Friday, November 4, 2011

Wine People and Beer People/New Belgium 1554 Enlightened Black Ale

Hey! I'm mobile now. Check out my blog from your new-fangled i-whatevers! Thanks Ryan :)

How about something a bit more sophisticated, shall we?

It is said that the best wines come from France. I'm not sure who says that, actually, I don't drink wine. But it's a stereotype very much ingrained into my psyche by movies and fancy restaurant menus (and really, what more reliable sources are there?)

"Ah, this is a very good year," ye olde wine snob doth proclaim, though I always question whether or not they really have any clue at all. I can appreciate that the grapes were especially flavorful for that crop, or perhaps the balance of the barrels was just right. I don't know. As I've said, I lack the interest to really figure all of that out. I'll take a beer, thanks. And shouldn't something you love just be good? You know, despite the year? Is there really someone out there who can look at a bottle's date stamp and dismiss it as inferior? Kudos to you, good sir or madam, if you really exist. Maybe that's why I like beer (well, reason number whatever out of a very high number); if I have this beer here, now, in a glass, I can assume that it's going to be an amazing experience despite how well the crop of malts turned out. This is a gross oversimplification of course, as a large variety of factors exist that can make a beer experience differ wildly, but I like the, well, reliability, of my favorite beer.

But I suppose as I consider it, there's some innate differences from a "concept" standpoint that make the markets of fine wine and fine beer significantly different beyond the obvious realm of merely taste, mouthfeel and the like.

For one, wine, based on my perceptions, doesn't have much of an expiration date. Which I suppose is why certain years can be celebrated and revered ("Ah, 1954 was a good year, terrible shame that it expired 20 years ago. Missed quite an opportunity there, didn't we?") People of affluence include wine cellars in their homes, while others dedicate a shelf in their kitchen to hosting a more humble collection; they save the them for use at an appropriate celebration, be it a wedding or a Friday evening well-spent in front of a television. Either way, they may sit there until they're needed.

The (recommended) shelf life for beer is not so indefinite, with your average bottled brew lasting a few months or so before its flavors fade into vaguely beer-flavored bubble water. Breweries remedy this through two rather opposite tactics:

1. Producing an absurd amount of a beer
2. Producing a very small amount.

Sam Adams is a great example of this model. They have their standard Lager circulating year round. They also have their seasonal mainstays - Noble Pils, Summer Ale, Oktoberfest and Winter Lager - that resolutely shift every year. Taken a step further, they offer a smaller host of "small window" beers - such as summer's Coastal Wheat - available for smaller time frames than even their seasonals.

For me, that beer embraces this "limited time only" structure. Sure, I can have my Lager year round, but as the seasons and holidays shift, it's nice to have something tailored to that event. There's something very comforting about having a Winter Lager with my family on Christmas Eve. The ingredients of beer seem to lend themselves more readily to being wildly poked and prodded into fitting the flavors of the season. Pumpkin to Peppermint, Lemongrass to Grains of Paradise, that basic beer formula embraces them readily. So, drink your wonderful 1992 Pinor Noirs. This beer seems to fit this moment a bit more perfectly.

Brown Cow: Chocolate and Wine. Things get weird when wine gets adventurous.

But I digress. Quite a bit. Sorry about that, you wanted to hear about a new beer, I suppose. Remember how I said France has Wine? Well, "The France of Beer is Belgium" (man, that's a stupid sentence). Let's try one, shall we?

1554 Enlightened Black Ale
New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO
Black Ale. 5.6% ABV
Look at how pretty that is. You're automatically more sophisticated for having read this blog, too. Congratulations. 

The theme of this post is sophistication. While that shouldn't suggest that the beers reviewed up to this point haven't been "sophisticated," there's something special about this one-- the label itself recalls a Renaissance still life. It's a "Black Ale" - a style evocative of beer's origins, the sort of the style they were pumping out way back when (it's an interesting topic, but we'll revisit it some other time). The brewery, New Belgium, claims that the recipe comes from "an ancient, crumbling library book." I can't attest to the truth of that (it sounds like something that would maybe give you a bonus to your magic attribute in a video game, not a recipe for a beer, but either way it's sort of win win), but I can tell you New Belgium has a wonderful beer with its version of a black ale.

What is a black ale? If you've had a Guiness, you're in the right ballpark but you're not quite there. BeerAdvocate denotes a black ale from its "roasty notes," a description that is on point. It's dark - nearly black - in color, with a medium body and thick head. It's not quite stout thick or porter intense, and it actually much sweeter in flavor than its appearance might suggest. It's best served above ice cold- around 45 degrees recommends the bottle - and be prepared for a very dry finish. Refreshing it is not.

But it doesn't need to be. The beginning of the sip is a sort of one-dimensional crispness followed by an awesome "after gulp" that proves to be the source of all the great flavors found here. There's a burnt flavor here, which in the world of beer, isn't nearly as unpleasant as it sounds; notes of coffee and chocolate hit you, but they've been soaked in the delightful charred taste of a campfire - which is where it makes me want to be, really.

So, beer drinkers should love this. The fledging? You know, maybe. It's just sweet enough and the hops are roped in so that this could just possibly be a good choice for just about anyone.

I hope I kept all of you up to this point! I know this was wordy, what with the essay of sorts preceding the beer review, but that seemed like a great way to stand out. Beer blogs may be a dime a dozen, but how many wax philosophical about the organic significance of beer? Or something?

Don't forget to follow me! See you next week guys, thanks for reading. 

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