I love to attend beer festivals. They provide an opportunity to try new or unique products or to give thanks to breweries that you have come to deeply appreciate. As fun as it is to spend time with fellow beer geeks, there are some disadvantages of the festival environment: long booth lines, extremely overpriced food, and the inevitably full men's room. To alleviate these obviously inconsequential disadvantages, my friends and I decided to throw a tasting party for visiting family members and ourselves. What started at as a conversation to hang out, listen to records and imbibe with craft beer turned into the greatest night of drinking since my transition into the craft beer environment.
The night begin with a growler of Cambridge Brewing Company's, Me, My Spelt, and Rye. How we obtained a growler of this draft only collaborative release is another story, but it was the perfect way to begin the evening. This collaborative effort brought Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Yvan De Baets of Brasserie De La Senne, Luc LaFontaine of Dieu De Ciel and Will Meyers of Cambridge Brewing Company together to create, as Meyers states on the company's website, "an old-school saison." Normally, the fermentation with a saison yeast will create flavors that have been called: funky, farmy, horse blanket, earthy, etc. These same descriptors have also been used to articulate the flavor profile of the wild yeast, Brettanomyces. So naturally, these innovative brewers decided to ferment their newest creation with both a French saison yeast and multiple strains of Brettanomyces. The resulting product was a full-flavored beer with a distinctive cereal quality that flowed nicely into hints strawberry and raspberry while finishing very dry.
Next, before our palates were subdued, we decided to work through portfolio of the Saint Sixtus Abbey, better known as Westvleteren. Although these monks only brew three styles for purchasing, you must make the journey to the Abbey's doors to purchase these highly coveted ales. Since I have never been to Belgium, we will leave how we obtained these Belgian specialities for another day. We began our Westvleteren tasting with the monk's blond ale, Westvleteren 6. This creamy and hazy beer had an assertive brightness that contained hints of lemon and a subtle belgian yeast character. The complexity of this delicious blond ale made it harder to truly pull out any other distinct flavors. We discussed this beer thoroughly, dissecting it and trying to pull out other flavors, but eventually we decided that underneath its complexity, its most important and appreciated character was its drinkability. It was a truly great beer.
Following the six, we opened a bottle of Westvleteren 8. This Belgian Dubbel was a deep ruby color with a very bubbly-airy head. The taste contained a very pleasant light, candy sugar, not cloying at all. Dark fruit characters, predominantly a raisin quality, came second in the taste. The taste finished with subtle warming from the 8.0% ABV.
To complete our Westvleteren tour, we opened a Westvleteren 12. This Belgian Strong Dark Ale (Quad) was similar in color to the Eight, but upon further inspection, we decided that it was higher on the SRM scale (the higher the SRM number, the darker the beer). This beer may be the most complex ale I have ever tasted in my life. Instantly, dark, rich fruits: prunes, dates and figs coated the palate. In balance with these dark fruits were the grains creating hints of toffee and caramel. The mouthfeel was very creamy and contained an appropriate level of carbonation. At 10.2% ABV, this beer is unbelievably smooth. The alcohol content is so well hidden, you feel as though this dark ale is sessionable. As crazy as that sounds, its true.
While Chad Yakobson has his Reserved Society and his many cult followers, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo have a nation of beer geeks longing for their extremely hoppy beers: Pliny the Elder and the very limited Pliny the Younger and their Sour ales Supplication, Consecration and Temptation, just to name a few. The first of three beers that we would sample from Russian River over the evening was Sanctification. This beer contained a very high level of carbonation with bubbles quickly penetrating through its golden color. There was a very dominant yeast character in the aroma (Later, I found out that primary fermentation is completely performed by Brett). There was a distinct sourness at the front of my palate that finished very dry creating a very crisp and refreshing golden ale. After the beer had time to warm, a biscuity, oaky quality developed during the finish.
Quickly finishing the 750mL bottle of Sanctification, there was a large, bright green bottle of Cantillon Gueuze and we couldn't resist. This "Classic", not "oude" gueuze, was a light copper color with a very airy head. There was a little sour that reminded me of weak vinegar. Also, there was a "diesel" quality that was strange, but digestable. Finally, as the beer warmed a tannic character begin to develop creating a very unique and distinct sour ale.
After taking some time to eat some delicious Cantillon Gueuze cheese and artisanal baguettes, we took a break from Russian River and opened Tart Lychee from New Belgium. Another sour ale, Tart Lychee is infused with cinnamon and pureed Lychee fruit. This beer is light gold with an aroma that displays the cinnamon nicely, but if I didn't know that lychee was used as a fruit adjunct, I probably would have guessed raspberries. During sampling, lychee is more prominent creating a slightly sweet taste character. Within the taste, cinnamon doesn't dominate as it did in the aroma; it was balanced with the fruit. The sourness of this ale was mildly acidic nothing remotely close to the puckering capability of the Petite Sour. As we were drinking this beer, a conversation started about a possibly forced complexity to attract buyers. Questions swirled about the addition of cinnamon to a sour ale to pushing brewing boundaries and ideas of what beer can be. Either way, the consensus was that this sour ale would be perfect for a lazy day of reading while lying in a shaded hammock.
Upon completing the Redemption bottle, we decided to uncap and uncork the most anticipated beer of the night, Fantome's Extra Sour. This beer had the most unique sourness of the night. It contained a spiciness and yeasty character normally associated with farmhouse ales or saisons. Along with these two characteristics, a very prickling acidity from an extreme level of carbonation added more depth and complexity to a very delicious beer. After the beer had time to warm, an earthy quality crept into the taste that reminded me of mint or wintergreen. At 10% ABV, the "ghost", Dany Prignon, has created a simply stunning sour ale with no hints of its alcohol content.
The final beer of the night was the third from Russian River, Damnation. There was a definite citrus and floral aroma. The taste was full of belgian character like Duvel or La Chouffe and incorporated a honey sweetness that balanced the beer beautifully. This beer had a ever-lasting finish that lingered on the palate. Full-bodied and silky, Damnation was an excellent way to finish our epic beer tasting.
The collection of beer that flowed during this night is probably the best I have ever seen in one place including beer bars and festivals. I know a night like this may never happen again, so I am grateful to the residents of 70 Park Ave for their generosity and impeccable tastes.