Friday Froth: Nelson's Red Oktober

James Gribbon

On October 21, 1805, Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson lead a British fleet against the combined power of the French and Spanish fleets miles off the coast of Trafalgar, Spain. Napoleon wanted a French hegemony in Europe, the British, not so much. Nelson had twenty seven ships at his command against thirty three in the Franco-Spanish fleet. By the end of the battle twenty two ships would be destroyed and Nelson would be dead. Twenty eight ships would eventually sail on to England - every single British ship, plus the French flag vessel Bucentaure, and its Admiral, Villeneuve. The British hadn't lost a single one. As for Admiral Nelson, his body was placed in a barrel of "spirits," likely rum, and Nelson became one of the biggest heroes in British history. The story goes that when the barrel was opened back home it was found to be empty of liquid - the sailors had drilled a hole and drank it all. Thereafter rum was given the nickname "Nelson's Blood" on ships of the Royal Navy. Honestly though: this column has almost nothing to do with any of that. I just like the story. Shall we?

Let us keep the October theme going, and start off with Berkshire Brewing Company's Oktoberfest Lager. This one is a robust, marzen-style lager made with German hops and yeasts. The beer pours brown and cloudy, and puts off an aroma of roasted malts. Like other marzens, this one's not overly artsy, but those toasted malts come through in an almost tangy flavor, probably due to the yeast held in suspension - an unusual trait for an O'fest. While German Oktoberfest beers have all the breadth and variety of your average panda bear's diet, American examples continue to light out in their own directions. BBC O' is a continuation of the American tradition of ingenuity in brewing. It's a little strong for an Oktoberfest at 6.8% and fairly local, too: about 130 miles separate South Deerfield, Mass. from Fairfield County.

Widmer Brothers Nelson Imperial IPA, like this column, has very little to do with Lord Nelson. The city of Nelson, New Zealand takes its name from ol' Horatio, though, and the hop variety used in this beer from the city, so maybe the connection is not so tenuous after all. There is an immediate aroma of those Nelson Sauvin hops as soon as the pint gets within a foot of one's nose: sweet, herbacious and sharp all at once. Nelsons are beautifully mild, and aren't the only variety used in this beer: Alchemy, Cacade and Willamette hops all march across the tongue, trodding softly on a smooth roundness of Pale, Carapils and Caramel malts. This fullness of flavor is a mark of imperials, which begin fermentation with much higher degrees Plato than standard varieties. The richness of ingredients makes these "bigger" beers, and in more ways than one. Widmer Nelson, for example, weighs in at over 8.5% alcohol. Like a stranger at a bar, this one gets sweeter as it warms up to you, and the overall balance is excellent. 

Oskar Bues G'Knight takes it name from another inspiring veteran. American Gordon Knight received a Purple Heart as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and became a professional brewer by 1988. His beers won gold medals with three different breweries through the 1990's, and he was fighting a forest fire outside of Lyons, Colorado (home of Oskar Blues) when his helicopter crashed. Oskar Blues founder Dale Katechis knew Mr. Knight, and brewed this imperial red as a tribute. 

G'Knight pours a rusty red with a thick cap of white foam and a somewhat sweet aroma. The spice notes in the flavor are distinct enough to absorb all your palate's attention at first sip. I'm not actually a spiced beer fan, so I can tell you all, despite the first impression, that aspect of the flavor isn't overwhelming at all. After a few sips, those spices are just a pleasant tingle on your tongue. I can also say that you can have your Keith Stone and your cats in trees, because this beer is smoooooth, my friends. It glides past the lips and over the tongue like a Maybach over a slow-footed paparazzo

So there we have it: a Nelson, a red, and an Oktober(fest). It seems we're always talking about spirits in October; have a couple pints of these beers, and let them lift yours.