So: who joined me at the Harpoon tasting event at Monster B's last Friday? Anyone? Bueller?
I don’t know if it was the Harpoon or the fact that it was a Friday, but the place was packed like the gym in January. There or not, hit us up in the comments and tell us what beers you’ve been digging on lately. We encourage conversation around here, and we promise not to mock your affinity for Land Shark… much.
Speaking of animals that have no business being on land, Harpoon launched its Leviathan series of craft beers in 2008 as “an exploration in brewing big beers for adventurous palates.” The series was originally intended as a 100-barrel, limited edition release, but the market responded with enthusiasm, and they’re back. The Imperial IPA, Baltic Porter, Saison Royale, and several more will be offered in 120-barrel batches this time, and in bottles as well.
Straight into the belly of the beast we go, as we begin with Leviathan Triticus. Triticus appears black in the glass, but shows a deep, deep red when held to the light, and there is a generous khaki colored head. The aroma is redolent of malts, banana-scented esters, and licorice. At first this beer is sharp on the tongue, almost spicy, but it quickly mellows as it washes back, and leaves just the slightest cling of bitterness in the aftertaste. There is surprisingly little sweetness, and a shockingly dark color, for what is actually a very artfully done witbier.
That’s right: Triticus takes its name from the Latin word for wheat, and is made from a 50/50 wheat/barley mix. Recently revived, this wheat-wine style ale was first brewed by Harpoon in 2005 with the founders of BeerAdvocate.com, and is being offered in bottles for the first time. Attention-grabbing and enjoyable, “Leviathan” is entirely appropriate nomenclature in this instance: at 11.5%ABV, this creature stands a good chance of swallowing you.
I felt like staying with dark beers after that, and Saranac Caramel Porter was recommended to me, so, like the Russian guy with the tiny pet giraffe “I jump in it.” This porter is also a nearly opaque red, but has a light head that quickly dissipates. The strong caramel aroma is the olfactory equivalent of eating a Werther’s Original. The burnt sugar carries over into the flavor, where it equals the hops and malts combined. There is very little of the roasted grain taste associated with the style, and this Saranac is quite a bit lighter in flavor and mouth feel than one might expect. It is not heavy or chewy like many porters, and is in fact slightly watery for the style. Nonetheless, this is a flavorful beer – and who ever said a porter can’t be a dessert instead of an engine lubricant?
The boys from Arberdeenshire have done it again, and they call it 5a.m. Saint. The only saint I could imagine associated with that unholy hour is the first one to come and shoot the birds outside my window who find 5a.m. to be prime conversation time. Intrigued, I visited the Brew Dog web site to find the genesis of this strange name and… it didn’t get much more clear. Something about it being “The Holy Grail of red ales.” Honestly, I don’t care, because the “Iconoclastic amber ale” appellation on the label is a just one.
5a.m. Saint pours a coppery red with a robust head. This one’s not overly aromatic, but what’s there is definitely promising. The first taste is malty and decidedly rich. It spreads around the mouth and combines with the sharp carbonation to provide a very balanced mouth feel and flavor profile. There are just enough hops in the flavor and smell to let you know they’re there, and a slightly coppery aroma springs up as the beer warms and you leave concentric halos of froth down your glass. Maybe that’s where the “Saint” part of the name comes from. The smooth character of this beer, along with a low degree of bitterness and modest alcohol content, make it easily the most accessible of the Brew Dog beers I’ve had, and one I plan to have again.
And thus we end with a benediction: may you glass be clean, may your beer be cold. “[I]t is still a beautiful world,” said Max Ehrmann once. “Be careful. Strive to be happy.”
See you next week.
[Photograph courtesy of By The Pint]