In the “golden age” of beer, as one of my friends has dubbed the current beer epoch we’re living in, you sometimes stumble on a little bit of classical art in a world of experimentation. As brewers throw every imaginable concoction into whiskey barrels or red or white wine barrels, we’re all learning together what seems to work now and what needs a little more time to whet our imaginations.
On a short bicycle trip in the Bitterroot Valley with my wife and daughter on Sunday, I had this moment of clarity while drinking a Barrel-Aged Belgian Brown Ale at Blacksmith Brewing Company. It wasn’t an epiphany of any sort, more of a fuzzy thought banging around my brain for a while that finally settled long enough to be thought.
In a time when brewers are redefining what beer even is, and where style guidelines are being tossed out the window as fast as the next batch has matured, it’s good to come back to the basics as a grounding zone to withstand the onslaught of tastes and styles currently available.
When I sipped that Belgian Brown Ale aged in whiskey barrels, it brought me back to what is right about beer. That it’s essentially grains, hops, water and yeast but much like our American government, there is a 4th Estate. The aging process could be broken up into several different categories, but if I could rewrite the rules, I would add it to the basic ingredients of beer. Water, grains, hops, yeast and aging.
Yes, some beers are served with minimal aging, just as some beers are served with minimal hop presence or low alcohol. Aging plays such a huge role in what beer tastes like today, especially as our palates continue to work into the unimaginable depths of the taste possibilities in beer.
This particular Barrel-Aged Belgian Brown Ale was a testament to the ability of a good brewer to create an impossibly well-balanced mix of brown ale, always a good choice for blending, souring or barrel aging, and a subtle whiskey flavor complete with a woodsy, sweet vanilla characteristic.
I’ve tasted so many whiskey barrel aged beers that it’s difficult to keep track, but a majority tasted too far in one direction. Not enough wood or whiskey or too much wood and alcohol heat. in some cases, I really enjoy the big, power-packing punch of an overly whiskeyed beer. Most of the time the flavors of beer and whiskey play together briefly, promising so much more than just friendship.
In this case, I believe I witnessed a marriage, of sorts. I’d hate to think of it as a one-night-stand, so I’ll use marriage or perhaps I should go with engagement. Regardless, this whiskeyed beer taught me a lot about what I’ve been trying to process regarding our obsession with breaking limits. To establish a classic, you often have to break every barrier surrounding it in order to establish it as a classic.
I think of Dom Pérignon Champagne and the barrier breaking monk whose name it bears. It’s a classic, but it wouldn’t be without a monk who busted the wine-making theology of the day to create a drink so noble as to become synonymous with celebration.
So, to all the brewers out there breaking boundaries and edging ever closer to whatever it is that will redefine the beverage we know as beer, keep up the good work. And remember, sometimes a little balance goes a long way toward punching out those final boundaries.
Draft Magazine has found in Moose Drool something so profound it has named it the best brown ale in America, with a score of 98. How do you like them apples?
Way to go Big Sky Brewing Co., you’ve put us on the map.
The popularity of canned beers is soaring around the west. After trying aluminum bottles several years ago, Big Sky Brewing Co. has returned to the idea of canned beers. The company purchased a canning machine, one of only two sold in the U.S. so far. The other machine is owned by New Belgium Brewing Co.
Big Sky Brewing Co. will produce Moose Drool and Trout Slayer in cans for the time being. It is this blogger’s hope that other styles, like the IPA and Scape Goat will follow suit.
Keep an eye on GrizzlyGrowler.Com for more information on when you can get your hands on a Big Sky beer in a can.
Where Tim tries Quarry Brewing Co.’s brown ale and discusses that style of beer.
Also, just wanted to say, for those of you who are tech savvy, don’t forget to post replies to this video blog.That’s the reason I started them. And, you can check out my broadcast channel at YouTube to see some of the earliest beer videos I’ve done.
OK, we’ve got our own legend right here in Missoula. Big Sky’s Moose Drool was rated as one of the top 25 best craft beers of 2007 by Draft Magazine, as well as the designation, “this may be one of the best brown ale’s ever,” according to the same rag.
So you’re going to have to go big if you want to stack up with our slobbering giant.
Of course this dangerous cross of brown ale and IPA is going to appeal to a Northwest-raised beer lover. Shoot, stuff enough hops in a bottle of Budweiser and it’ll be palatable. No, that’s not true, but you see my point.
For those of you who want just a little more out of your brown ale without sacrificing those fall flavors of caramel undertones and warm malts, this Indian Brown Ale might just be your cup of tea.
Also, this beer doesn’t fall into the same range as other high-end Dogfish Head beers with ABV in the double digits. They sell it in six packs and for a reasonable price.
Who’s drinking what this Labor Day? Have you hit the fall specials yet? I tried some fresh Moose Drool last night, which accompanied the barbecued burgers and hot dogs wonderfully.
Also in the category of brown ales is the Turbodog.
I’m not big into brown ales, but I thought Turbodog, by Abita Brewing Company, was a great southern interpretation of brown ale done well. Besides, it’s not everyday you get a microbrew from Louisiana. This beer had a nicely balanced body with just a little caramel and some coco on finish.
You can get a bottle at Liquid Planet.
Oh, by the way, please comment if you’ve tried any of the fall specials out there. I’m only one man, and there is a lot of beer to try out there.