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22 January, 2016

Pass the Cup of Crimson Wonder: Crimson Wonder by Valkyrie Brewing Company



Up in northwestern Wisconsin lies the Village of Dallas which is home to Valkyrie Brewing Company, formerly Viking Brewing Company. Like the community in which it is located, Valkyrie is tiny. It produced around 500 barrels back in 2013. Valkyrie is run by Randy and Ann Lee and it certainly merits a name like "craft brewery". Unless things have dramatically changed since 2014 profile Randy Lee still brews using converted dairy equipment and, because of climate control issues, brews lagers in the winter and ales in the summer. When I was there in 2009 there were no computer screens to watch, no buttons to hit. Lee's beers are truly "hand-crafted".

I recently pulled out a bottle of Valkyrie's Crimson Wonder, described as a "Wee Heavy Scotch Ale". This is a style which I know very little about. When I think of wee heavies I think of, well, heavy brews that are dark in color and dominated by malty sweetness with the hops struggling to add a little counterpoint. It is exactly this kind of brew that gives dark beers a reputation for being big and viscous – the very stereotype that dunkels and schwarzbiers have to battle against.

Crimson Wonder is no longer listed at the brewery's website so I am assuming that it is now a beer of the past. I bought my bottle several months ago and it has been sitting in my basement ever since. Valkyrie does not pasteurize their brews so, upon bringing it up from my cellar, I was very curious to find out what had happened to it over the past several months.

The brew poured a dark brown that let just a smidgen of light through. Being such a dark elixir I couldn't tell if it was clear but twisting and turning my glass so I could peer through it at just the right angle gave me the working hypothesis that it was indeed clear. At least at the top – who knows what may have settled to the bottom? I got a very small, creamy tan head that was here and then gone in no time. There did not appear to be any bubbles inside the beer which was not at all surprising as I don't think of Scotch ales as being particularly effervescent.

The aroma was quite boozy but also had big malty caramel and vanilla scents. That vanilla really came through in the flavor although caramel/toffee wasn’t far behind. I didn't really catch the smoked malts on the nose but they were certainly there in the taste, especially as the beer warmed, and the complemented the sweetness very well. While I don’t know how much alcohol is in Crimson Wonder, it too gained in strength as the brew lost its chill. There was a little bit of grassy hops in the middle here but they couldn't impart much bitterness against the malt assault.

Crimson Wonder finished with the malts slowly fading and those grassy hops kicking in for some dryness in addition to an ever-increasing boozy burn. There was not much in the way of lacing on my glass aside from the occasional speck of foam.

I found the beer to be a bit thinner than I thought it would be with the malt flavors not being quite as rich as expected. Knowing that it was not fresh, it is possible that this was the result of some oxidation. On the other hand, the caramel/toffee flavors tasted like caramel and toffee instead of prunes/dried fruit. Despite this I thought it tasted very nice. While I like the flavor of smoked malt and wish there were more here, there was still a decent dose to be had in Crimson Wonder that accented the sweet malt flavors perfectly.

As the beer warmed up, it began to taste more and more like whiskey. The alcohol became hotter and hotter – a great way to chase away the chill on a subzero night.

Junk food pairing: Crimson Wonder is a big beer and can handle whatever you care to eat along with it. I recommend hearty fare like Snyder's Pumpernickel & Onion pretzels and Lay's Bistro Gourmet Applewood BBQ and Smoked Cheddar potato chips.

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|| Palmer, 5:31 AM

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