I have once again burdened my good friend John with the task of reviewing one of my latest beers. Interestingly, by the time he got the review to me all the of bottles have almost been consumed. Regardless of that, John is a good writer and produced a rather well-written review of my efforts here. Plus, I’m a proud Daddy here and want to brag about my children. Here it is!
Fall is my favorite season. I like it so much that I sometimes call it autumn. I know not everyone loves fall but I have yet to meet someone that hates it. It’s the open windows and the changing trees that make fall generally agreeable. Even if you live in the city and you are afraid to open your windows and there are no trees, at least that hipster’s scarf is no longer ironic.
Fall also marks the return of students to school and Gary and I going back to work. This is particularly important because beer tastes better after getting cussed out by a 13 year old. Last Friday, Gary and I drank the Kasteel and despite tasting like Manischewitz and Capri Sun, it was probably the best beer I’ve ever drank. What I’m getting at is that beer is as much situational as it is sensory and fall creates a great backdrop for a nut-brown beer.
Hazelnut, to be exact, which is a bold choice, but a bold choice is to be expected by Vigilante Brewing Company’s CEO, Head Brewer, and medical test subject, Gary. I wasn’t as excited about this brew because I haven’t ever liked a hazelnut beer. For example, Founder’s Frangelic Mountain tastes like a hazelnut coffee creamer and Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown tastes like…hazelnut coffee creamer – there’s really no other simile. The problem is that to get a hazelnut flavor, you have to use hazelnut extract. Extract flavoring in beer takes on the most extreme form of the flavor extracted. If used incorrectly the beer is going to smell unrealistic, disingenuous, and frankly a lot like hazelnut coffee creamer.
So clearly I was nervous when Gary asked for a review of his beer. I was nervous when we popped the top on the first one and the hazelnut smell was over powering. I was nervous when the first sip I took burned with obvious extract flavoring. But that was 4 weeks ago. Let’s just say I’m not nervous anymore.
Appearance – I really like reviewing beer, but I think this part is stupid. The beer is brown. It’s not sandy, it’s not light coffee macchiato, it’s brown. A brownish brown with slight hints of ecru? No, that’s brown. Oh and the head? It’s foamy. Not a pillow top comforter, or cotton pillow kind of foam, but quite seriously just foam. If that didn’t satisfy what the beer looked like – look at the picture.
Smell – Hazelnut, obviously. But this beer succeeds where other beers fail. The hazelnut has that creamy, toasted smell but it’s not so overwhelming that there are not other qualities present. If you give it a little time the caramel and even some peppery notes start to pop up. This is an improvement because most of these powerfully flavored beers are so one-note that they become disappointing halfway through the bottle.
Taste – Smell is like 75% of taste. So if you make a hazelnut-flavored beer with hazelnut extract at bottling you get a beer that is 175% hazelnut. Trying to pack 175% of hazelnut into 100% of beer makes for a mess of flavor. What Gary did was focus on creating a great brown ale instead of a great hazelnut-brown ale. I appreciate this because he included bold caramel malts that create a solid backbone that caries the beer. Though the beer is pretty sweet, there are enough IBUs to give it the right amount of earthy spices. The hazelnut is on the front, then malts, and finishes with hops. I enjoy this, while others may not, because it cleanses the palate and doesn’t leave you feeling like you just drank a dessert.
Mouthfeel – This is where this beer separates itself from other hazelnut brown beers. This is a very light drinking, nicely carbonated beer. It’s crisp and bright which is unlike the creamy, heavy feels of other hazelnut beers. It makes a huge difference because, just like the hops, the carbonation and light body take the hazelnut flavor down a few notches.
I’ve got a few bottles of this beer left and I’m going to hang onto them until the leaves start to change and I can start up a fire pit. Like I said, the situation is important when you drink a beer, but sometimes, the beer creates the situation. Gary succeeded in making a beer that has as much situation as it does flavor. Get your hands on one of these bottles because they are going fast. But if you can’t, don’t worry, there’s another beer on the way from Vigilante and it is certainly not lacking in personality.