Friday, February 20, 2015

The Vanillaphant

Just as chefs pair ingredients, seeking to create complementary or contrasting tastes, so do brewmasters.  This is a relatively "recent" development; and, by "recent," I mean within the past twenty or thirty years.  For decades, beer was not brewed for its taste, but for its drinkability.  Then came the craft beer movement.  The ability to down a six-pack during a quarter of college or professional football was no longer as important as the ability to enjoy different styles of beer, as well as flavors and characteristics of those beers.

One seemingly natural pairing is vanilla and a porter.  The objective in that case is to create a contrast.  On the one hand, there is the sweet, smooth flavor of the vanilla. On the other hand, there is the biting, somewhat harsh flavor of the roasted malts.  The combination of vanilla and roasted malts is something akin to brewmasters trying to combine vanilla and chocolate ice cream ... except it is in a beer. 

As natural as the pairing may be, vanilla can be rather hard to come by.  The ingredient originated in the New World, in the area that is now the Mexican State of Veracruz.  Mexico was long the principal producer of vanilla; however, others wanted to get into the market  The difficulty in cultivating vanilla made it hard for anyone to be successful outside of Mexico.  However, a man by the name of Edmond Albius discovered how to hand-pollinate the flowers of the plant.  This allowed for vanilla to be planted and cultivated in other areas, including the Bourbon islands, which is present day Reunion (and could include the Comoros and Madagascar, at least with respect to vanilla cultivation).

The brewers at Avondale Brewery obtained vanilla from the "Bourbon Islands" to make the Vanillaphant, a Porter Ale brewed with Vanilla.  The brewers describe their beer as "surprisingly light bodied for its robust flavor."  They also say "it resembles the chocolate and roasted nut flavors that you expect in a porter, but with a special vanilla twist at the end.  The malty and vanilla sweetness are perfectly balanced with hoppy bitterness."

The brewers' description of this beer is relatively accurate.  The body of the beer is relatively light for a porter.  As I sipped the Vanillaphant, I could ascertain the chocolate and roasted flavors, as well as the sweetness from the vanilla beans.  Although I am not sure that I could characterize it as a "special vanilla twist at the end," the brewers were able to balance the bitterness of the roasted elements with the sweetness of the vanilla. 

This beer is best reserved for dessert.  It could be paired with desserts such as Tiramisu, chocolate cake or just a scoop or two of ice cream.  I did a search to find what others have paired with this beer.  One pairing was sticky toffee pudding. Another pairing was a little more adventurous ... Vanillaphant braised lamb short ribs.  While I could see a porter being used in such a braise, a vanilla porter would be rather interesting, especially with lamb short ribs (as opposed to beef short ribs).  

I got a bottle of the Vanillaphant as a gift, so I can't say how much a bottle costs.  However, as far as I know, Avondale beers are generally available only in the State of Alabama.  If you happen to be in the area, it is definitely worth a try. 


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