Shaping a tasting theme around a holiday is always a fun challenge. Each holiday has different associations with it, some of which are more or less conducive to curating a line-up. Halloween’s easy: chocolate, evil. We covered that last October – AND the previous October. This past November was our first “Thanksgiving”-themed tasting, centered around different food stuffs in beer. There hadn’t been a Valentine-themed Top Shelf Thursday in a couple years, & then we covered chocolate & wine, in the various ways it presents in beer (wine hybrids, wine barrel-aged, barleywine). Figured it was about time to recycle the Valentine’s theme, but since Halloween was not long ago, decided to push other aspects unique to Valentine’s Day – wine again, but also flowers, & love. With a small group of beer lovers in attendance, we were all set for a magical evening.
The first in our bouquet of beers for the evening was also one of the few gruits we’ve featured at Top Shelf Thursday: Fraoch Heather Ale from Scotland’s Williams Brothers Brewing. Based on a recipe millennia old, this ale was low on the hopping, seasoned instead with heather & bogmyrtle, another flowering shrub, & ginger, coming across dry & herbal with a definite ginger twist.
Lost Abbey’s Devotion Ale fit in name, though the devotion referenced is more of the monastic spirit. A tribute to beers made by Belgium’s hop field-adjacent abbeys, this pale ale struck a nice balance between Belgian esters & a bright, floral character.
We just got in AleSmith’s My Bloody Valentine less than a week ago, so I couldn’t NOT throw it into the flight, right? A cousin of Evil Dead Red, this west coast amber ale had prominent piney hop notes, supported nicely by a malt profile that brought subtle dark chocolate & caramel flavors.
Hops are the female flowers of the eponymous plant, so I’d feel remiss if there weren’t a couple IPAs in the mix (plus I just wanted to try these). Hardywood Park’s RVA IPA had a restrained bitterness & hop character for an IPA that said “east coast” from top to bottom. Only fitting – the hops for this beer were sourced from the community, grown by Virginia home hop-growers in their own gardens!
And Stone & Smuttynose joined forces to resurrect the recipe for the original Ballantine IPA, from shortly after Prohibition (WAY before IPAs were all the rage). Using maize & some old school hop varieties like Cluster & Bullion, Cluster’s Last Stand was a cool look at what the granddaddy of modern IPAs might’ve tasted like.
The remainder of the night was spent in wine territory of one stripe or another, starting with Allagash’s Interlude. A Belgian strong with a secondary fermentation by brettanomyces & aged in red wine barrels, this definitely satisfied our sour-&-funky pangs for the evening. And we dug into another collaboration with Terra Incognita (get it – dug?), from Sierra Nevada & Boulevard. The third iteration of a beer originally brewed for the SAVOR festival, this was quite a mélange, with a portion of dry-hopped young, blended with ales aged in wine & bourbon barrels. I believe there was some estate-grown pale malt & a wild yeast in there as well, but the result was a well-rounded, malty beer, somewhere between a weizenbock & a barleywine, with a nicely tempered bourbon edge.
We hit the slopes with a pair of barleywines next, first with the Quebecois Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! Their American-style barleywine, Solstice d’Hiver, had developed some wintergreen notes from the roughly half-year the brewery ages it prior to release. Uinta’s Cock-Eyed Cooper, aged in bourbon barrels, was sturdy & robust enough to stand up to the wood. The group concensus was that both of these could have used a bit more age to mellow out the alcohol heat – good candidates for cellaring!
And we landed on some very solid ground with Not the Stoic, a Belgian-style quad from Deschutes with a fraction aged in pinot noir & rye whiskey barrels. Fans of Belgian quads found this one just right, not too sweet, & sporting both pinot & rye notes very well.
Thanks to all who enjoyed a most romantic Top Shelf Thursday. Here’s hoping that you spent Valentine’s Day with that special someone, even if that someone is a glass of great beer. See you in March!