Fearful Symmetries

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21 December, 2015

A Rauch Weizen from Minnesota? Oh Yaah, Doncha Know, Hey: NEIN by Surly Brewing Company

Wowzers! Zwei rauch dunkelweizens in one week. Life is good.

From Surly Brewing in the Twin Cities comes NEIN, an imperial smoked dunkelweizen brewed to celebrate the ninth anniversary of the brewery. Apparently Surly brews a big beer every years to celebrate their founding.

NEIN keeps up that tradition with its 10% A.B.V. According to Surly, the inspiration for the bier came "from a trip that head brewer Todd Haug took to Bamberg to visit the Weyermann (Malting) facility." That facility is in Bamberg, Germany, the epicenter of that most luscious of libations, rauchbier. In addition to the smoke malt, NEIN was aged on charred oak for extra flavor before being put into 750ml bottles. In terms of potency and volume, this is definitely a bier to share.

It pours a deep, dark amber that appears brown in your glass. Holding my glass to the light, NEIN appeared, oddly enough, to be clear. I guess it's a rauchdunkelkristallweizen. How do you like that for a compound noun? As I held my glass up, I noticed a goodly number of bubbles moving upwards towards the rather small dark tan head that sat atop the bier. The crown disappeared with some haste.

Every time I review a weizen I feel obliged to confess that I prefer that banana flavors from the yeast prevail over ones that are more like clove or bubble gum. Thusly I am always a bit apprehensive when trying a weissbier because, if notes of clove are dominant then I feel disappointed. I won't pour the stuff down the drain or any such thing but that bier is, fairly or not, stigmatized in my eyes. Luckily NEIN had an aroma that was chock-full of those banana-smelling phenols. In addition there was a pronounced smokiness that was redolent of bacon and a woody smell that reminded me of sherry.

That wonderful banana-bacon combination came through in the taste as well. What a divine pairing of flavors! I've seen more than a few people take one sip of a rauchbier, not enjoy it, and then denounce the whole concept of smoke beer. But I find that the more I drink a rauchbier, the less assertive the smoke becomes. NEIN has a pronounced smoke flavor but it steps back the more you drink ceding space on the tongue to vanilla and woody flavors. The woodiness in the flavor is less vinous than it was in the aroma. Here it's more like oak. Carbonation added a kiss of dryness atop it all.

NEIN finishes much drier than I thought it would with the banana-smoke fading as hops with a grassy/spicy flavor but a modicum of bitterness take over. I also tasted the boozy warmth of this big bier for the first time in the finish. Lastly, the woody/sherry element turned back towards sherry here. Curiously enough, there was no Schaumhaftvermoegen to be had.

As someone who is rather ambivalent about Surly, I must admit that NEIN was ausgezeichnet! It is a bier deserving of a snifter and your time. The medium body is slightly deceptive as the bier holds a medley of big, bold flavors. Each sip unfolds like a narrative with yeasty phenols melding with smoky malts at first. Then they are joined by woody notes from the aging vessel until a gustatory climax is reached. At the denouement hops prevail along with a satisfying boozy warmth that lingers as you enjoy the fellowship of those with whom you share this heady elixir.

Junk food pairing: NEIN is big bier with assertive flavors. Find yourself some chipotle potato chips – the thicker, the better. The gentle smoke of the chips will accent the smokiness of the bier. On the sweeter side, drink NEIN with Nilla Wafers or their generic equivalent. The vanilla flavor goes well with the bier's woody flavors and the vanilla-like ones from the arboreal aging process.

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|| Palmer, 8:02 AM


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