Lately, it seems like the craft beer world might well be centered in Texas. I have no doubt that there are other states whose breadth and depth of craft brews rivals, and even surpasses, the Lone Star State, but it seems as if every time I turn around, there's a newTexas brewery doing cool things. My fridge currently holds fantastic beer from nine different Texas breweries, and there will be more when I get a growler.
So it was with some excitement that I picked up a bottle of Scratchin' Hippo the other day. I'd heard a few things about Adelbert's - authentic Belgian style beers, bottle conditioning, propagation of local yeasts - that had me hopeful that the Austin upstart would be another entry in the growing list of quality Texas beer. While I'm by no means convinced that this isn't the case, I must admit a bit of disappointment with Scratchin' Hippo.
Corked and caged, the beer breaks a bit with tradition, adding three twists to the customary six required to get at most similarly closed bottles. A silly thing to point out? Maybe, but it struck me as interesting. Once you get past those three extraneous twists, The Hippo pours a hazy chestnut color, with a tall, fluffy, off-white head. Sticking around for a while, the foam takes on an interesting topography as it settles in, almost undulating into hills and valleys as the rather active carbonation below enacts a boozy kind of tectonics.
I was expecting mostly malt, but the nose met me with mostly floral and herbal notes. Roses, lovage, and a yeasty spice predominate, with only a moderately roasty malt character showing through. There's a little bit of funk, and a little bit of fruit that I can't pin down between raisin and peach, oddly. Citrus reminiscent of Meyer Lemon peel. Those herb/floral/spice elements almost come across like potpourri, but, thankfully, not quite.
On first sip, The Hippo seems much the same in the mouth, though it is somewhat dominated by booze, surprising for a beer clocking only 6.9 percent. The malt comes out more, with a bit of a crackery flavor. A slight metallic edge combines with the almost tart carbonation and the thin texture to make the beer come across as oddly weak and watery, despite its surprisingly boozy punch. Finally, right at the end, a nice bit of toffee.
Twenty minutes in, I was feeling a bit better about The Hippo. You really, really need to let this one warm to get much out of it. As the chill fades, so does the booze, taking that nickel-edge with it. The malt comes out to play, with more toffee and plum, retaining that slightly crumbly, butter-less shortbread quality. More fruits and some coffee notes emerge.
I will say that The Hippo stands up well to rich, spicy foods, matched well against my solo T.V. dinner of mattar panneer and chana masala. The strongly flavored food actually seems to coax more flavor from the beer. Usually, I find just the opposite to be true, with timid beers being easily overwhelmed by assertive food. Here, the hearty fare seems to coax sweeter, fruitier elements from the beer. It still feels kind of thin and prickly, possibly the result of so much carbonation, but it does take on more character.
Scratchin' Hippo is a Belgian interpretation of Bier de Garde, a traditional French brew intended for aging, to be consumed during the warmer months, during which beer was not brewed. It's a style whose original character is somewhat lost to history, but perhaps this one stays close to its roots, and needs a bit more time to come into its own. I'm not sure that I'm interested enough to stash a bottle away to see, but would love to hear what happens if someone else does.
All in all, it was a perfectly fine beer, though nothing particularly special. I was certainly hoping for more. I'm still holding out hope that other Adelbert's offerings stand up to the hype. It'd be nice to add a tenth selection to my fridge.
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