Words by Graham Frizzell
When Carywn Cellars announced its Into the Barrels Festival, excitement among beer fans went beyond the capacity for rational thought. Loose Ghostbusters references aside, beer lovers collectively melted over the announcement of an intimate Brooklyn Brewery tasting, co-hosted by Miro Bellini and Ben Duval, featuring samples of the brewery’s fabled “Ghost Bottles” collection.
The stage was set for an afternoon of drinking deeply of the barrel.
|The stage is set|
New York, New York’s Brooklyn Brewery is among the most recognisable brands in craft beer. Founded by Tom Potter and former Associated Press Middle East Correspondent Steve Hindy in 1984, Brooklyn garnered a firm reputation for its lager, brown ale, double chocolate stout and its collection of eccentric one-offs, known as “Ghost Bottles.”
Brooklyn Brewery’s current head brewer Garrett Oliver started the “Ghost Bottles” program as a fun experiment. 30-50 bottles are brewed a year and only a brewer or a brewery ambassador may open them. They’re built for special occasions rather than typical supply chains. Surely intimate tastings don’t come more special than this.
Miro Bellini is among one of the most recognisable faces among Melbourne’s craft beer circuit. He’s certainly also among the hardest working. Co-founder of the internationally recognised Good Beer Week, former brewery tour host at Mountain Goat, Palais Imports stalwart, beer menu consultant and Brooklyn Brewery Ambassador - there is little he hasn’t seen or done.
As the host for the occasion, Miro stated words to the effect: “It’s not just about rare and special beers. If the term ‘Masterclass’ is to be used, there really ought to be something to learn.” To that end, the session was as much about exploring the palate itself as it was enjoying the most rare and experimental Brooklyn concoctions.
It’s not often you’ll find soda water going head to head with tonic water at a Masterclass, however perhaps it should be a standard fixture at all intimate tastings. Miro Bellini had the 20-strong attendance compare the two – not only to decipher the nuances of each, but also to calibrate the palate. As it turns out, the soda water came in handy for cleansing the palate following the enjoyment of a particularly rich and bitey cheese.
Miro went on to say beauty lies in delicate, softer flavours as much as it does in bigger and bolder beverages: “Saying ‘I only like big [red wines] is a lot like saying I need 10 ghost chillies for an ænema,” he quipped.
As the Masterclass would go on to prove, a saison can be – and often is – equal to (or greater than) any barleywine, quad or imperial stout. Certainly barrel-ageing imparts an even greater degree of complexity on whatever might happen to be taking its beauty rest within, however the same could be said of naked “lighter beers” when pitted against richer, darker counterparts.
Sorachi Ace (2 year-old,) Orchard Pick and Smokin’ Ace
First beer off the ranks was a well-aged (two years – at a constant temperature of 4ºC) bottle of Sorachi Ace. The idea in presenting an aged beer was so the base could be tasted “naked,” without the impact of Sorachi hop character – perfect for identifying the nuances of the Ghost Bottle versions to follow.
Indeed, the lengthy ageing process had taken its toll on the hop character of the beer, however its baseline flavours remained. Dry and characterful, Sorachi Ace is among one of the best modern saisons going – aged or otherwise.
|Left: 2-yo Sorachi Ace and Right: Sorachi Ace: Orchard Pick|
Then, Miro and Carywn Cellars’ resident co-host Ben Duval distributed the first of two beers to be compared with the original Sorachi Ace: Orchard Pick, aged over peaches, nectarines and in red wine barrels. Attendees were encouraged to discuss what they tasted with one another, what nuances could be found and how the palate was excited. It was also pointed out many beer judges use their forearm to reset their olfactories. After all, the scent most common to a person is one’s own.
On the nose Orchard Pick presented a beautifully delicate and floral bouquet – characters that segued beautifully to the palate. Saisons are of course wonderful for enjoying alongside food, with Orchard Pick’s intricate flavours playing magnificently well off the Capocollo.
Smoky meats go especially well with smoky beers, hence the next beer to be poured was a real treat: Smokin’ Ace. As the name suggests, this fantastic beer spent 40 winks inside mescal barrels. Intense but delicate throughout, the nose is treated to a huge hit of smoke before more than a hint of warming mescal rounds out the palate. The experience was taken to a new flavour zone with the last of the sediment poured into the glass. Prosciutto and Capocollo both played exceedingly well off Smoking Ace’s gloriously smoky character.
K is for Kriek
Kriek is far and away one of the most beautiful beer styles, be it a classic Lambic version or a well-executed New World interpretation. Miro and Ben set about pouring arguably the highlight Ghost Bottle of the day. Brewed with orange peel, honey, candi syrup; aged in Bourbon barrels on cherries; complex to the point of being damn-near dense; K is for Kriek could be likened to eating gourmet chocolate cherry alongside a dram of Bourbon. It could even liken a particularly boozy Christmas cake. Again it must be stressed this is a New World interpretation, one that eschews the traditional Lambic funk for other qualities, however this was nothing short of a rare treat.
During the K is for Kriek tasting, Miro raised an interesting point about styles and the origin of terms like “quadrupel.” Indeed, the term “quadrupel” (or “quad” for short) was coined by American brewers, rather than the Belgians.
|Ben Duval pouring the exceptionally good K is for Kriek|
Bel Air (aged on mango, in cognac barrels)
So as not to overwhelm the class’s collective palate (a whopping great “dessert” was to follow), Miro and Ben poured something a little more restrained: a mango, cognac barrel-aged version of Brooklyn’s Bel Air wild ale.
This experimental, kettle soured ale seemed to stump a large contingent of the attendees, for few could detect its cognac notes. Others disagreed, saying that it made a subtle presence. Either way, this delicate, beautifully poised and richly aromatic beer reached flavour symphony-like heights when paired with a generous serving of d’Affinois cream cheese. Utter perfection!
Dessert was duly served following what had been 20 minutes of lively (albeit hazily remembered) conversation. Those treated to “the beer that doesn’t exist” ought to count themselves lucky for being given the opportunity to experience something as rare as a rainy day in Arizona.
Aged in Bourbon barrels for four months, bottled without carbonation and then re-fermented with Champagne yeast – it’s as magical and mystical as it sounds. Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t nearly as heavy and dense as one might expect. In fact, Black Ops had a delicacy all its own.
With that, one of the most fulfilling intimate Masterclasses to have been hosted at Carwyn Cellars concluded. A massive thanks must go to Miro Bellini, Ben Duval, Brooklyn Brewery and everyone at Carwyn Cellars for making this wonderful event possible.
|This ain't no game, this is Brooklyn's Black Ops|
* The effect of storing beer in a room as warm heated to a constant 30ºC for a period of one week becomes as aged as beer that has spent three months in a room chilled to a constant 4ºC.
* Sorachi Ace hops were initially developed by Sapporo, but were ultimately considered unfavourable for the Japanese palate, due to the hop’s dill and lemongrass-like flavours.
* Brettanomyces goes to work a great deal slower than most conventional strains of brewers yeast.