When Tricky Beers Work Well
All About Beer Magazine - Volume , IssueOctober 16, 2009
I got a great invite from Ryan, the local New Belgium guy, to preview Fall Wild Ale, a new release from Colorado's New Belgium Brewery. He was debuting this beer at an unheralded beer bar, Broad St. Cafe, here in Durham. I went expecting something interesting, exciting, edgy -- like so many of the specialty beers from NBB. I came away with a deeper understanding of my new favorite subject, balance. You see, the promotional material described a tricked-out beer, which I'm beginning to shy away from as a rule. Fall Wild Ale uses Trappist yeast, a touch of Brett and a rare berry called Schisandra. When I encounter this level of complexity, I'm reminded of a local restaurant that always adds just one too many ingredients to its dishes, becoming a recurring family joke. However, I should have had more faith in Peter Bouckaert and the beer's designer, Alex Dwoinen. First, this is a truly mahogany beer, which is a wonderful beginning to meeting a new beer. Although it was served in a stock bar glass, and not one of NBB's signature glasses, the beer looked gorgeous. It threw off a particularly herbal nose, with a lot of unnamed spices. However, the flavor drove the portrait of the beer. The Trappist yeast funk was dialed back, as was the sourness of the Brett. Instead, out came complex spiciness that didn't hit one singular note: no cinnamon, no clove, nothing that dominates this holiday season. I'm at a loss to come up with a list of nouns for you. With every sip I became more attracted to the balance of flavors, this co-mingling of different sour, herbal, spicy notes, not to mention the hint of alcohol burn and the toasted malt needed to get it up to 8.5%. As for the schisandra berry, that's supposed to deliver five flavors at once, which may be the key to the balance. I kept wondering about umami, this new flavor description that Randy Mosher writes about. From my flimsy grasp on the concept -- and Ryan and I checked it out on Wikepedia with my Blackberry -- Fall Wild Ale could express that sensation along with many others. I held on to my pint, taking my time, to see what changes in temperature would do to the balance, and it held up extremely well. This beer really expresses the phrase "brewers' art." I'm just sorry my language doesn't fill in the blanks for you. The beer fills your mouth: rich, complex, and without any bumps, edges, or I-wish-that-wasn't-theres. I may go back with my NBB stemware and have another shot at the Fall Wild Ale in appropriate glassware. I'll bet I think it tastes better that way -- emphasis on "think."