Fearful Symmetries

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13 January, 2016

No More Oak Oppression: Bela by Destihl Brewery

This post marks the first Destihl review of a brew that isn't a part of their Wild Sour series. In fact, this may be the first bier of theirs that I've ever tasted that wasn't part of their Wild Sour series. It is possible that I have tasted something by them at the Great Taste, I suppose.

Bela is an imperial pilsner that comes in a half-litre bottle. I bought mine back in October, if memory serves, when it arrived on store shelves alongside a couple other of the brewery's offerings that were similarly bottled - Clarice Grand Cru and Tripel.

I forgot to mention that Bela is aged on oak spirals. Seeing this made me a bit apprehensive. While I like the flavors that oak aging imparts to beer, I do have my limits. Karben4's Oaktober Ale crossed those limits last year while Atom Smasher from Two Brothers was like having the barbarians at the gates. I suppose I was just worried that, since it was an imperial bier, everything would be amped up to eleven and that my tongue would suffer oak oppression.

Truth be known, I'm also a bit apprehensive about imperial pilsners. Excessive hoppiness aside, it's really the malt flavor that suffers when a brewer decides to embiggen the style. For me, a good pilsner will be dry and lack malt sweetness. The grains should come across as like crackers rather than bread or dough and be very crisp. Imperial pilsners, on the other hand, are usually rather sweet and taste more like an overly-hopped helles bock rather than a pils. Gone is the crispness and subtlety to be replaced by a honeyed, hoppy hammer blow.

Bela pours a lovely clear light yellow/straw color. My pilsner glass was put to good use here as it was topped with a large ecru crown that had an almost yellow tint. And there were lots of bubbles inside the bier movin' on up. A very pretty bier and a good example of glassware showcasing the visual aspects of a brew.

I was quite pleased that the oak on the nose was rather moderate. While it was the first thing I smelled, it did not overwhelm the other flavors which included a bit of cracker-like graininess and a fruity aroma which was like peach.

Destihl's website claims that Bela is 9.7% A.B.V. but my bottle said 10.2%. Considering this, I was impressed with the bier's medium body, lighter than I had expected. As with the aroma, the oak was unmistakable in the taste but it by no means hogged the spotlight. At 85 I.B.U.s a massive blast of spicy hoppiness was expected. It was like ODing on Saaz. Alas, there was no room for light, crackery flavors here and instead I tasted bread and a honey malt sweetness. The carbonation helped maintain a modicum of dryness and keep the malty sweetness from becoming cloying.

The malt flavors quickly faded on the finish leaving my tongue exposed to a very dry bitterness from the hops. Destihl notes that it uses "generous amounts of Czech Saaz hops" here. This is an understatement. Generally gradations of beer flavor intensity go from moderate to pronounced to assertive. The hops on the finish here were severe. Bela left behind a lot of Schaumhaftvermoegen and my glass was lined with webs of foam.

If you'll indulge some rules lawyering for a moment, Bela, to my taste, is not a pilsner. It's too sweet and lacks the crispness I expect from the style. Having said this, Bela is never cloying and it has a great, smooth mouthfeel. The alcohol is well-hidden with very minimal burn. And my arboreal fears proved unfounded as the oak was very mellow and complemented the malt perfectly. My only complaint is that the finish is too dry, too bitter. It didn't make Bela undrinkable by an stretch of the imagination but it did get me to take another sip rather quickly so that the luscious, smooth maltiness could assuage my tongue's distress.

Junk food pairing: With Bela being such a big beer, you'll need equally potent food to go with it. Start with processed cheese foods like dips made with Velveeta or its equivalent or sharp cheddar Easy Cheese on a hearty thick-cut potato chip or soft pretzel.

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|| Palmer, 11:17 AM


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