohol heat. I think all the booze in Braggot chased away the lacing because there was none.

Sam Adams' Honey Queen was a balanced and gentle libation in contrast to this highly potent potable. Sprecher has come up with something that I could imagine being consumed in Hrothgar's hall where the king and his fighters drank it to forget about Grendel for an evening. I found Braggot to be harsh and abrasive – the Sam Kinison of beverages. The alcohol cut through the really nice honey flavor easily and left my tongue afire. I am hoping that the rest of my stash of Braggot mellows out with more aging.

Junk food pairing: Get some Chicken in a Biskit crackers and slather on a generous portion of honey butter.

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01 May, 2016

Swarming With Flavor: Honey Queen Braggot by Boston Beer Company

My brackett mini-marathon continues today with a braggot from Sam Adams - Honey Queen. It's part of their Small Batch Collection which comes in bombers. I've really enjoyed a few of the Small Batch brews including a rauch bock and a sahti so of course I've not seen them since those first highly pleasurable dates. I'm not sure if this is because they're no longer being brewed or they just aren't available in Madison or if I am simply looking in all the wrong places.

My previous brackett review was of a c. 2009 brew and I was saddened to taste that it had gone south. My bottle of Honey Queen was of a much more recent vintage – 2014. The bottle explicitly says "Enjoy now or age it to further develop rich and unique flavors" and this, combined with the fact that the bottle had been away from light in my cellar, made me mildly hopeful that I'd have a drinkable beverage upon decanting.

Honey Queen pours a dark yellow. I was surprised to find that it was a touch hazy. I don't know why but such was the case. My pour produced a nice head that left my glass adorned with a brilliant white and very creamy head. It didn't last a particularly long time but long enough- perhaps 20 seconds or so. There were some scattered bubbles inside my glass going up.

I was a bit anxious putting the glass to my nose for the first time. However, I was greatly relieved when I smelled slightly sweet honey but, more importantly, a distinct absence of vermouth. There are hops and chamomile in this braggot and they came across as a pleasant mild herbal scent. Beneath this sweet, floral-herbal mélange was some crackery malt. A dramatic improvement over the senescent brackett from a few days earlier.

By no means am I a braggot expert. How much should one taste like mead? How much like beer? I suppose that as long as you have some of each, you're in like Flynn. Honey Queen had a rather big floral and slightly fruity honey flavor up front. However, it was only slightly sweet. Underneath it was a light, biscuity malt flavor. And tacking its way through the two was a mild herbal & floral flavor which was hops and chamomile in concert. The herbs gave a little bitterness.

That great semi-sweet honey flavor lingered at the finish and was then joined by a swelling of herbal flavor along with a modicum of bitterness that made for a pleasantly dry ending. Honey Queen left some nice lacing on my glass with a scattering of spots and a couple large patches.

I was quite relieved to find that my bottle of Honey Queen hadn't gone bad. Indeed it was a real treat. Sam Adams says that it was made with three kinds of honey – Clover, Orange Blossom, and Alfalfa – but the differences amongst these varieties is beyond my ken. (Any honey sommeliers out there?) But I can tell you that they made for a fine floral sweetness on my tongue. Honey Queen has a deceptively light body that feels a bit heavier when the honey sweetness is at its height. There are also three kinds of hops - East Kent Goldings, Strisselspalt, & Aramis – and they, along with the chamomile, add a pleasant, mellow bit of herbal flavor and just enough bitterness to make for a noticeable contrast to the honey.

Honey Queen is 7.5% A.B.V. so it's either a big beer or a small wine depending on your preference. Regardless, it is extremely tasty.

Junk food pairing: I like to pair braggots with foods that emphasize the honey. Try some of your favorite honey mustard pretzels with Honey Queen.

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29 April, 2016

The Honeymoon Is Over: HoneyMoon Brackett by Viking Brewing Company

Has anyone out there ever tried aging brackett, a.k.a. - braggot? I have, and let me tell you, it was an utter failure.

Brackett/braggot is a beverage that is reputed to have originated in medieval times and is either mead made with malt or beer made with honey. Either way you're getting fermentable sugars from a mix of honey and malt. But I suppose you can just add finished mead to finished ale and have brackett too. How much beer should you taste in a brackett? How much mead? Everything I've found to read on the subject leans towards bracket being an art rather than a science. Does it taste like mead and beer simultaneously? If so, then you've got a brackett.

