Fearful Symmetries

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16 August, 2016

Farm to Glass: Honey Kolsch by Rogue Ales

I have not exactly plumbed the depths of Rogue Ale's (and Spirits) catalogue of brews. It seems that I've reviewed only two of their beers and one wasn't even really a beer. Sadly, when I hear Rogue's name mentioned or see their logo, I still think of "novelty" beers first. You know, that Voodoo Doughnut beer – whatever it's really called, the one they brewed using yeast from the brewmaster's beard, et al.

This is quite unfair and Rogue offers more than quirky novelty beers and they should be judged on their own merits instead of standing in the shadows of a Sriracha beer (which is pretty tasty, if I do say so myself). I would think that I'd be more into Rogue as a brewery, more interested in delving into their portfolio because I've come to think of it as the consummation of much of the promise of microbrewing. Allow me to explain although I will probably over-romanticize by filtering my hazy memories through rose tinted glasses

In the first half of the 1990s when I was developing my new-found taste for quality beers, the microbrewing movement was, in my opinion, much more aligned with the Slow Food movement than it is today. Back then small breweries – they were micro, after all – that were local was an ideal valued much more 20+ years ago, to my memory. It was understood that there could be variation amongst batches of the same beer because microbreweries weren't like Bud or Miller or Coors. Their production facilities weren't based on Taylorism. Microbrewers were like cobblers with their pegs and awls, not Nike factories.

As time went on microbrews became craft beer and that sense of drinking beer deliberately, drinking beer as an act akin to buying organic carrot from a local farm has faded. I am thinking of a quote from a brewer I heard on a recent episode of The Beer Temple Insiders Roundtable. Sadly I cannot quote it verbatim but it stated that refraining from brewing an IPA was like throwing money away. It was an irrational act.

I feel that locality, understanding where ingredients come from, and the like have taken a back seat to satisfying a hop fetish. People want their Citra and don't seem to really care where it comes from or what else may be in the beer. However, I have to concede the fact that people can name a hop variety and seek it out is to be counted as a victory for the Slow Food Movement. After all, how many friends of Spuds Mckenzie could name the hops used in Bud?

To bring this back to Rogue, the brewery/distillery/cidery/soft drink maker has farms. I don't know if Rogue owns them outright or who but they're called Rogue Farms and they supply the brewery with some of the ingredients used in their brews. And so I give Rogue credit for making good on the promise that the mingling of the microbrewing and Slow Food movements held back when the two were more aligned. Farm-to-brew was the logical endpoint when the two movements were combined.

Rogue Honey Kolsch is made with malt and hops grown on Rogue Farms and honey made by Rogue bees. I liked the idea of this combination from the moment I read about it and was keen on trying it. I found a six pack at Steve's on University Avenue and haven't seen it anywhere else in Madison.

It pours a medium yellow and was definitely on the hazy side. Rogue uses some wheat in the brew which I presume is producing the haze. A traditional German Kölsch, however, would be clear. I got roughly an inch of loose white foam atop my glass (I still need to unpack my stangen) while there were bubbles galore inside the bier.

That distinctive floral, sweet-yet-savory smell of honey shone through on the nose. I'm no honey expert nor do I know where Rogue's bees were getting their nectar but it was less floral to me and more earthy, for lack of a better description. There was also a little bit of lemony citrus and a touch of grain.

All those bubbles translated into some healthy carbonation. I was really happy add the honey flavor. It seems that most of the honey beers I've had don't use much. And so it becomes a minor accent in both the aroma and taste. Here the flavor is rather prominent and leans more to earthy and maybe woody than floral yet it also gave a sweetness like apple. The malt tasted dual-layered with both lighter biscuit as well as a sweeter, more doughy flavor.

If the bier's smell and taste were decidedly not traditional because of the honey, then at least the finish was more like the German import. It was moderately dry with grassy and spicy hop flavor pushing any lingering malt out of the picture. The bitterness was not big but was abetted by the carbonation. Rogue's in-house Alluvial hops are very Noble-like. My glass finished all gussied up with lots of Schaumhaftvermoegen. There were thin streaks almost everywhere and specks of foam in between.

A really tasty brew. The honey is perfectly toothsome and was used judiciously. Not too much nor too little but rather just the right amount. The bier tasted clean and fairly crisp as if it were lagered for a while. On the malt side, there was a bit more doughy flavor and less of that light, crackery taste that I prefer in a Kölsch. Still, the bier managed a fine light body. If I have a realcomplaint it is that it didn't taste very much like a Kölsch. But perhaps there's a tradeoff to be made: you can have your typical fruity yeast flavors or you can have a moderate big honey taste but not both at the same time. Or maybe that apple sweetness I tasted wasn't all honey but was rather the yeast as well.

Regardless of how well or how poorly Honey Kölsch adheres to German or stylistic tradition, it is a tasty brew that goes especially well in the heat.

Junk food pairing: Having a light sweetness and a splendid honey flavor means Honey Kölsch will go well with other honeyed foods. Try Lay's Honey Barbeque potato chips or some Snyder's Honey Mustard & Onion Pretzel Pieces.

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|| Palmer, 5:39 AM


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