Years ago I read that the Native Americans could not see Christopher Columbus’ ships as they approached the mainland. The concept being that our minds cannot interpret things that are beyond our experiences and immediate understanding. As interesting as that is, and as pregnant with metaphor as it may seem, that’s a load of bullshit.
The Indians had the same sense sight and abilities of perception that you and I enjoy. They could, of course, see the ships, but they may not have understood them to be ships as these mammoth vessels, with huge sails, had little in common with the canoes they used. They could be seen, but when you walk that close to survival on a daily basis the things that are not immediate threats or sources of food just get ignored. But surely there is something more to life than that.
But I digress.
The Avery Brabant is the 1st in their barrel-aged series of beers. It is classified as a dark, wild ale aged in zinfandel barrels for 8 months. It was fermented with two strains of wild yeast, otherwise known as brettanomyces, and only 694 cases of this were made and bottled on February 10th, 2009
For those of you not familiar with the world of sour beers, this one is probably not the starting place. These naturally occurring wild yeasts ferment sugars down more completely than normal beer yeasts, but at a slower pace. Lactic acid producing bacteria like lactobacillus and pediococcus are often used in conjunction with the brettanomyces, as well. The flavor compounds and aromas that they create are usually an acquired taste. It is common to hear that these beers have a “barnyard character”, and my personal favorite descriptor is “horse blanket”.
Still with me? Good, because this one has lots of horse blanket. I might goes as far as calling it more of a sweaty horse blanket. You sourheads know what I am talking about, and the rest of you can read on while you wait for your reverse hysteria to recede.
This one pours a thin, black color, like Coca-Cola. I poured it vigorously into a large brandy snifter and it went fizzy as the head dissipated until it was a thin line of bubbles around the edge of the glass.
The immediate smell was overwhelmingly horse blanket and vinegar. After a time, a tiny hint of wood snuck in with some vanilla in its back pocket, but it was hard to pick it up above the horse blanket which was getting a little chaffed and agitated.
The first sip was just like the aroma, but slightly milder. I took this bottle out of the refrigerator and let it sit on the counter for about 20 minutes before I opened it, and it still seems at bit blunted by coldness. There was alcohol warming right from the first taste which was a little surprising since this is a big beer, at 8.65% alcohol by volume, but not THAT big.
The more that this warmed up, the more it took on the character of wood and wine. It seemed to thicken, and there were notes of plum and blackberry. It became slightly acrid, and it had that absorbing wood dryness.
Overall, this is a good beer that will probably be amazing in a few years. It is still young, and it needs to be aged so that the harshness of the sour character diminishes and the background flavors bubble up to the surface. I have another bottle of this and I look forward to reviewing it in, perhaps, 2011. But do I have the patience?
If you have never tried a sour beer, I really encourage you to do so. These usually are not love at first site beers, and I would suggest starting with an Orval before a Monk’s Café or a Rodenbach Grand Cru.
I know that if I had the Brabant a few years ago, I probably would have poured it out. It would have been way beyond what I would have expected a beer should be and, frankly, too much of a challenge. If you feel that way right now, I get that. Sometimes I don’t want to work too hard on a beer either.
But if you see the sails of a sour beer come over the horizon, give it a try. If you don’t like it, then put it down but don’t give up there. Try it again in a year or so, because there is something more interesting than the beers you know.