I recently opened a bottle of HoneyMoon, a brackett from the Viking Brewing Company which is now Valkyrie Brewing Company. If you look at the old Viking website, it says that HoneyMoon "Ages well for years". Perhaps two years. My bottle was purchased in 2009, I believe, and I figured that I'd try aging a 10% A.B.V. wine-like brew/brew-like wine. Tempus fugit and here we are seven or so years later.

HoneyMoon poured a lovely light gold – even if the photograph doesn't portray this. It was quite clear. I didn't get much of a head when I poured it into my glass. But there was no small number of bubbles in the elixir. Are fresh bracketts effervescent? Meads comes bubbly and non-bubbly so you'd think brackett could very well be stillish. I think the last time I had a fresh brackett outside of The Great Taste was about 11 years ago when I had some from White Winter Winery so I remain unsure.

The brackett definitely had a mead-like smell – that dry honey scent – but the aroma also had a rather prominent vinous smell too. There really wasn't anything beery here.

Taking my first sip, I didn't have high hopes. The brackett had a light body and I caught a little carbonation as well as some really nice honey taste. However, that vinous quality was here in spades. It tasted a lot like vermouth to me. As my HoneyMoon warmed up, it took on a strong boozy heat - 10% may have been on the low side – and a pronounced astringent flavor.

The finish had what must have been the very last remnants of hop flavor with a faint grassiness just barely perceptible and more of that vermouth flavor. My glass had no lacing.

Well, my little aging experiment was a failure and you can blame it on me. (We're just sugar mice in the rain.) I should have consumed this bottle years ago. Live and learn. This just means that I need more bracketts to make up for my failing.

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28 April, 2016

Maybe you'd like it back in your cell, your Highness: Escape Route by Sam Adams

The Boston Beer Company, brewers of Sam Adams beers (and other adult beverage brands), made the news recently for all the wrong reasons: sales, profits, revenues – the whole shootin' match, basically, went down in the first quarter of this year. No doubt there is a goodly amount of schadenfreude in some circles over this news. I have read various people unleash streams of invective against the company, its beers, and its founder, Jim Koch, and I just don't understand the ill will.

While I am certainly not inviting anyone to feel sorry for Boston Beer Company, I must admit that I have something of a soft spot for Sam Adams. Having been formed in 1984, Boston Lager was a prominent fixture of my formative microbrew landscape back in the early 90s and I still enjoy it today, though not often. But there are times when I'm at a chain restaurant or perhaps in a city that isn't overly attached to microbrews yet Sam Adams is there.

Beyond earnings statements, Sam Adams has been in the brewing news as of late for its Rebel IPA series and its line of nitro brews in cans. I've not tried any of these beers and, as you see from the photo above, I have been drinking a rather different Sam Adams beer - Escape Route, an unfiltered Kölsch-style bier. Sam Adams bills it as being a "Limited Release" but, for a company that brews 2+ million barrels of beer annually and distributes nationwide, how limited could it be? I suppose it refers to the bier not being available year-round and instead released only in the depths of winter. Presumably the release of a light, easily quaffable brew when it is cold and dark outside in Boston and most of the rest of the country is simply Sam Adams getting a jump on seasonal releases.

As I said, Escape Route is a Kölsch-style bier that is unfiltered. My understanding is that such a bier in Cologne, the style's home, could not legally use the "Kölsch" appellation. And so, while Escape Route's lovely brilliant gold is quite Kölsch-like, its slight haze is most certainly not. Sadly, I had no stange for this review as mine are all packed away. I think that if I'd have had one, my ¼" head would have become a bit taller. Still, my glass had a respectable loose white topping of foam that hung around for a little while. On the other hand, with all those bubbles in the bier, a stange would have gussied up the presentation a little bit.

Escape Route's aroma was delightful and had everything that I expected. There was a really nice crackery maltiness to it that was accented by that characteristic fruity aroma from the yeast which was berry-like but with a touch of citrus. A faint bit of grassy hop lingered in the background.

