Fearful Symmetries

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06 November, 2013

This Beer Will Bring Both Glory and Plunder When Skillfully Wielded: Ulfberht by Vintage Brewing



Back in June I "suggested" to the brewmaster at Vintage that he brew a Baltic porter. A few months, some leftover smoked wheat, and one episode of NOVA later, Ulfberht was on tap.

To the best of my knowledge, the Baltic porter as it is generally known today began life in the 18th century in England where breweries made a high octane version of their normal porters for export east across the Baltic Sea. Eventually the Baltic countries began to brew their own porters instead of importing them from the UK. As the 19th century wore on, the lager brewing trend spread and was adopted in the Baltic region and applied to the porter.

I've always thought of the Baltic porter as being heavy on malt flavors. You've got some sweetness as well as roasted goodness leaving the hops in the dust. And they are big beers too – think 8% ABV or so. We're talking a hearty brew to take the chill off a Siberian winter day or to get a bunch of blue-faced Finns ready to hunt reindeer.

After receiving my suggestion, Scotty found himself with some leftover smoked wheat after having brewed his Grodziskie and fascinated by the Viking sword Ulfberht as seen in the NOVA episode "Secrets of the Viking Sword". A brew was born.

Ulfberht is a nice deep brown that appears black when not held directly to the light. It looked clear at the bottom of my glass. My pour didn't get much of a head but the foam I did get was tan and you could see bubbles forming on the side of the glass. The aroma was marvelous. The first thing my proboscis detected was the fine smoky, ham-like smell from the wheat. Next I discerned toast emanating from the roasted dark malt. I also caught a bit of stone fruit sweetness.

The taste was equally delightful. That smoke flavor wasn't as strong as you'd find in a Schlenkerla rauchbier but it was fairly prominent. There was also some coffee flavor in there from the dark malts plus some sweetness which was like caramel. Mouthfeel was pretty smooth and, for all the malt action here, it was chewy but not syrupy. I could feel a bit of the effervescence and taste a hint of the alcohol. It is 7.6% ABV, after all. The hops didn't make themselves known until the end of the sip when the Saaz's grassy/spicy flavor came through and carried into the finish making for a dry ending. I, decidedly not a hophead, consider Ulfberht to be moderately bitter meaning that it's about as hoppy as a Czech pilsner.

Curiously enough, Ulfberht isn't a proper Baltic porter. Instead it's some hybrid Baltic wheat porter-like elixir as 50% of the grain bill is comprised of the smoked wheat. I suppose this makes it an imperial rauch dunkel-nicht-hefe-weizen or some such thing. Whatever style it may or may not be, it combines two of my favorite beer flavors - smoke and dark malts and it keeps them in harmony. Ulfberht has proven to be a great warmer for the chilly, rainy autumn nights we've been having.

Junk food pairing: Considering the smokiness of Ulfberht, I'd go with a hearty BBQ potato chip. But don't get those dainty, thin, delicate ones. Get a thicker cut that a hungry Viking who's been out slaughtering innocents all day could appreciate. Then submerge it in some warm cheddar cheese-flavored dip. And make sure it has a sharp taste like a nice aged cheddar. Give those sturdy malt flavors a run for their money.

Bonus content: NOVA interviewed Scott after they found out he named a beer in honor of their program. You can read the interview they did with him here.

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|| Palmer, 3:23 PM

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