Fearful Symmetries

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01 August, 2016

A Midwestern Affair: Family Values by Sierra Nevada, August Schell, et al



Beginning last fall I went through a phase of sampling beers from Sierra Nevada and along the way I reacquainted myself with the brewery after an absence of many years. While I consumed a fair amount of their Pale Ale in the first half of the 1990s (R.I.P. Pinckney Street Hideaway), my taste drifted and it seemed that there wasn't a day that went by that didn't see a new Wisconsin brewery to acquaint myself with.

Sierra Nevada doesn't seem to have a brew that is spoken about with the awe and reverence of, say, Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper. Regardless, the brewery, one of the micro-veterans having been founded in 1979, brews around 1 million barrels every year without that cache. A Yogi Berra-like quip is needed along the lines of "Nobody drinks them anymore. They're too popular." This revenant drinker, however, will testify that it is one of the best breweries out there. True, I don't drink their IPAs so I cannot even begin to speculate on how well or poorly they deal with that particular trend, but the fact is simply that Sierra Nevada brews several beers that appeal to my tastes and they brew them very well.

The Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Across America began in 2014 and features the venerable brewery partnering with other microbreweries around the country to brew beers and then having a party bus traverse the nation to stop at Beer Camp shindigs where beer is consumed in mass quantities. This year saw a change in the brewing process. Instead of collaborating with a single brewery, Sierra Nevada is joining forces with six clusters of brewers who are neighbors geographically. August Schell leads the Midwest brigade and it has produced Family Values.

Family Values is an Imperial Brown Ale with Cocoa. For the occasion Schell rounded up Dark Horse Brewing in Michigan, Sun King Brewing in Indiana, Perennial Artisan Ales in Missouri, and Half Acre in Chicago. These breweries were represented by "Minnesota wild rice, Indiana honey, Missouri oats, Michigan hops, and cocoa nibs from Illinois". From my experience, when brewers "collaborate" they mean that they stand around drinking and talking while someone occasionally deals with ingredients and I don't doubt for a minute that Family Values was concocted in just that manner.

My glass was topped by a large tan head that lasted a fair while. The beer was a gorgeous deep mahogany hue and was clear so I was able to see a whole mess of bubbles inside.

A luscious sweet aroma emanated from my glass. Mainly it smelled like cherries to me but the sweetness was tinged with an earthy scent which I thought was the honey mingling with the wild rice. If this is indeed the case then that is one of my favorite new combinations. Those cocoa nibs shone through as well as wonderful dark chocolate. Dark, roasted malt scents rounded out the aroma.

Carbonation was firm but not fizzy leaving the oats to more or less have their way and make the beer rather smooth. Just enough to break up any malt stranglehold. Bitter chocolate and a plum-like malt sweetness went toe to toe at the fore of the flavor. I couldn't taste the honey, sadly enough, but the wild rice made for a tasty nutty flavor in the background.

Those malt flavors do a slow fade at the end allowing some fairly bitter herbal hops that were vaguely reminiscent of a herbal cough drop (Reeeeeeecolahhhhhhh!) to add a goodly dose of bitterness as well as make a dry finish. This being an imperial brew (8.5% A.B.V.) there was an alcohol burn that you could just not miss. Certainly no Everclear but the heat grew as the beer warmed and Ralph Wiggum might be forgiven for thinking it had purple berries in it.

I don't particularly care for the name "Family Values" as it sees to be a term loaded with twee Flyover Country-esque stereotypes of the Midwest but I certainly cannot complain about the liquid itself representing the part of the country I which I live. Those cocoa nibs add a simply wonderful dark chocolate flavor that is at once bitter yet rich. The oats give a nice smoothness which accommodates the fruity malt flavors and the nutty taste from the wild rice. That fruit-nut combination here is a sheer joy for the tongue.

Junk food pairing: This is a pretty big beer rich in a myriad of flavors and requires the culinary equivalent of a Brawny paper towel for maximum enjoyment. I recommend well-salted and peppered French fries with some kind of cheese food product sauce like Velveeta. Big and bold!

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|| Palmer, 5:34 AM

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