Thursday, April 21, 2016

Strangeways: Barrel Week 2016

Monday was the first day of Strangeways Barrel Week. The board of 41 barrel aged beers was posted early so flight planning could commence. I'm told there were lines when the large black door was cracked open. There was still a line to order when I arrived a hour or so later. I made my order and carried my flight through the dark interior to the streetside patio. It was a cool but muggy afternoon with grey clouds hanging in the sky. It was a quiet scene. Everyone was sitting at the picnic tables, hunched over their trays of small glasses, examining. The only conversations were muted discussions of flavor profiles.

I had been tasting wine since noon, so I chose beers with winey, yeast-driven flavors. Except for the finale. Oh, and the first, but it was aged in wine barrels. What follows is my list, with some notes taken in real time. The numbers are from the list as posted on the chalkboard.

#3   Prairie Wine Noir:  Imperial Stout aged in Wine barrels. 11%:  "The wet barrels created some funk, possibly from some additional fermentation," I was told. "Some folks have said that it was too tannic." Sounded good to me! And it was. Rich and dark and with slight carbonation, just enough to give lift. Scorched earth, charcoal, black cassis, espresso, the bright citrus notes of a good Ethiopian coffee. If a wine was this dark, it would be over the top, but the carbonation sustains life. Is there such a thing as a black pomegranate?

The Amen Corner: Three  barrel-aged Gose.

Gose is an ancient, sour and saline ale from the area around Leipzig. Production has been spotty since the second World War as several of the main breweries were destroyed by Allied bombing and not restored. Due to shortages in the post war years, there was little wheat available for brewers and production of Gose ceased on more than one occasion. Gose has flourished since Reunification both in Leipzig and with Craft brewers worldwide. Gose is brewed with half malted wheat and half malted barley and fermented with both yeast and lactic acid and spiced with both coriander and hops. It is generally brewed with slightly salted water.

The Bayerischer Bahnhof in Leipzig was an early example of the ornate rail palaces built in the early 1800s and was a major hub. After severe damage during the War, the building was neglected until Reunification. The building was restored in 2000 with its Gasthaus & Gosebrauerei featuring Gose, the regional specialty. Their Gose is a rare find in the United States, Strangeways has three  expressions, aged in Aquavit, Rum and Tequila barrels respectively.

#15  Gasthaus & Gosebrauerie Goseator aged in Aquavit Barrel 9%:  Whenever I taste a gose or a sour I always wonder, "What would I think if I was served a wine that tastes like this?" The flavors are out there, but I find them delicious. Savory, dry and salty with a refreshing acidity and a massive infusion of funk; dried sour fruits, baked lemon, dried herbs with a toasty finish and a long salty finish. I want fish and chips NOW! It's difficult to separate the Aquavit from the Gose itself, the integration is seamless.

#16)  Gasthaus & Gosebrauerie Goseator aged in Rum Barrel 9%:  Here the barrel is much more evident than the aquavit with warm notes of sweet vanilla and spice. Was it a spiced rum? This Gose would be great paired against a mincemeat pie! Who would win?

#17)  Gasthaus & Gosebrauerie Goseator aged in Tequila Barrel 10.5%:  Ok, now I've got this baked lemon, savory salty thing down and I'm looking for the differentiation between the Goseator and the barrel. Is there a calculus for this? As with the Aquavit, I think the herbal nature of the agave merges seamlessly with the sourness of the Gose. I sense a harmony here rather than a progression of flavors which ultimately resolve into the same mouthwatering finish.

I finished with an old friend. It seems like forever since we first heard of the crazy dudes from Aberdeen who were aging their stout in Islay whisky barrels. BrewDog Paradox was the Holy Grail. I remember Michael sitting for what seemed like hours, a glass of BrewDog Smokehead in one hand, a glass of Laphroiag in the other. Finally he spoke, "It's the peat! It's the peat!"

#11)  BrewDog Paradox, Imperial Stout aged in Smokehead Islay Whisky Barrels 10%:  Dark, coffee, espresso, unsweetened chocolate, scorched earth and crazily some fruitiness comes from somewhere, but all things ultimately resolve into massive smokiness. Is it the blackened malt or the smoked peat? Nothing to do but wait it out. And then... there it is! The unmistakable nuttiness of the smoked kernels of malted barley. Nice!

So that's my Monday flight. There's only 36 more beers left on the board! And they are going quick!

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