Fearful Symmetries

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17 February, 2015

The Yule Goat: Joulupukki by Vintage Brewing

On my most recent trek to Vintage I was disappointed to find out that I was a day late for this winter's Joulupukki as the last barrel had been emptied the day before. But fate smiled upon me last weekend on a trip to the Woodshed Ale House where the terminal keg of the season was still spilling out its juniper goodness.

"Joulupukki" has become the Finnish word for Santa Claus though more literally it means "Yule goat". It is also the name of one of Scott Manning's winter seasonals – his take on the Finnish sahti beer. The sahti is a traditional Finnish style of beer that can involve grains aplenty other than barley and is flavored with juniper. It's generally one the higher side in alcohol compared to other styles. Beer Advocate says the style ranges from 7%-10%.

This beer beer has a lovely deep amber color. It's clear but opaque. My pour didn't generate much of a head although there were bubbles lingering at the top. My nose nearly climaxed at the heavenly aroma with malty sweetness mixing with a bright floral scent and the trademark pine of the juniper. It was very refreshing not to smell any hops.

On the tongue, Joulupukki tastes much like it smells. The malt has a stone fruit sweetness here which is balanced somewhat by piney, resinous juniper and a hint of spice from the rye. Scott cleared out his spice cabinet for this one with cardamom, orange peel, clove, and whatever else he found at the ready making its way into the brew. These flavors were not very prominent but they did complement the malt very well and toned down the brighter flavors just a bit. For such a malt-forward beer, it was very light on the tongue and not syrupy at all. Although the carbonation didn't stick out on the pour, I could really feel the effervescence on my tongue making a nice contrast to the sweetness.

The beer finished smoothly with a hint of dryness as the bittering hops (~8 I.B.U.s) came through and melded with the lingering juniper. Sadly, there was no lacing on the glass. Presumably this is due to the paucity of hops. Joulupukki, if memory serves, weighs in at 6.8% A.B.V. This is not the heartiest beer ever but it will warm you up and, after a few too many, you'll have that blue alcoholic gleam just like the Finns in John Dos Passos novels.

I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful boreal mix of flavors that is Joulupukki. This is not at all surprising since I love rye in my beer, love juniper, and am not a hophead. The emphasis here is on the malt sweetness along with the spicy rye which are complemented by the earthy flavors brought by the juniper and other spices. Joulupukki is heady enough to be a fine winter warmer when seeking shelter from a cold winter's night but can also be a nice, cool refresher upon stepping out of the sauna. My plan is to convince Scott to age some of next year's batch in akvavit barrels.

Junk food pairing: Joulupukki goes well with Annie's Extra Cheesy Cheddar Bunnies. Just don't eat them while you're in the sauna.

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