Saturday, May 25, 2013

National Geographic Live: Beer from Where?

For the past five years, I have looked forward to one particular beer tasting.  The tasting is conducted by Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and editor-in-chief of the Oxford Companion to Beer.  Every year, the tasting has a different theme.  Italian beers.  Scandanavian beers.  Barrel Aged Beers.  Mini-Micro Breweries. The Power and the Glory.  With each tasting, I am introduced to beers that I never knew existed.  Beers like Cigar City's El Murciélago or Renaissance Brewing Company's Renaissance MPA.  And, with each tasting, I am introduced to new beers that quickly become some of my favorites, such as Birrificio del Ducato's Nuova Mattina and Brasserie Montagnes de Franches Cuvee Alex La Rouge.

This year marks the National Geographic Society's 125th anniversary.  The National Geographic has chosen the theme "a new age of exploration" for this particular anniversary.  Garrett Oliver has seized upon the potential of this theme as it relates to beer.  Together, National Geographic and Garrett announced that the beer tasting for 2013 will feature beers "from some of the most unlikely beer-producing places on Earth."

In advance of the beer tasting, I took a moment to peruse Garrett Oliver's Oxford Companion to Beer to see if there were any entries that could perhaps shed some light on some of the places that could be inclded in the tasting.  The Oxford Companion contains entries for countries like 

1.  Gisberga Trigo. This beer -- the Gisberga Reina de Aragón Trigo -- comes from the Spanish region of Aragón.  This region is known more for its wine than its beer.  Nevertheless, the brewers at Gisberga produce the Trigo in the style of an Iberian Farmhouse Wheat Ale.  After all, "trigo" is Spanish for wheat. 

The beer pours a clear gold color, with a light, pearly foam.  The aroma gives hints of the citrusy hops used in producing the beer.  The brewers say that there are also spicy aromas of vanilla and cinnamon, but I had a little more difficulty finding those aromas in the beer.  The Triga has a light body, and a refreshing, almost wheaty zing of acidity.  The beer has an ABV of 4.8%.

The brewers suggest that this beer is best paired as an accompaniment to goat cheese, salad with vinaigrette, roasted vegetables, marinated fish, white fish with mild sauces, stews or paella.

2.  Saison de Caipira.  The next beer took us across the Atlantic Ocean to Brazil.  The beer was a collaboration between Brooklyn Brewery and Cervejaria Wäls.  Garrett explained the madness behind the beer.  He and the Wäls brewers decided to take machetes into a sugarcane field and personally cut the sugarcane that would be used to produce a beer.  The inspiration for using sugar comes form the Brazilian Caipirinha, the national drink made with cachaça, which is a hard liquor made from sugarcane. 

Garrett Oliver and the Wäls breweers harvested and used 700 kilograms of of sugarcane for their Saison de Caipira. The brewers also used a Belgian yeast during the initial fermentation and a Champagne yeast during the second fermentation.

The Saison de Caipira, described as Fort clara com cana de acuar, pours a very light color.  The beer has a light citrus and taste, along with a definite sugary sweetness.  That sweetness is not overwhelming and, in fact, it is balanced perfectly with the citrus in a very light and easy to drink beer.  The Saison de Caipira has an ABV of 6.5%, which if you are drinking this by the bottle as opposed to the tasting cup, could catch up with you very quickly. 

 3.  L'anjub 1907.  For our third beer, we return to Spain or, more specifically, to Catalonia.  This Spanish region is better known as the principal source of Cava, the Spanish sparkling wine.  However, there is also L'anjub, a brewery which takes its name from the Old Catalonian word for cistern.  L'anjub's flagship beer is an Iberian-style ale called "1907."  The name is inspired by the year in which flood rains overflowed the medieval water cisterns from which the brewery takes its name.

The 1907 is produced with Pils and Cara Pils malts, along with Citra and Amarillo hop flowers.  The brewers also use the local water which has what they describe as a "hard, tangy edge." 

Any hardness and tangy edge has definitely been smoothed over by the brewers during the brewing process.  The 1907 has a dark gold color, with what the brewers describe as having "tiny smooth, tiny bubbles that rise to a full fluffy head of cream colored foam."  The brewers also describe the beer as having aromas of "country orchard fruits and flowers."  I noted there were aromas of apricot and orchard apple, which also carried over to the taste of the beer.  There was also a sweetness to this beer, although much less than the Saison de Caipira.  This beer an an ABV of 5.5%.

As for food pairings, this beer can be paired in the same fashion as the Triga.  Possible pairings include seafood dishes, chicken, paella and soupy rices, mild cheeses and tapas as well as oriental fusion cuisine.

4.  Cucapa Runaway IPA.  Our next beer comes from a country that is well known for beer ... Mexico.  However, like the United States, much of that beer is mass produced swill.  Nevertheless, Garrett reassured everything that there is a growing craft beer movement in Mexico. 

Cucapa produces beers with whimsical names and labels like its Runaway IPA, which sports a label that resembles some street signs in the Southwestern United States.  For a country principally known for its lagers, this IPA is very much a standout.  The brewers used an indigenous two-row malt, along with four different hops.  Each hop varietal was used to impart a specific flavor to the Runaway IPA. The flavors that they sought were grapefruit, tangerine, lemon and lime.

