Those who were lucky enough to attend last year's Boatrocker Rarities event at Carwyn Cellars will attest it was one of the highlight events of Good Beer Week 2016, if not the year. Of course, The 64 Million Dollar Question is: Could the combined forces top it this time around during Good Beer Week 2017?
Where last year's event took in five beers from Boatrocker paired with five from around the world (with Belgium being a key focus), Saturday 20 May would see five brews from Boatrocker matched with five inspirational beers from the USA (in keeping with the Pint of Origin: USA theme). With Boatrocker owner and master brewer Matt Houghton at the helm, the stage was set for a thoroughly engaging and tasteful excursion in to beer wonderland - tenfold.
|Setting up for proceedings|
BOATROCKER: BLANC DE BLANC
This wet hopped (with Enigma hops) Berliner-weisse beer takes its name from Enigma hops whose character resembles sauvignon blanc, hence its quirky name.
On the nose it's funk, oak, sauvignon blanc and a touch of citrus tang. These notes transpose to the palate with a hint of honey - and honey dew melon. There are subtle vinous undertones too. Its mouthfeel is mellow, vinous, almost silken with subtle carbonation riding on top. Here, Boatrocker has brewed a unique and enjoyable take on the Berliner-weisse - which is no mean feat given many new world examples don't quite end up being true to style.
ALMANAC: EL DORADO
Almanac is of course among the most recognisable exponents of sour beer in America, and since the brewery's arrival into the Australian market, a cult following has grown. El Dorado is among many twists on Almanac's Belgian blond ale (kettle soured, fermented with Brettanomyces and aged in foeders), the twist here being El Dorado dry hopping.
Funk and citrus dominates the nose here too, but the flavour is a much sharper affair. Finger lime is most apparent, while a touch of oaky vinous tonality is also present. Carbonation is a little higher, hence this is a refreshing example of the style.
The overall effect of this pairing is one of both contrast and compliment. Berliner-weissbiers and Belgian blond ales might contain the familiar ingredient of wheat, but stylistically the two are worlds apart (acidity being a noteworthy differential). But the two are highly complimentary of another owing to vinous undertones and dominant fruity esters. What a great match-up to kick off proceedings!
|Left: Blanc de Blancs and Right: El Dorado|
BOATROCKER: 6 BRETTS
Aged in French oak barriques (a small Burgundian barrel characterised by its relatively slim-lined shape and capacity of 300 litres / 59 US gallons), Boatrocker's 6 Bretts was the first among the day's surprise offerings. As its name suggests, the Brettanomyces yeast strain and its wonderfully funky (in more ways than one) effect is the focal point here.
Throughout this wonderful experience - from sniff to swallow - there is plenty going on. Sharp, but not overbearingly so, summer fruit leads the way before horseblanket funk follows. Much like Almanac's offering, 6 Bretts is a fantastically refreshing beer.
BROOKLYN BREWERY: WILD STREAK
Joe Soriero from Brooklyn stepped up to introduce Wild Streak, which turned out to be one of the real highlights among a stellar lineup. Wild Streak is a Brooklyn Brewery "legacy beer" from its Brett and barrel-ageing program. Originally a Brooklyn Ghost Bottle, first bottled in 2014. A Belgian blonde ale, Brett fermented and aged in Bourbon barrels... Just looking at the formula would have anyone with even a passing interest in barrel-aged beers fall into a state of shuddering blissfulness.
Put simply, this beer is extraordinary, and a great counter-point to Boatrocker's 6 Bretts. Complex, rotund and profound; Wild Streak can hold its neck up as being one of the most unique beers on the planet. Bourbon rolls upon the tongue like a grown up child in the autumn leaves, while mellow malt and pungent esters complete this Picasso-of-beers picture.
As stated earlier, this pairing was all about contrast. Both the barrel and Brettanomyces impart various magical flavours to beer, and as evidenced here, those characteristics are as varied as the day is long. Moreover, both 6 Bretts and Wild Streak marry up remarkably well to good stinky cheeses both hard and soft.
|The Boatrocker 6 Bretts bottle sits between 6 Bretts (left) and Wild Streak (right)|
BOATROCKER: WILDE CHERRY ALE
Boatrocker just loves acetic acid, in the right proportions of course. Made with 100kg of cherries, this year de-stemmed... By the cherry farmer's wife... (The previous year the cherries arrived stem and all, so the brewers asked politely if they could be removed).
Currently Boatrocker has a 20L cask but the guys have dreams of one day having a foeder hall. As Adam Holliday said foeders are functioning works of art. Suffice it to say Wilde Cherry is very similar in style to Rodenbach's finest and other Flanders red examples.
