It was late in the evening on a cold winter night in Santa Fe, fire blazing, with delicious tacos and burritos. We'd spent a disappointing evening watching a courageous kid try to lead Texas to a comeback win over the hated Crimson Tide. Everyone was tired and thinking about bed.
BUT we had these beers....
1st Brewdog Spotting: I heard about Brewdog last spring from the Springbank rep who mentioned they were sending barrels to the brewery to brew cask conditioned beer. Alarms went off at the thought of the fusion of bitter hops, chocolate stouts and smoked peat! Research ensued.
Brewdog was started in 2007 by two 24 year old Scottish lads who were "bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales that dominate the UK." They were determined to make beers that "bite" and are currently the largest independent brewery in Scotland. Paradox is their line of stouts aged in used Single Malt casks. Although I have found references to other distilleries, their website currently indicates they are using casks from The Arran Malt, Springbank, and Smokehead.
2nd Brewdog Spotting: I had the opportunity to taste some of their production brews at a trade show last summer and was quite impressed. The Punk "Post Modern" IPA and Riptide "Twisted Merciless Stout" were the only products left to sample. The samples of the cask conditioned ales were long gone.
3rd Brewdog Spotting: Vincent Henderson, a former colleague, shows up on Facebook drinking the Paradox IPA. Massive jealousy ensues. When asked where the brew was procured, he said San Francisco, but that as far as he knew the cask ales were only available in New York and California. I knew otherwise, Michael carried them in Santa Fe.
4th Brewdog Spotting: Travis and I drove out to Santa Fe and our first stop was Susan's Fine Wines where Michael works. SPOTTING!!! There, in the cold box! I bought 3.
The current release was aged in Smokehead Islay casks. Smokehead is a mystery malt. It's intensely peaty, and the on-line consensus is that it's an independent bottling of young whisky. The mystery is which distillery.
Which brings us to the 5th Brewdog Spotting, in Michael and Laura's living room, by the fire, in a glass, notebook in hand.
Initial Notes: Porter-like toastiness with sweet, dark, Belgian undertones; piney, hoppy, citrus highlights; smoky and salty, images of a campfire on a beach; dark, bitter chocolate.
"An initial attack of treble bitterness."
"It has an intense bitter salty thing at the front."
"The aroma is lean and dry, you expect sweetness and you just don't get it."
"Intense smokiness fading to seaweed with chocolaty malt."
"It never gets as heavy as you think it's going to get. It always stays on the light side."
A Brilliant Idea: Travis pours glasses of Ardbeg Uigeadail and a glass of Laphroaig 10 year old and then gets a wild hair and adds dashes of Oaxacan Chocolate Bitters to the Laphoaig.
Initially, the whiskies cancel out all the darker elements of the Paradox, rendering it rich and creamy, full of butter fat and white chocolate, with hints of milk chocolate bubbling underneath. As the whisky fades, the stout's identity returns, first tasting of smoky peat, then growing into rich, toasty chocolates which melts to reveal a smoky salty nuttiness. To my palate, the flavor was identical to the smoky, salty kernels of malted peat I chewed several weeks ago at a Laphroaig tasting.
Michael doesn't say a thing. He just keeps nosing the whisky, nosing the beer, nosing the whisky. Maybe takes a sip. Turning his head. Nosing the whisky, nosing the beer.
In Conclusion: Throughout the tasting discussion rages on the dominating question of the evening: "Is the smokiness and perfume from the hops or from peat and smoke from the barrel?" Michael thinks and we agree, the peaty phenolics have to come from the barrel.