Friday Froth: BigBrew NYC News and Alex Le Rouge

James Gribbon

Every once in a while I like to spike the gruel of my disjointed ramblings in this column with some actual news, which is why I'm going to lead off by telling you all about a beer festival that is about to happen a short drive/train ride away pretty soon. The Big Brew NY Beer Festival will have its inaugural event on Saturday, February 8th, at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.The organizers expect 1,500 to 2,500 people, which is positively tiny by beer fest standards, so there should be plenty of access to over 300 beers. General admission tickets are $50, designated drivers get in for $10 (in advance) and VIP tickets, which allow access to more beers, an extra hour of tasting time, and a buffet designed by Chef Anthony Goncalves of 42 The Restaurant, go for $80 in advance, or $90 at the door

All attendees will have the opportunity to discuss beer and food pairing with John Holl, author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook, and are invited to 42 The Restaurant for an after party and a 10% discount on their bill.

I discussed the impending launch of this year's batch of Igor's Dream Russian Imperial Stout in the last edition of Friday Froth, and the event caused enough of a stir last Saturday to make thirteen month old Two Roads Brewing the number one trending topic,globally, on beer/social app Untappd. Congratulations to both the hard working people over there who make our brews, and to any of you who made the trip and scored yourselves a bottle or two. 

We've had some other pretty exciting news in the world of stouts around here, as Goose Island Bourbon County Stout recently began bubbling forth from taps in our area. Goose Island has been making this beer in Chicago since 1992, and claims it's the original bourbon barrel aged stout. I have no idea if that's true, but I can tell you this beer is black as the cloaks of the night's watch, and the thick, sweet aroma has enough whiskey to it to lightly singe the nose. 

This stout is ultra smooth past the lips, with a light fizz as it goes down. Bourbon County is absolutely saturated with syrupy grain, with a lot of buttery caramel notes, and maybe just a whisper of coffee. The bourbon wraps around the stout - bracketing the flavor with aroma at first, with a bit of heat and smoke afterward. That heat comes from the stout's 14.2% alcohol by volume, which isn't half an dangerous as it may seem, since you're not likely to chug this hefty, chewy beer and get ahead of yourself. Goose Island may have given up the "micro-brew" title long ago, but they can still craft a fine beer.

Not quite as fine, however, as the longest named beer I've ever had: Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes Cuvée Alex Le Rouge. Connecticut's own B. United brings us this imperial stout straight from the Jura mountain region, which becomes obvious once you spy the alcohol content printed on the label with impossibly Swiss precision: "10.276%." It's as black as you might expect from an imperial stout, with a sticky, lacy head, and there is a burst of boozy heat to the nose, along side a delicious, raisin-y scent. 

The first sip is heavy with molasses and deep grain notes, and there is a dark, roasty aftertaste which clings to the tongue, and reminded me of slightly burnt toast with honey. There is something herbal lurking deep in the cave of this one's flavor, down there beyond the torchlight. I took sip after sip, looking to place those nuances, so carefully veiled in black. A little research finally shone a beam of light on the mystery, revealing a recipe list which includes vanilla, pepper and tea in the making of this beer, alongside a heavy pinch of Hellertauer hops. 

As a cuvée, every batch of this elixir will be different, but I found BFM Alex Le Rouge to be fiercely interesting, and possessed of a curious complexity. It is a sharp instrument in a style of beer mostly known for its bludgeons. Check it out at the new Cask Republic in downtown Stamford.

Oy Sinebrychoff Ab in Kerava, Finland, is the oldest operating brewery in Scandinavia, and the porter they created in 1819 is a huge reason for its continued existence. It has a much more modest ABV than the black beers above (at just over 7%), and sports a tight, off color head above that inky body. The nose to this beer is almost exclusively acerbic, with a hazy memory of malt sweetness. 

The bit of charred grain taste on first sip quickly fades all the way through a gripping sourness to finish with small, lapping waves of anise and raisins. The fact that the brewers can lightly burn the malt, add enough lactobacillus to do the same to the mouth, and still come out with a porter which opens up into notes of not just coffee and chocolate, but tastes reminiscent of dried fruit, speaks volumes about the kind of skill with which this beer was made. There aren't too many Finnish beers available in the U.S., but even this limited release should go a long way to elevating the country's profile among anyone who tastes it. I'm calling it here and now:sour Baltic porters are on their way up in this country.   

So there you go: three excellent ways to keep it darker than a mortician's sense of humor this winter. Cheers.