Brewery: Russian River Brewing Company; Sierra Nevada Brewing Company; Monk’s Belgian Cafe and Beer Emporium
Place of Purchase: Monk’s Belgian Cafe and Beer Emporium
OK, some things you have to know here, first. Monk’s Belgian cafe in Philadelphia, PA at 16th and Spruce Streets…if you are a beer lover and you ever visit Philly, you MUST go here. The beer list alone is about 7 and a half pages long. 9 pages if you count the weekly specials. I know of only one beer list in the city that is longer and that’s Eulogy and they only beat Monk’s out by 1 page. Monk’s is run by beer lovers. They are awesome people and not only do they have great beer, they have great food too! Very worth your while.
This particular Philly Beer Week beer was made specifically for Philly Beer Week. Something like 12 or 13 people from Philly were in on this. A couple of those people were Tom and Fergie from Monk’s. This beer was brewed by a collaboration of those Philadelphians and the brewmasters and brewers of Sierra Nevada and Russian River in Chico, California specifically for Philly Beer Week 2012. That’s a hell of a back story for a pint! But my God did they make a brew! It was divine! So this is going to be a novel and I pity those of you who could not partake. This was like God’s own beer! Heaven in a glass! And you poor schlubs missed it.
Anyway, on to the beer! First off, this is a porter. So it’s hearty and complex to begin with but it’s light in body for a porter, like a Guinness stout. It’s a porter but brewed in the style of a Lambic so there is a funky, sour taste to this brew due to the use of Brettanomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus strains of yeast. There is another sour layer that comes from this brew being aged in Pinot Noir casks from DuMol. So that’s what’s different about this brew.
The nose is fruity and sour. Like a Belgian sour ale which is usually done in the Lambic style as well. It’s not a bad fruity or sour, though. It reminds me of a good bleu cheese, like a Roquefort or even gorgonzola. It’s interesting and intriguing and you can honestly get a snoot full of these aromas and pick up hints of something different each time. The nose changes as the brew warms too. More flowery aromas start coming out. This is especially prevalent if you take a sip and let it warm in your mouth for a moment. It will bask your sinuses in a bevy of aromas from the flowery and fruity to the sour and tangy and it changes each second it stays there. What’s surprising is that there is only a hint of that fruitiness of the Pinot Noir.
The mouth is even more complex. This is a fairly light beer as porters go but it’s really a medium body on the lighter end of that medium spectrum. It has that smokey, peaty taste that you expect from a porter. There is a definitive chocolate flavor there too but it’s not sweet. More like a dark chocolate or a bakers chocolate. There is a strong hoppy flavor to it as well. I can only imagine the number of different hops used to get this bouquet but from the bitter and fruity hints in the nose to the bite and bitter flavors in the mouth, there are more hops to try to identify than I can shake a stick at! It’s balanced though. Very well too. No one hop flavor is over powering and they compliment each other and the malts at each stage. However, that Pinot Noir, it really comes out in the mouth. Especially as the beer warms. It brings with it its own set of flavors and aromas. However, while Pinot Noir is usually sweet and bold with definitive tastes of cherry and other berries with hints of currant, you don’t get that here. It’s not sweet at all. The tart currant flavors and the earthy oak from the aging barrels are front and center. Which is good because the cherry and berry flavors would probably be off-putting in this brew and make it seem like a cough syrup. That Pinot Noir though, with it’s own aromas and flavors just deepens this flavor profile, to use some buzz words. It’s complimented well by the Lambic yeast sourness and bitterness.
The aftertaste is a treat in and of itself too! There is a definitive hoppy citrus to it and that earthy, currant from the Pinot Noir barrels comes through as well. The chocolate from the malt is there too. It’s not very sour at all but smokey, bitter and slightly sweet. So with all the Pinot Noir and the aromas from the various Lambic style yeasts, it still finishes like a porter.
There was alot of thought, effort and time that went in to this brew. The Lambic styles, because of the way they are fermented, can fail miserably and ruin the brew. Since this was made in Chico, California, I doubt that the same strains found in the Seine valley are there as well so the yeasts and bacteria are likely from cultures and added as a brewer would for other brews. There is still a roll of the dice though because certain strains found in Lambic styles and wine making can be “killer yeasts” which essentially kill the yeasts we want and sour an end product with off-flavors and very bitter compounds. So basically, there was a good deal of brewing skill that went in to this as well.
Overall, this is a beer that needs to be experienced. I can write a novel about it and still not do it justice. The thing is, everyone should try a beer like this if not this beer. Craft brewing has come a long way and as I’ve said in other reviews, craft brewers can get goofy with what they are doing. This isn’t goofy at all. This is a shining example of what a dedicated, knowledgeable and talented brewmaster can accomplish. This is a porter like none I have ever had. This is a reference example of a craft brew.
See, the thing is, there are many people out there that view beer as a plebeian beverage. They doubt that it can have a pedigree and reach a complexity and maturity of the product that would make it a fine beverage fit for a king. Wine is usually reserved for that distinction. This Exportation from this collaboration of brewers thumbs it’s nose at those elitists. This is a fine beer. It uses the discarded vessels of a fine wine to get there but you know what? Those fine, single malt scotches that everyone raves about from Scotland? A large majority of them use discarded American white oak whiskey barrels for the aging process. More than a few scotches that are heinously expensive and regarded as the pinnacle of aged, distilled spirits owe a portion of their unique flavor profiles to that most looked down upon spirit, American whiskey. So if a fine scotch can get it’s distinction by riding on the backs of such a plebeian spirit as American whiskey, why can’t a beer improve upon it’s flavor distinction by exploiting the discards of a fine wine?
That’s the point here. This is different. This is thinking outside the box. This challenges everything you know about beer and takes it by the collar and tells you to wake up! Look what you’re missing! Look where this is going! I’m not a beer snob by any means. I’ll try anything once. Some I don’t like, some I do. It’s a matter of taste and everyone’s is different. This particular beer though, it’s a pinnacle of craft brewing. This is a culmination of everything that brewers know about beer and it takes the best of it and puts it all together. The end result is indescribable. It is an experience that words cannot put in to perspective.
Like a fine wine or a fine scotch, this Exportation from the collaboration of so many people is a fine beer. Furthermore, this is a beer by which others can be and probably should be compared.