Sunday, May 20, 2012

National Geographic Live: The Power and the Glory

After having recently sampled beers from around the world and the United States at the International Beer Fest in Cleveland, I prepared myself for another tour ... a tasting of "big but beautiful" beers, which was the latest of the National Geographic Live's yearly beer tastings.

National Geographic Live has been hosting these beer tastings for more than twelve years.  For the past few years, the host has been Garrett Oliver.  Garrett is perhaps best known as the head brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery.  His knowledge and experience extends far beyond 11th Street in Brooklyn.  Garrett has hosted more than seven hundred tasting and pairing events in twelve countries over the past two decades.  He is also the editor of the Oxford Companion of Beer and the author of The Brewmaster's Table.  Both Clare and I have enjoyed Garrett's presentations at previous National Geographic Live tasting, which introduced us to Italian craft beer, barrel-aged beer, Scandinavian craft beer, and micro/nano-craft brewers.

Garrett Oliver had an abstract beer tasting in mind when he thought of The Power and the Glory.  The name comes from the final beer tasting of a recent event when Garrett Oliver paired beers to scenes from movies and television shows.  The Power and the Glory involved images of King Henry from Henry V or Darth Vader from Star Wars.  The term "big but beautiful" beers suggested to me that the beers would be high-powered ones, such as Imperial India Pale Ales, Quadrupels, Barleywines and Imperial Stouts.  My expectations seemed to be well supported by the title of the event, "The Power and the Glory," along with the note that the tasting will feature beers that "combine brawn with true elegance and an ability to age well." 

Cigar City El Murciélago: Cigar City is a relatively new brewery, having started in 2009. The name of the brewery is a nod to Tampa Bay's status of having been, at one time, the largest cigar producing city.  The first beer of the tasting was a double cream ale aged by Cigar City in tequila barrels.  The brewers called the beer, "El Murciélago" or "the bat."  According to the brewer, bats are responsible for the pollination of blue agave plants, which are used to make tequila.  The brewers did not stop with using tequila barrels.  They also added cumin and lime peel during the brewing process. The added flavors really shine through this beer, with the cumin and lime peel clearly being present.  However, it is the barrels that add the interesting note of coconut to the flavor of the beer. According to Garrett Oliver, this beer can be paired well with Thai food and Cuban food.  This beer has an 11.5% ABV.

La Rulles Grande 10:  The next beer was La Grande 10 from Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles.  The brewery was founded by Gregory Verhelst in 2000.  This beer commemorates the 10th anniversary of the brewery.  Verhelst chose the small town of La Rulles for the water from the forest L'Anlier.  The La Grande 10 is a Belgian Strong Pale Ale.  Although the brewer may use the water from the L'Anlier, the Grande 10 uses American hops such as Warrior and Simcoe.  The brewer also uses pilsner malts.  These ingredients provided the Grande 10 with an interesting mix of hoppy flavors, which provide the requisite bitterness one would expect from a pale ale, and a sweetness that typifies Belgian ales such as dubbels and tripels.  This beer has an ABV of 10%.

Russian River Pliny the Elder: The third beer in the tasting comes from Russian River Brewing, which was originally owned by Korbel Cellers (yes, the champagne/sparkling wine company).  Korbel sold the company to the brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, who has made Russian River what it is today.  The brewery is perhaps best known for its Pliny the Elder.  This beer is brewed in the style of an India Pale Ale, although some would characterize it as a double IPA.  The brewer uses Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops in this beer, all of which contribute to an India Pale Ale that has 75 IBUs,  The beer that we sampled had only been in the bottle for a couple of weeks, which fits with the brewer's recommendation that this beer be enjoyed while "young."  The brewer.  Garrett suggested that this copper colored India Pale Ale is perhaps best enjoyed with Thai food, spicy Mexican food and, generally, foods with cilantro. The Pliny the Elder has an ABV of 8%.

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2011: The fourth beer of the tasting was the J.W. Lees Harvest Ale for 2011.  This beer is a barleywine brewed in the English style, as opposed to the American style.  I have previously blogged about the different styles.  The principal difference between an English Barleywine and an American Barleywine is that the former emphasizes the malts while the latter emphasizes the hops in the beer.  Given that the Harvest Ale is brewed in England, it is brewed in the English style, and, true to English barleywines, the malts are the principal aroma and taste element in this beer.  The Harvest Ale is the 25th Anniversary Ale.  It is brewed with Champagne yeast, not the regular J.W. Lees yeast, as well as Marris Island yeasts.  This barleywine has an ABV of 11.5%.

Brooklyn Black Ops 2010: Our next beer is from Brooklyn Brewery and it is probably one of Garrett's best beers. (I say "probably" because, in writing this statement, I am torn by the fact that I really, really like Brooklyn's Soriachi Ace.)  I previously blogged about the Black Ops, or, as it is also known, as the beer that does not exist.  The Black Ops is a strong stout in style brewed using Champagne yeast.  The beer is then aged in Woodford Reserve barrels for four months at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  The beer is then refermented in the bottle.  The end result is a beer that is clearly influenced by the whisky barrels.  The barrel-aging contributes vanilla undertones to both the aroma and the flavor of the beer.  Those vanilla flavors are paired with the chocolate flavors provided by the roasted malts used in making the strong stout.  The hard liquor sense of alcohol, which is reinforced by the whiskey barrels, makes this beer seem like a liquid dessert.  The Black Ops has an ABV of 11%.

Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer's Reserve: For craft beer enthusiasts such as my self,  Harviestoun is best known for its Old Dubh, a pitch black stout-style beer aged in barrels used to age either 12, 16 or 30 year old scotch whiskey.  (I have previously blogged about the Old Dubh 30 Year, which is an excellent beer.)  The sixth beer in the tasting is the Old Engine Oil Engineer's Reserve, which is the base beer used by the brewer to make the Old Dubh.  However, unlike the Old Dubh, this beer is not aged in barrels.  This allows for one to taste the chocolate flavors of the original beer, which are brought out in this dry beer from the use of roasted malts and oats.  This beer also has a surprising hop intensity for a stout. 

Evil Twin Brewing Even More Jesus: The final beer of the tasting was from Evil Twin Brewing.  The beer was interestingly named "Even More Jesus."  The beer is an imperial stout (or as some describe it, a double imperial stout).  Much like the Harviestoun and the Black Ops, the Even More Jesus pours pitch black in color.  Garrett described this beer having characteristics such as syrupy, tar, licorice, sugary with bitterness from roasted malts.  The aromas of the beer include chocolate, dark fruit and muscavedo sugar.  The principal flavor of this beer is not just coffee, but also expresso.  Garrett suggested that the Even More Jesus could be paired with panna cotta with a burnt sugar sauce or gelato affocato.

As usual, Garrett selected a wide array of amazing beers for the audience to sample.  The selection makes it difficult for me to choose which one was my favorite.  The most interesting beer was the El Murciélago, because of the aging in tequila barrels and the addition of lime peel and cumin to the beer.  However, I would have to say that, as the cliche goes, the best was saved for last.    The beer had a very good aromatic and taste profile, which stood out even after having sampled six other high powered beers. 

Perhaps the best part of the tasting was Garrett Oliver, who provided interesting anecdotes, facts and explanations with each beer, once again making this probably my favorite beer-tasting event of the year.  I am already eagerly awaiting next year's tasting.  Until then ...


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