Brew Blog: Southern Star Le Mort Vivant

We have a grand Christmas tradition in my house, one that's gone on for as long as we've had kids. Every Christmas Eve, after the kids are in bed, my wife and I wrap presents. It's a tradition forged out of a combination of laziness and pragmatism. Sure, we could have wrapped a few here and there for the weeks leading up to Christmas Day, but we find few times when the kids are not underfoot, liable to surprise us in the middle of putting a bow on a cabbage patch doll or some such. Besides, it feels a bit more efficient to do all the wrapping at once; you kind of get in a groove about five presents in, and it just seems to go more quickly.

We make the best of it by drinking. We chat about the year past, and the one impending; we place bets over which presents each kid will like best and which relative is going to start the fight this year; we get quietly, pleasantly intoxicated. You can probably chart a time-line of our wrapping by the decreased attention to detail, the last few presents of the night bound in crumpled tissue, a mile of tangled, ungainly tape wrapped haphazardly about it, like a hobo-sack. Over the years, we've learned the importance of having two pairs of scissors. I'll let you interpret that as you will.

This year, I deviated from tradition just a bit. Usually, we uncork a bottle of something French and sparkly. Earlier that day, I'd stumbled upon a tower of Le Mort Vivant at Whole Foods, and that stood in nicely as our traditional tipple.

Le Mort Vivant pours a vibrant copper color, producing a thin, sudsy cap, which recedes quickly, leaving no trace. The body of the beer is very hazy, almost fuzzy-looking, with moderate carbonation. A little bit of sediment settles at the bottom of the glass.

The aroma is light and clean, offering a host of toast and biscuit aromas. A hint of apricot perks things up a bit, and I kept struggling with whether or not I noticed a whiff of butter. If you inhale long and deep, there's the slightest hint of yeasty funk, like dry yeast before the bloom.

While the beer manifests subtly in the nose, it comes on much richer in the mouth, almost unexpectedly so. Butter toffee and caramel are predominant, offering a vividly rounded sweetness. There's a hint of spice and citrus peel keeping the malty flavors perky, and that crisp toast flavor comes back mid-palate. Pear and whole wheat pasta round things out before a slight bitterness, measured and purposeful, washes the palate clean.

As it warms, a dusky graininess comes out. It's kind of like toasted oats, oddly reminiscent of Cheerios, but in a pleasant way. There's also a gentle nuttiness, cashew-like and buttery.

This is not a big, overbearing beer. It is, in fact, quite subtle. While there's a lot going on, you have to dig for it a little bit. Otherwise, it's just a very smooth, very mild, very drinkable beer. Depending on your palate and your purposes, you might find comfort in both aspects. For me, as a pleasant diversion from and accompaniment to the festive task at hand, it played both parts. Merry and easygoing while I was hard at work wrapping some particularly irregular polygon of a present, showing a bit more substance when a simple book afforded me more attention to the details (of the beer, of course).

I can see this beer earning a regular spot in my rotation, if not for its seasonal status. Perhaps, as is traditional for the Bier de Garde style in which this beer is made, I'll put some away for later. I'd be very curious to see how this mild, subtle, elegant brew does with a bit of age on it. Maybe next year's Christmas Eve wrapping will feature a side by side. I'll have to see if I can convince my wife to wrap all the presents, so I can focus on what's important.

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