Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

25 January, 2016

Smooth Operator: Cashmere Hammer by 3 Sheeps Brewing Company

Nitrogenating beers is the latest fad in microbrewing. Instead of an arsenal of strictly carbon dioxide bubbles, nitro beers are given a shot that is mostly nitrogen with a small amount of CO2. The effect of this on a beer's taste is that your brew will be smoother on the palate because there's much less carbonic acid which is formed when CO2 is dissolved in water. Less acidity means less of that tingling sensation on your tongue and a beer that tastes much more smoove.

Guinness is famous for their nitrogenated beers and the widgets that they put at the bottom of cans that release the gassy goodness when the can is opened. Now that the fad is gaining momentum, Guinness introduced a nitro IPA last year while Sam Adams will be introducing three nitro beers shortly if they're not already in stores – a nitro white ale, IPA, and coffee stout.

Truth be known, my experience with nitro beers is basically limited to cans of Guinness stout. There are likely some one-offs nitro brews that I've had on tap but, when I read "nitro beer" I think of cans of Guinness. I've used the word "fad" here intentionally because most nitro beers I've seen to be essentially gimmicks. A large segment of American microbrew drinkers covet novelty so adding some nitrogen to the beer you have sitting around already is a relatively simple way to create something "new". This is not to deny the effect nitrogenation has on a beer's taste. But I just don't believe that everyone had their road to Damascus moment at the same time and put a ton of thought into it. Jesus, there's even a coffeehouse here in Madison that has a coffee put into kegs and nitrogenated because "The infusion of nitrogen creates a stout-like head and mouthfeel."

I blather on about this because the beer at hand is Cashmere Hammer by 3 Sheeps up in Sehboygan. It's nitro rye stout.

Cashmere Hammer pours a deep, dark sepia. It was opaque when looked at head-on but, from an angle it appeared clear. One is supposed to pour a nitro brew such as this by turning the bottle upside down and putting it in your glass. (Mouth side down, that is.) I did not come across this information until I had already poured a glass and so my initial encounter with the much-ballyhooed nitro effervescence was quite brief – a small tan head that dissipated very quickly. When I poured the remaining beer into my glass later, it did so with a bit more vigor and managed to get a larger head and more foaming action.

Epic fail. I guess.

I proceed hoping that I didn't completely thwart the brewmaster Grant Pauly's intent and still had a drinking experience that was at least a reasonable facsimile of what he intended.

The beer smelled as I expected with the dark malts giving a luscious coffee aroma that had some dark chocolate mixed in there too. Because of some stray Pavlovian conditioning, I initially thought it odd that I couldn't smell any bourbon but then quickly recalled that this was not a barrel-aged brew. The prominence of these ingredients were reversed in the taste where bitter chocolate was most evident followed by the coffee. There was also a slight malty sweetness as well as a hint of the rye which seemed to blend in with grassy hops that gave some flavor but not much bitterness.

So what about the nitro? I tasted a medium body but the mouthfeel was very smooth – "velvety" is what my notes say. It is a very different taste from your normal carbonated beer. Lacking the bite of carbonic acid, it's very silky – somewhat reminiscent of those bottled frappuccinos.

For the finish the dark malt flavors faded leaving some malty sweetness which was joined by some more of the earthy rye and a grassy/peppery hop taste that brought a slight bitterness with it. My glass was left with just a few specks of foam but no other lacing. I'm not sure if this is par for the course or if my poor pouring is to blame for this.

I really enjoyed Cashmere Hammer. The dark malt flavors were scrumdillyicious and I love rye in beer. While it was a rather subtle flavor here and I wish that there was more, it was quite welcome nonetheless. The nitro smoothness makes it exceedingly quaffable but this beer is 6.5% A.B.V. so beware. I shall endeavor to try Cashmere Hammer again and practice my inverted pouring technique. I'd like to know if getting that nitrogen out of solution adds much to the flavor or if I simply missed the aesthetics.

Junk food pairing: Cashmere Hammer may have a smooth, creamy taste but it's got a lot more going on. Don’t be afraid to pair it with bigger foods like Xtra Fiery Sweet BBQ Pringles or some kind of hamburger/cheeseburger flavored potato chip.

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|| Palmer, 6:17 AM


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