The beer pours the perfect color of orange, which one expects from an India Pale Ale or even an Imperial India Pale Ale.  (The Runaway IPA has an ABV of 7.5%.)  There brewers definitely achieved their objective, as both the aroma and the flavor of the beer was full of different citrus flavors.  Picking out particular flavors, such as grapefruit or lime, was a little difficult at times, but I would attribute that to the fact that we were trying small samples.  If I could get my hands on a whole bottle, which I definitely would like to do, I think I could sense the different aromas and flavors much better.

5.  Dragon Extra Stout.  From Mexico, we turn to Jamaica.  The beer was not Red Stripe, although it was brewed and bottled by Red Stripe.  Rather, the beer is the Dragon Stout.  This heavy Stout -- packing an ABV of 10% -- is known by the locals as "Spitfire."

The Spitfire is brewed in the style of a Foreign Extra Stout, which is a style brewed in Ireland or England for export to places in the New World, like Jamaica.  The beer is dark brown, almost cola in color.  It is a malt driven beer, with a sweet, molasses flavor and little to no hop presence.  There was also a burnt sugar character, as well as some caramel in both the aroma and the flavor of this beer.

Overall, this beer provided an interesting change in style from the lighter and hoppier beers that we had tried to this point.  However, I think that the other beers, especially the Cucapa Runaway IPA, were far better than the Extra Stout.

6.  Colorado Vixnu.  There seemed to be some deja vu to this tasting.  After trying a beer from Jamaica, we found ourselves back in Brazil to try the Vixnu from the Cerveja Colorado. The "Vixnu" is named after Vishnu, the Hindu deity responsible for the maintenance of the universe.

The brewers have their own challenges with maintaining the balance of a beer that, while brewed in the style of an Imperial Pale Ale, also has a sweetness from the use of Rapadura cane sugar.  In the end, I think that the brewers achieved that balance between the tart, citrus flavors of the hops and the sweetness contributed by the sugar cane.  The principal aroma and flavor from this beer is grapefruit, although the sugar cane makes it seem as if someone sprinkled a little sugar over the fruit. 

With an ABV of 9.5%, this beer does have a little booziness in the background, but it gets lost a little with the nice interplay between the hops and the Rapadura cane sugar.
7.  Sagra Bohio Especial.  For some reason, the pictures of the next beer -- the Sagra Bohio Especial -- did not come out.  This is unfortunate because this beer was definitely one that I wanted to keep in mind.  The Sagra Bohio is an imperial stout, with an ABV of 10.5%, produced in the Spanish city of Toledo.  What makes this stout truly stand out is the smoke character in both the aroma and the flavor.  The smokiness provides a very good contrast to the other aromas and taste elements in the beer, including bitter chocolate, licorice and espresso.  

8.  Olvisholt Lava.  Our next beer was a first for me ... a beer from Iceland.  The beer is called Lava, and it is brewed by Olvisholt Bruggus.  The brewers operate a dairy and sheep farm, but they also brew the Lava, which is an imperial smoked stout.  The label shows Hekla, an active volcano as it looks from the brewhouse door.  The beer itself is brewed with six different barley malts, one wheat malt and the Fuggles hops.

The smokiness of the Olvisholt Lava can be clearly contrasted with the previous beer, the Sagra Bohio Especial.  The smoke, which was present in both the aroma and the flavor of the beer, was reminiscent of peat moss.  While that may turn off many drinkers, I actually found it interesting and enjoyable.  It was reminiscent of some other smoked beers that I have had, like L'Abri de la Tempete's Corps Morts. As for other aromas and flavors, the Lava displays the most common element in an imperial stout ... chocolate.  There is also a little sweetness, but not as much as in some of the other beers that have been part of this tasting.

9.  Cucapa Green Card Barleywine.  The last beer takes us back to Mexicali in Baja California, where Cucapa brews the Green Card Barleywine.  This beer is the first barleywine brewed in the Mexico and it was also the best beer of the night. 

There was some debate over the style of barleywine.  Garrett thought the Green Card was more in the vein of an American barleywine, which is known for having a more hop-focused character to it.  Personally, I could sense some hops, but I thought that, overall, the Green Card resembled more of a British barleywine, which is more malt-driven.  Regardless of the style, this was a very good barleywine.

The beer pours a dark, boozy brown, with an off-white foam that was quite persistent.  There was definitely some ripe, sugary fruits like plums in the aroma of the beer.  These fruit were also present in the flavor of the beer, wrapped by the alcoholic warmth that comes with a beer sporting a 10% ABV.  This beer was the best way to finish the tasting.

As that tasting came to a close, I was left thinking about what was the best beer.  The finalists were the Cucapa Runaway IPA, the Ovisholt Lava and the Cucapa Green Card Barleywine.  Ultimately, I think that the barleywine was the best beer of the night.   I am definitely going to keep my eyes out for bottles of that beer, and the others that we tried, because it would be great to see if my impressions carry through the entire bottle or if they change as the beer warms and over the time it takes to drink them.  

Until next time,


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