The bier was light-bodied with a fairly delicate biscuit flavor that nonetheless managed to be big and up front. I absolutely adore this flavor and it's one that golden ales that try to pass themselves off as Kölsches usually don't have. The bubbles I spied earlier added a fizzy bite yet it was not so harsh as to obscure the rather subtle fruitiness from the yeast. It had a nice crispness to it too which complemented the mostly clean flavor.

Those biscuity malt flavors lingered on the finish until they were greeted by a moderate dose of hoppy flavor of the grassy/herbal kind and their attendant bitterness.

This is a very tasty bier. I believe that Sam Adams says the name refers to an escape from winter to spring. But it's also an escape from trendy barrel-aged sour double IPAs. This is not a big bier however you approach it. 5% A.B.V. is a moderate strength; the Strisselspalt and Aramis hops don’t assault you with tropical fruit tastes and are not particularly bitter; the malts give a light, biscuity flavor just as the yeast gives a light fruitiness to the proceedings. My bottle indicated that it was best buy June but I think the hops suffered a bit due to age. They just seemed a bit flat and lacked a fresh sprightly character which would have been nice to have tasted.

Still, Escape Route was, for me, a solid, flavorful Kölsch. It hit the right notes and just needs to be available fresh in the summer.

Junk food pairing: Because the Kölsch is not a big, bold brew, try something lighter with Escape Route such as Classic Ranch Fritos.

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26 April, 2016

I keep drinkin' malted milk, tryin' to drive my blues away: Malted Milk Shake Lager by Stevens Point Brewery

Last year Budweiser aired a commercial during the Super Bowl which mocked the perceived pretensions of craft beer brewers and drinkers alike with a narrator intoning, “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We’ll be brewing some golden suds.” Part of me felt affronted by Bud's disregard for flavorful beers and brewing creativity while another part laughed because I know that I roll my eyes whenever I see a Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Lemon Chiffon Crueller Ale.

While I've never had one of those Voodoo Doughnut beers, I did have a watermelon brew this past weekend – a double IPA from Ballast Point, my first ever beer from them. It tasted like someone had brewed an IPA and then aged it on a bed of watermelon Jolly Ranchers. Not my thing, really, but I am glad that I have experienced a trendy fruit-flavored beer from a trendy brewery. Anderson Valley's Briney Melon Gose suffered from the same candy-like taste. And going back to the second half of the 1990s, I recall The Great Dane being in media res of a fruit beer binge and releasing a really awful watermelon brew. (The blueberry one was good, however.) Watermelon is just a problematic fruit when it comes to beer.

What about beers made with oysters or bull testicles? At what point does novelty lose its original Latin meaning and descend into doing something unusual for the sake of doing something unusual? This is definitely a grey area and I am loathe to think that brewers who brew novelty beers are, to paraphrase Severinus in The Name of the Rose, tempted against nature. Taking the long view, brewing a pastry-flavored beer is, to my mind, another entry in a long history of playing with foods to make them different, amusing, et al. I mean, medieval royalty were presented with whole cow skins stuffed with cooked meat, pies containing live birds (frogs, etc.) just like a certain nursery rhyme, fish prepared to look like a roast, and so on.

Admittedly, bull testicles in beer must violate various ontological categories that our brains use to understand the world. Beer is over here with grain, water, yeast, and herbs/spices while Rocky Mountain oysters are over there with tripe, pig bung, brains, and the like. Surely Pascal Boyer can enlighten us on this matter.

Which brings me to Point's Malted Milk Shake Lager. The beer was one of four in a variety pack released for the first time this past late autumn or winter called Long Nights. These are sweet beers enhanced with flavors that complement the malt. To achieve the desired effect, Malted Milk Shake Lager is brewed with malted milk powder and aged on cocoa nibs. Note that malted milk powder was invented by an English pharmacist and the company he founded with his brother, J & W Horlicks, would produce the stuff here in Wisconsin – in Racine.

Malted Milk Shake Lager pours a lovely dark copper due, no doubt, to the chocolate malt. While not as dark as some porters, it looks almost opaque in the glass. If you maneuver your vessel around, you can catch the color as well as the beer's clarity. I got a small ecru head on my pour which lasted what I think of as an average amount of time – 30 seconds or so. While not effervescent like a pils, there was a fair number of bubbles in the bier heading upwards.

