Over the weekend, giddy from the sunshine, I picked up a three-pack of unsampled beers. Without further preamble or ado, I will dive into the reviews.
Stouterik, Brasserie De La Senne
De La Senne is the new little Belgian brewery that brought us Taras Boulba, aka "Smeirlap!", a power-packed ale so full of flavor I was stunned to learn it was only 4.5% alcohol. The brewery's other US import is Stouterik, a "Brussels"--or alternately "Belgian"--stout. It is, in fact, a pretty straightforward Irish stout of modest strength. (I am charmed by De La Senne's commitment to lower-alcohol beers. I almost sense in their ethos a revolutionary side that wishes to provide drinkers with all the flavor they expect from Belgian ale, but with half the ingredients.)
Stouterik is radical--but as with political radicals, this means it's a niche beer. The presentation is just about perfect--it is jet black and has a rich, mocha head that froths to the end. The nose is sumptuous--a dense, roasted-coffee nose with just a whiff of wheat. The flavor, though--whew! Irish stouts famously get their sour in part from roasted barley. Taste Stouterik to understand why: the wild, burnt malt is so intense it naturally bleeds into sourness. In this beer, you can taste directly how these two flavors are actually a continuum. You can find chocolate notes underneath if you dig around long enough, but it's like trying to hear your phone ring at the Holiday Ale Fest. The finish is a wild ride, too--those roast malts leave an aftertaste of dryness that rushes all the way up your throat to the roof of your mouth. For me,Stouterik is way too burned to be called good, but there's no doubt the brewery intended to make exactly this beer (fresh, wonderful head retention, no off-notes, nice vitality.) But--and this is a big but--it could be a cult beer for those who like extremely dark chocolate-type bitterness. If that's you, give it a shot. Rating: A for its cult niche crowd; an intense C+ for everyone else
Oerbier, De Dolle Brouwers
I've actually had this beer before, but it's been years and years. I haven't seen the "Mad Brewers" in stores lately, and I've been hankering for one of their uncategorizable (but distinctively Belgian) offerings.
I hadn't intended it to serve a s ritual beer, but as I was watching Bill Moyers interview David Simon on Friday, it occurred to me that it was a fantastic beer to drink as benediction to winter. That was our last drizzly, cold day before the warm weather returned. In Oerbier are the qualities that make winter tolerable; on that evening, the last time I'd need them.
Oerbier is a strong, dark ale lightened and strengthened with candi sugar. This makes it appear denser than it turns out to be, though the violently effervescent, spring-fed head is a clue to its true nature. I was drinking it in dim light, but it appeared almost crimson (my colorblindness doesn't help where hues of red are concerned). The flavor is something like 3 parts Chimay, one part Flanders Red. The candi sugar means it's a little less creamy than a big abbey, but every bit as strong. In addition to the tart, cherry notes are spicy, wintry ones--cinnamon and cloves. A very nice beer and one regularly cited as a classic. I won't disagree: rating, B+.
Festina Peche, Dogfish Head
My intentions are good. Really. I bought this beer determined to locate a Dogfish Head beer I could brag on. A Berliner Weisse flavored with peach--it seemed like such a safe bet! Alas, it was a woeful experiment. The trouble began right away--it was nearly flat, even when I tried to rouse it with a tall pour. A stray bubble or two--to call them a proper bead would be overstating the point--rose languidly to the surface. The nose was faintly sour, but tinny and hollow like canned fruit, which more or less describes the beer. Now that Bill's got me spooked about beer descriptions--I've done my best to muscle through this post--I'll dispense with adjectives and move to the final sentence of my notes: "Like a flat soda that has been sitting out in the sun for a few hours." Rating: C-