“They’re not drinks you really want to go out and pound. . .unless you’re really stupid.” – Tony Forder, editor, Ale Street News
FORDER WAS referring to the selection of heavy-duty alcohol at the World’s Strongest Beers tasting at Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant a few nights back.
The event featured 10 beers, most more than 15 percent alcohol. (Bud goes about 4 percent.)
But he could just as easily have been talking about the body count during an array of the KitchenAid The Book and the Cook events that turned the city into a fountain of high-proof brew.
Whether it was the menu of exotic Belgians at Monk’s annual Michael Jackson dinner, or the bone-crushing barleywines at Beer Philadelphia’s Split Thy Skull fest, the strong stuff was pouring like battery acid at a 2nd Street chop shop.
In other words, Joe Sixpack got stoopid!
But I had company.
More than 300 people showed up last Saturday for Split Thy Skull at Sugar Mom’s.
About 1,500 sucked the kegs dry at Jackson’s tutored tasting at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
And both Monk’s and Nodding Head were SRO.
The World’s Strongest Beers tasting attracted the fringe cases – hops heads, for example, who are patient enough to wait a decade to actually enjoy a bottle of brew.
That’s the ETA on Samuel Adams Utopias, which, at 24 percent alcohol (that’s right, 48 proof, equal to schnapps), is the reigning bad boy. At $100 a bottle, it’s properly consumed by the thimble-full.
You could drink it now, but its brewer, Grant Wood, warns, “It could use another 10 or 12 years before it’s ready.”
Most of these heavyweights are turbocharged with maple syrup or molasses, fermented with champagne yeast, then aged in whiskey barrels. Dogfish Head’s Raison d’Extra (20 percent) is a freaked version of Raison d’Etre with beet sugars.
“We looked at our mutated strain of yeast in a microscope and discovered the stuff was wearing leather and spandex with teeny, tiny whips and chains,” Dogfish’s Sam Calagione joked. “This yeast was doing horrible stuff to the fermentable sugars. . .Of course, I’m no scientist.”
Which makes the high-alcohol achievement all the more remarkable.
Unlike the hacks who make malternatives, the brewers at Samuel Adams and Dogfish Head are not merely dumping ethyl alcohol into their tanks. Instead, they make beer the old-fashioned way: with yeast strains that convert sugar into alcohol. Yeast usually dies when alcohol reaches the 15 percent range, so the 20 percent realm is Everest.
For my taste, though, the better stuff is in the 10-15 percent range. There, brewers have a better shot at balancing high alcohol with a full malt flavor. In this range, you can actually smell the hops.
At Heavyweight Brewing in Ocean Township, N.J., brewer Tom Baker pushed his Old Salty barleywine a couple notches by freezing it. Then, like ice beer, the slush was skimmed off and the remains were bottled.
Baker called it Cold Salty.
“I figure we added about 2 percent,” he told me at Split Thy Skull. It registered a smooth 13 percent and, yes, you could taste and breathe in its Challenger hops. To Samuel Adams brewer Wood, high-alcohol concoctions are “nothing short of a miracle.”
OK, his gourd was bruised with a bit of one of his other strong ales – the 20 percent Sam Adams Millennium – but his point is, “you go into it worried that you’ll end up with a cross between an [India Pale Ale] and airplane glue. .. Instead, I think we’ve got ourselves a true bit of history.”
Reading’s sadly departed Neversink Brewery is back on line with new owners and a new name, Fancy Pants. Its brews are starting to pop up around Philly joints, including Standard Tap (2nd and Poplar streets, Northern Liberties). Look for four styles, including a pale ale called IPO, which is the brewery’s flagship; Mudskipper Porter; Classic Half & Half (a blend of the porter and IPO) and Orion Strong Ale, a spiced 8 percenter. . .April 13 is the opening of trout season in Pennsylvania. It’s also the opening of stout season at the Grey Lodge (6235 Frankford Ave., Mayfair). Drink each of the bar’s 13 featured stouts over the next 13 weeks, and get a free T-shirt. . .
You say you’re a big-time beer drinker, but your supermodel girlfriend insists on posing at trendy nightspots? Pull on your black T-shirt and head over to Trust (13th and Sansom streets, Center City). She won’t be embarrassed to be seen amid all that stylish stainless steel trim, and you won’t be disappointed by the state-of-the-art, multi-tap system. Victory and Ayinger were pouring earlier this week. . .Another Irish bar is coming town. This one’s at 16th and Arch streets and will be called Tir na nOg, a name that evidently can be properly pronounced only upon sucking down a pint from each of its 23 taps. . .
Minor league ballparks are the place for craft brew. Iron Hill brewery’s Raspberry Wheat is on tap this year at Wilmington Blue Rocks ballgames. Flying Fish is pouring in Camden, Atlantic City, Lakewood and Somerset. The Vet? Flying Fish is there this season, too. . .
Located in manure-enriched Chester County, Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery (Pikeland Village Square, Phoenixville) is the kind of place where air is strong and the locals rub elbows with livestock. In the spirit of the season, brewer Brian O’Reilly is asking his customers to bring their farm animals for the pub’s first annual Bock Festival and Goat Race on April 21. Winner gets its name on Sly Fox’s newly brewed Maibock. Info: 610-935-4540.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of De Proef Flemish Primitive.