Friday Froth: Seasonal Brews

James Gribbon

The following Froth column was originally scheduled to run last week but got sucked into a worm hole. Pardon any time related ambiguity.  

Congratulations to those of you who are now able to read this after having been gracefully ushered back into the 19th[strikethrough] 21st century by our benevolent dictators at CL&P. There's a scene in Gladiator where Djimon Hounsou's character sees the Roman coliseum for the first time and says "I did not know men were capable of such things." I imagine that's a little what it's like to use an oven or turn on the lights after a dozen days whose rhythms were controlled by the Sun's rise and fall; writing notes on the back of a wooden shovel with a lump of coal by candle light, that kind of thing. The long nights of the winter can now once again be banished by the sorcery of compact fluorescent bulbs, but some elements of the wintertide are to be embraced, like seasonal brews.

Brothers Kurt and Rob Widmer have created a special, onomatopoetic brew for the winter of 2011-12 called Brrr! It's a warm, brick red color ale with an ABV over 7% to help chase the frostiness away, and a pungent, wet-hopped aroma to perk up the senses and reinvigorate a numb nose. These Alchemy, Simcoe and Cascade hops crowd around like old friends, lending a lively, clean and refreshing taste to the beer. This one's crisp as top down motoring on a fall afternoon. Those hops never get lost in the mix - they retain their character all the way to the bottom of the pint, which glares back at one with with shocking rapidity. Well, then: time for a fresh pint. One good round deserves another amongst friends, and this visitor's only here until January. 

From a brewery who thinks "gold and silver are way overrated" comes Copperhook, from Red Hook. Remember in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where winter gives spring and summer a miss and goes straight on into fall? That's what Copperhook does with the hops - just lets them whistle on past - to the tune of only 25 IBUs. This will cause some subjects of good King Gambrinus to practically rend their garments but, like the seasons, everyone has their favorite, and some people just don't dig hops. This is no "grab a 30 pack and let's hit the dorm party, brah!" hopless, flavorless brain hammer, though - Copperhook is a full bodied copper ale with a solid, malty base, underlined by toasted, almost smokey notes that set it apart from and above others of the style. Hop shy and hop head can join together in their shared love of zymurgy over a few pints of this, and then maybe a few more.  

The Scots at BrewDog are crazy. They're completely around the bend... although you should probably believe them when they tell you that rabbit's got a mean streak a mile wide. What you should not believe is that the names they give their beers have any bearing whatsoever on the brew contained behind the label. "Dogma," a word which brings to mind concepts of strict and unbending codicils, is the name of their beer brewed with malts, hops, honey, kola nut, poppy seeds and freaking guarana. Those devious Picts will also tell you that "This ale is not cool. You may think it is, but that is just a beautiful lie fabricated by clowns and gypsies." Well this beer looks like witches brew in a glass, and that rhymes with Bitches Brew, and Miles Davis is cooler than a polar bear's toenails (aw hell), so I declare its uncoolness overruled. Plus, I haven't seen a gypsy since I was in Ireland in '03, so my logic is flawless. 

The head on this beer is thick, lasting and super fine, and the aromas wafting up from its depths are of Belgian yeasts and nectar, with a finish of malted hops. The kola nut comes through as part of a smokey character to the taste that brings sublime balance to the malt sweetness and the funky Belgian yeast. Like opening doors as you walk down an endless hallway, there are more flavors the deeper in you get. An almost peppery essence develops as the beer warms, possibly from the poppy seed? I don't know, but I like it, and I like this beer. If a beer is a painting, this one would be an Archimboldo: it's crowded with variety, but thematically it works as a strange, cohesive whole. 

Just when one gets used to the seasons, they change. Life keeps refreshing itself. One October week we'll have three inches of frozen frozen clay dropped on us out of the sky, and then it's 65 degrees out in November and people are left holding a down vest in one hand, dropping their cabriolet top with the other, and wondering who hit the "Random" button on the universe's iPod. We just can't know. That's what makes living spicy. So go out, get weird, and be fearless: half the county can't see you at night anyway.