Point advertises this as a sweet bier and this was confirmed by the aroma. It was sweetly scented with the evaporated milk giving it a luscious dairy air. The malted part of the malted milk was also rather prominent. Topaz and Tettnang hops are used here but in the aroma I could only detect a faint bit of grass. To be fair, I don't think this bottle was the freshest example of the bier.

This is certainly a sweet bier. A prominent sweetness was the first thing that I tasted which was a mixture of lactose and bread dough. The former helped give the bier a really smooth feel. Again, the malted part of the malted milk powdered came through loud and clear while there was a touch of bitter chocolate in the background. I tasted a little carbonation as well.

On the finish the malted milk flavor lingered a little and was joined by some of those hops that were in the aroma. While not a big flavor, they helped lay the sweetness to rest with some grassiness and a little bit of bitterness as well. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

Upon her first taste, my wife said, "It's not as bad as it could be." True enough. Malted Milk Shake Lager does taste disturbingly like malted milk. It has a smooth feel to it and a not-unpleasant sweetness which never became cloying. As weird as it sounds, the bier had a clean taste with the flavorings taking center stage with the malt flavors taking on a supporting role. While there's nothing wrong with lactose in beer – see the milk stout – or any of the other flavorings here, Malted Milk Shake Lager just didn't cut it for me. On the one hand, it's a nice middle-of-the-road brew. Not too sweet, no big flavors, 4.8% A.B.V. But it violated those ontological categories too blatantly. The added flavors here are nice but overshadow the natural bier taste rather than complementing it or playing off of it in some way.

Junk food pairing: Keep the dessert theme going. Try pairing Malted Milk Shake Lager with some dark chocolate malted milk balls or turtle cookies.

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22 April, 2016

There's smoke on the porter, it's brewed up in Juneau: Smoked Porter by Alaskan Brewing Company

Back in January I vowed, well, I didn't really vow – it was more of a prediction – I predicted that I'd try Smoked Porter from Alaskan Brewing Company. And what do you know? My prediction has come true! If I had written that post as a quatrain, I'd be Nostradamus.

One thing I discovered in preparing to write this post was that Alaskan has been around since 1986, which makes the brewery an elder of the microbrew tribe. The brewery's website says that it was founded that year by Geoff and Marcy Larson up in Juneau, Alaska. The text is accompanied by a period photograph of the Larsons that sends a shiver down my spine as it triggers the smell of hairspray and the sound of Thompson Twins in my mind.

I write this or something akin to this much too often: Alaskan is a brand that I don't know much about and that I tend to pass over while checking out the shelves at the beer emporium. I think I'd had their Summer Ale and found it to be plenty tasty. It's just that I get shelf fatigue wandering down the aisle at Woodman's. Unless I'm looking for a specific brew, it just becomes a big blur of IPAs and barrel-aged this-and-thats. Alaskan seems to be a stalwart of the scene quietly doing their thing instead of trying to garner the attention of those who crave novelty by using hops that haven't even been christened yet.

Which brings me to Alaskan's Smoked Porter. It was first brewed back in 1988 which makes it one of, if not the, granddaddies of American microbrewed smoke beers. Some of the malt is smoked using the wood of local alder trees. Exactly how the taste of something smoked with alder differs from that of, say, oak or beechwood I don't know. But I was willing to try to find out.

Smoked Porter is deceptively dark in the glass where is appears to be jet black. Upon closer inspection, however, the beer is really a very deep copper color and clear. I got a moderate tan head that stuck around for an average amount of time but couldn't see any bubbles inside the beer itself.

As expected, that wonderful smell of smoke was quite prominent in the aroma. If I hadn't known it was courtesy of some Alaskan alder trees, I would never have been able to tell you what tree sacrificed itself for the cause. Actually, I may have been able to tell you it wasn't a cherry tree. In between and behind all of the smokiness were some typical porter scents – dark chocolate and roasted grain.

