Great Beers from Europe and the United States are Leading a Renaissance of the Brewmaster's Art
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96
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Porter, a forerunner of the more heavily roasted stout, was the most popular style of beer in England and America during the 1700s. George Washington brewed porter, as did Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin was said to be particularly partial to it. The D.L. Geary Brewing Co. of Portland, Maine, recently started producing a nice version of the style. Geary's London Porter pours thickly, with a deep brown color and generous head. Coffee and dark chocolate predominate on the nose, which foreshadows a malty medium-bodied palate with well-defined roast character in the center, following through to an almost smoky finish with a hint of licorice. Porters should be more roasted than brown ales but less so than stouts; Geary's London Porter threads that needle beautifully.
Czarina Catherine the Great, who ruled Russia during the latter part of the eighteenth century, was a woman who usually got what she wanted. Among the many things she wanted was delicious stout from England. Unfortunately, by the time barrels of stout reached the Baltic ports from London, they had usually spoiled. British brewers solved this problem by brewing a very strong stout, braced against the long sea journey by alcohol and a generous dose of preservative hops. The style became known as Imperial Russian Stout, and to find it today, we return to Brooklyn.
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout contains no chocolate, despite its intense chocolate, licorice and fruit aroma. Roasted malts again play the parts of coffee and chocolate as deep malt flavors and a snap of hops open the palate, giving way to a full-bodied semisweet palate full of toffee, raisins, anise and cocoa. The warming alcoholic finish is smooth, chocolaty and very long. This is an excellent beer to have with dessert, or even as dessert.
To finish our whirlwind tasting, we must return to England and visit the Eldridge Pope Brewery in Dorset. Eldridge Pope produces several fine ales, but it is world-famous for one in particular, Thomas Hardy's Ale. Thomas Hardy's Ale is a barleywine, which means the beer carries the same strength (and in this case, the same complexity) as a fine wine. Aged for nine months before being lovingly bottled on its yeast in dated, numbered bottles, Thomas Hardy's is always a work in progress. By the time it leaves the brewery, it has reached an alcoholic strength of 10 to 11 percent by volume, strong enough to set out on a journey that can last for decades.
A bottle of 1994 Thomas Hardy's Ale still exudes a powerful aroma of deep, musty malt, molasses, maple syrup and fruit. The palate is quite sweet and full-bodied, full of plums, raisins and other fruit as yet unmarried to the others, with bitterness stepping in towards the finish to yank it back into some semblance of balance. Interesting, but disjointed.
What a difference eight years make. A rare bottle of 1986 Thomas Hardy's pours with a very light, creamy effervescence. A strong aroma of baking dark-grain bread fills the senses, blending with rich sherry and Madeira notes. On the palate the beer bursts forth in full glory, full rather than truly sweet in the center, a symphony of maderized malt, honey, chocolate, vanilla, plums and raisins, with brighter fruit emerging in the long, smooth finish. The aftertaste lingers magically. The Eldridge Pope Brewery claims that Thomas Hardy's Ale will age well for at least 25 years. There is no reason to dispute its assertion, and bottles more than 10 years old are regularly sold at auction for hundreds of dollars.
A journey through the world of beer only begins with a tasting of a few distinct styles. Look around you, though, and you will see new opportunities to discover the multitude of beers that are now available in America. Wheat beers at the beach, pale ales at the barbecue, barleywines and eisbocks with cigars in front of a winter's fire--the delights of centuries of fine brewing are again at our fingertips. It's about time. The renaissance of fine beer is at hand.
Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster for the Brooklyn Brewery and the coauthor of a forthcoming book on fine beer. A Brew and a Smoke Tips on matching the right beer with the right cigar
Style: Bavarian Wheat Beer
Color: Hazy Amber
Notes: High natural carbonation, earthy nose of cloves, banana, bubblegum and smoke. Snappy, spicy and refreshing on the palate.
Cigar: Zino Mouton-Cadet (Honduras) or Macanudo Hyde Park (Jamaica)
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