Cherry pits, sour cherry flesh, measured acetic acidity funk and oak is the order of the day here. Much like Rodenbach, oakiness is indeed plentiful. Were it not for cherries being in short supply, the whole world should be drinking this blissful fruit beer.
NEW BELGIUM: LA FOLIE
20 years ago New Belgium had Rodenbach come over and set up a foeder program, at a time when sour beers were virtually unheard of. The rest, as they say, is history. La Folie is a Flanders-style brown ale, and above all is testament to the brewery's rich brewing, barrel-ageing and sour blending tradition.
On the nose, La Folie is a thing of beauty. Oak, earth, berries and cherries intermingle in perfect harmony.
Once again, the impression of this pairing turned out to be contrasting and complimentary. La Folie's somewhat more rotund mouthfeel and earthier flavour contrasted Wilde Cherry's effervescence and brighter flavour profile.
|Left: Wilde Cherry and Right: La Folie|
BOATROCKER: JABBER JAW IIPA (IMPERIAL IPA)
Boatrocker is of course all about Belgian inspired ales, but why not add a double IPA to the rotation? Indeed, Jabber Jaw is its first to hit the Braeside brewery's portfolio and it's sure to hold its head up high.
Though it was inspired by the beer that follows (below), it could be said Jabber Jaw's closest compadre is Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum (pre-2017 refresh). Melon and mango lead from the front followed by spicy, earthy and resinous hops. This is another fine Australian IIPA, one that will surely raise the profile of the country and it is undeniable proof Boatrocker are masters at their craft.
RUSSIAN RIVER: PLINY THE ELDER
With huge thanks to Carwyn Cellars' Chris and Juanita for bringing back a case of this landmark beer from the US! Pliny the Elder surely needs no introduction, especially to the lupulin inclined.
Pine forest and earthy tones dominate the nose. The palate is then awash with honey, mango, stone fruit; then the hops come crashing in like a Hawaiian king wave the likes of which only blind Brasilian surfers could handle. Pine, resin and a long, almost hairspray (in a good way) dryness round out the immense hop driven finish.
A rare treat, particularly for those who have yet to visit the US west coast. Suffice to say this match-up was deeply complimentary - and deeply satisfying!
|Left: Jabber Jaw, Centre: Pliny the Elder and Right: The prized Pliny the Elder bottle|
BOATROCKER: RAMJET (2015)
Boatrocker's Starward whiskey barrel-aged stout is of course among another of Australia's finest. On this occasion, the crowd was treated to a 2015 vintage.
Indeed, Bourbon barrels are hard to come by, even if they have become something of a commodity. Hence Boatrocker struck up what became a firm and long-lasting relationship with Melbourne whiskey distillers New World Distillery (the makers of Starward). Since its first incarnation (2014), Ramjet has risen to the highest echelon of Australia's finest beers, one that has surely elevated the country's beer and brewing profile on the world stage.
As one might expect, this vintage has aged spectacularly well. On the nose, whiskey and oaky character is bountiful, so too roasty malt. Raisin character, smooth cocoa and well measured roasty notes dominate the mid-palate. Whiskey rides atop from the moment the beer touches the lips through to the swallow, backed up by a somewhat rotund mouthfeel.
FIRESTONE WALKER: PARABOLA
Firestone Walker's Parabola is a beast of a beer - over 14% beastly! A top draw Bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout from a brewery whose output (until now) has seldom been seen on Australian shelves.
On the nose Parabola presenta big, bold and brash Bourbon character. The same Bourbon influence rolls beneath a cascade of dark fruit, berries, raisins, dates and ash over the palate. Amazingly the booze is concealed well, though the heavy mouthfeel certainly does not.
This final pairing offered up contrast by way of the different flavours imparted by whiskey and Bourbon barrels, while the two complimented one other in terms of stout flavours and characteristics as much as they contrasted. Ramjet is as smooth as silk in its flavour, whereas Parabola burst in like a freight train with its robustness and dark fruit accented flavour. All in all the two were evenly matched in every department except alcohol content.
|Left: Ramjet (2015) and Right: Parabola|
10 beers and two-and-a-half hours later, it was all over. A massive thanks must go to Boatrocker Brewing Co, Matt Houghton, Brooklyn Brewery's Joe Soriero and the dedicated team at Carwyn Cellars for staging this amazing event. An unfathomable amount of blood, sweat, tears and hard graft went into procuring the rare beers showcased on the day, and I feel tremendously privileged to have been among the lucky few who attended.
I sincerely hope there will be a third instalment next year, and if so, I implore you to get onboard the day tickets go on sale. Roll on Good Beer Week 2018!