I found that the beer had a nice medium-light body as I let the succulent smokiness swirl and eddy around my tongue. Madisonians may be familiar with Karben4's NightCall, a porter which has just a kiss of smokiness to it that accents the lovely dark malt flavors. Well, that's a peck on cheek in contrast to the full-on, sloppy, tongue-down-the-throat, guaiacol-laced, osculatory explosion in this brew. Alaskan was not messing around here.

When not enjoying the smoky goodness, I also tasted a decent amount of other flavors from dark roasted grains: bitter chocolate as well as a hint of coffee and tobacco. I could taste the carbonation too but it was very mild.

The smoke would not quit and hung around through the finish where it was joined by some herbal hop flavor and a touch of bitterness. My bottle is dated 9/8/15 so I'd imagine that the hop flavor was bigger when the beer was fresher. Still, they managed to make the finish slightly dry and an easy come down from the smoky high.

My glass was left with some really nice lacing. A band went around most of the glass and there was just pretty lacing all around.

As someone who loves smoke beers, I will testify that this is a great brew. You get the blast of smoke initially but the flavor mellows out enough to allow the bitter chocolate and other flavors from the dark malts to step up and they all combine for a wonderful flavor. I'd like to grab a few more of these to cellar to find out how the smokiness changes over time. It would also be interesting to compare alder smoked malt to malts smoked with other woods.

Junk food pairing: For a savory snack to accompany your Smoked Porter, get some soft pretzels and smother them with a sharp cheese food product sauce. If you have a sweet tooth, deep fry some Oreos.

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21 April, 2016

For the May Day is the Great Day: Bonfire Maibock by House of Brews

Earlier this year House of Brews proprietor Page Buchanan announced that he'd be brewing four lagers here in 2016. Back in the depths of winter he released the tasty Jailhouse Bock, a doppelbock quite adept at keeping the winter chill at bay. And last month saw the release of Bonfire Maibock to help ease the transition from having Jack Frost nipping at your nose to having mosquitoes suckling at your skin in oppressive heat and humidity.

I have a special place in my liver for maibocks, those malty brews that are lighter in color and in body than their other bock cousins and generally a bit hoppier than them too. With Lententide fasting over, they are not charged with sustaining life alone and so, while hearty, they are not as heavy as the doppelbock. It was through the maibock – a Capital Mindblock, er, Maibock, specifically – that I became introduced to seasonal beers back in 1991.

Full disclosure: I know Brewmaster Page personally but I will be brutally honest for your benefit, dear reader. And, besides, he's not paying me.

Bonfire pours a lovely clear gold. This is one of those biers that makes me wish I had the ability to take nice photographs and/or use Paint.net with something resembling skill because it is really pretty. My pour produced a small white head that dissipated quickly. There was, however, a goodly number of bubbles in the bier going up.

The aroma was sweetly scented and wonderful. Honey came first followed by a light, berry-like fruitiness, which I did not expect. I don't mean to imply it was fruity like one would expect from a Ballast Point Bilge Water Strawberry Maibock, but the malts just had this mild, non-specific berry scent. There was also a trace of grassy hops.

Bonfire had medium-lightish body and a rather rich taste. A nice honeyed sweetness was first on my tongue and, while it took pride of place, it was by no means cloying. Jailhouse Bock was brewed with three sweet malts; by contrast Bonfire only has one caramel malt, Carahell, with Pilsen and Vienna malts filling it out. And while not overflowing with decocted Maillard reactioned melanoidin flavor, the bier did have a really nice toasted malt taste behind the sweetness. Some of those grassy hops were to be tasted in there too.

On the finish the malt sweetness faded as a spicy/herbal Nugget hop flavor ascended. Both the flavor and the not insubstantial bitterness they brought made for a really nice contrast to the malts. Schaumhaftvermoegen was nowhere to be found.

Bonfire is a mighty fine maibock. While I thought it was just a touch on the thin side, I loved the malt sweetness. It had a really nice taste which was almost floral and was neither overpowering nor syrupy yet it was dominant. Some toasted flavors were complementary while a nice dose of carbonation and hops added contrast which helped keep the sweetness in check. Bonfire is smooth and goes down easily. Too easily, perhaps.

Junk food pairing: Have a box of Baby Swiss Cheez-Its on hand when you've got a Bonfire in hand.

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