Friday Froth Beer Scoop! OEC Brunneis & Something Gneiss

James Gribbon

Beer scoops are the best scoops, and I have a great one for you today. This is the first ever review of Brunneis, the newest beer from OEC Brewing, and it goes on sale at the brewery in Oxford tomorrow, from noon to 7p.m. We're also going to take a figurative look at two more beers: one from this coast that's hard to come by, and one from the North Coast out west which has been all over Connecticut lately. Craft beer's funny like that.

Brunneis is an Oud Bruin-style beer, and has been blended from batches of OEC's strong altbier, a heavy German ale, a brown Belgian-style strong ale, and a rauchbier, or "smoked beer." These beers are then aged in barrels which variously and formerly held whiskeys, zinfandel and fortified wine. Blended together, they result in a double fermented, bottle conditioned, 9%abv ale that presents like a Flemish red, but darker.

The bottles ($13) are 1 pint, 9.4oz., and sport labels which tell their blend number (currently number one), suggested serving temperature and glassware (52º F, snifter), and date of blending (9/29/14 on mine). The baroque artwork on each is (outside as well as in) the work of brewmaster Ben Neidhart.

Brunneis pours about the same color as very strong tea, but cloudy with yeast, and is crowned by big, pearly bubbles which melt into a thin ring around the glass. Mine certainly wasn't overly fizzy, but it had only been bottle conditioned for a very short time. The snifter's narrow mouth traps a strong odor of lactic acid, which is first to attack the nose, but keep inhaling and you'll quickly pick up on the smoke used to dry some of the malts. The first sip is initially sharp and acerbic, but the thick malts quickly smooth that out.

The beers used in the blend are very closely complementary, and the core flavor is a rich, slightly chocolatey malt, around which swirl hints of smoke, tannins, and port. Brunneis is a sour, and it has a dry finish, but it's a subtle one, and the lasting impression is one of rauch and oak. I suspect a lot of these bottles are destined for cellaring, and I can hardly wait to see what they're like after about two years. 

Gneiss Brewing Company in Limerick, Maine calls itself an "agrogeobrewery." That mashup is the central theme of their concept. The brewery sits on a "small plot of land into a closed circle farm where spent grains will feed animals that will help fertilize and till land that will grow hops, wheat, and food that we plan to sell out of the brewery in the coming years." Brewing certain beers has historically been a farm to table exercise, and these folks up in Maine are planning to be almost orthodox in their interpretation. 

I had Gneiss Sublimation at one of my beer pilgrimage spots, Novare Res in Portland. Sublimation is a dampfbier, or German steam beer, in style. It was fermented with hefeweizen yeast grown in house by Gneiss, and the result is a muddy amber colored beer with less head than a male praying mantis after a successful date. The hefe yeast is immediately apparent on the nose, and Sublimation is surprisingly sharp and hoppy on the first sip when its carbonation comes out of hiding. The bitter fruit of the hops and slightly floral yeast pair to create a flavor with a tinge of fresh apples, and the unfiltered beer leaves a slightly dry blanket on the tongue. Steam beers tend towards a smooth wash and, although easy drinking, this is an exception. It's a real thinker, and it's available on a rotating basis if you ever find yourself up north.  

Let's flip our heads around and leap from a farmstead brewery on this coast to a farmhouse ale from North Coast in California. Le Merle is a farmhouse saison North Coast says is inspired by brewing traditions in the Flanders region. It pours a clear, bright amber with a medium head that burns off into a lasting ring. A boutonniere of Belgian yeast aroma rises thick above the glass under your nose. This continues into the first sip, where substantial malts are pervaded by the yeast, alongside a prickly spice. Le Merle almost comes off as a heavy duty version of Pranqster. There's not much of the funk one has come to expect from a farmhouse ale, but it's a solid saison with the body and aroma to satisfy Belgian beer fans. 

Le Merle (The Blackbird) was named in honor of North Coast brewmaster Mark Ruedrich's wife for her contributions to the the brewery's success. I hope I've contributed a few ideas to your weekend plans. See you out there.