We here over at Brew Blog (just me, really) thought it might be nice to spread a little bit of holiday cheer this week. Sure, I could just review another winter-themed beer, but I thought our time would be better served with a little story about the Spirit of Christmas. I'm talking peace on Earth, good will toward men, a spirit of generosity and giving. And, of course, beer.
About a week ago, I was strolling through one of my local groceries (name omitted to protect the generous), trailing behind my wife and teenage niece as they dumped half of the Christmas candy aisle in our cart. "Stocking stuffers!" my wife explained, catching my (possibly more than) slight scowl as she added another box of Queen Anne Cherries to the growing pile. I was not happy about this situation.
For those of you who don't know me, I suppose it would be fair to say that I can be occasionally Grinch-like. Not full-blown, Who-hating-caliber Grinch, mind you, just a mild sort of cantankerousness that hinges around the desire not to go into debt each December. I recognize that I get too uptight about it, but that's just the way I'm put together. And that's where the beer comes in.
I'd momentarily brightened when I found a few as-yet-untried bottles in the beer aisle, to which I had retreated while the girls had their fun. I've grown quite fond of Boulevard's Smokestack Series, and hadn't yet had the opportunity to try either Nommo or Harvest Dance Wheat Wine. I grabbed a bottle of each, rejoined the girls, and tried to steer them past the display of plush Angry Birds ("but the kids would love them!") and toward the checkout.
Once there, my beer refused to scan. A supervisor was called, the SKU checked, and the beer re-scanned. No dice. A few minutes of searching, scanning, typing, and line-building commenced, and still the beer refused to scan. "I think that means it's free," I quipped, joking. The supervisor shrugged, pushed the bottles onto the conveyor (bypassing the scanner altogether this time) and walked off. The cashier called after her, questioningly, but I knew what had just happened. "Have a Merry Christmas!" grinned the supervisor, settling the matter.
That's right, I was gifted with two bottles of fairly expensive beer, by a grocery store. Call it laziness or pragmatism if you want, you Grinch. I'm calling it a Christmas Miracle. My evening suddenly a little brighter, I fairly skipped out to the car, pushing a shopping cart fairly brimming with Christmas geegaws that had, only moments ago, raised my blood pressure on sight. Santa Claus himself couldn't have done better.
I was so pleased with my luck that I didn't even mind that the beer I opened that night, while certainly good, wasn't as special as I'd hoped. I opened the Nommo back at my mother-in-law's house, where the family had gathered for the evening. I poured it into a wide-mouthed mug, the closest I could come to a proper goblet, so it was hard to really get a feel for the beer's appearance. It seemed a lightish brown, with a decent head that quickly faded to a puffy cap.
Black pepper comes on up front in the aroma, pronounced and yet subtle. Raisins and concord grapes follow. A little bit of almond and some clove bring up the rear. The grape aroma took me a while to place, but it was unmistakable once I figured it out. Laffy Taffy. Weird.
A surprising tartness (I'm guessing carbonic acid) paired with more raisin/grape flavors leads on the palate. A dark, malty backbone with notes of coffee, brown bread, and caramelized banana keeps things balanced, along with a molasses richness. The Belgian yeasts reassert the banana, adding touches of clove and spice. Just a hint of alcohol heats the mouth, while the sprightly carbonation prickles the tongue. The overall impression is of a light, earthy sweetness, not entirely unlike the smell of manure, but in a good way, with dark fruit and that odd grape Laffy Taffy taste layered across it.
The spices drop out as it warms, oddly, taken over by midrange dark fruits and coffee malts, and the booze comes out a bit more. It seems kind of thin, with a metallic back edge. A whisper of breathy cinnamon reasserts the spices at the finish. If you really wait, say a good 45 minutes, the depth of the molasses really shines through, reinserting some interest. It brings a bit of woody flavor with it, spicy and almost cedar-like in character.
Don't get me wrong, this is a very good beer. I'd heard so many glowing things about this one, though, that I'd expected to be blown away. It definitely improved as it warmed, seeming to bloom forth new flavors almost as if convection currents were carrying them upward from the warmth of my cupping hands. Either way, my spirits were lifted. How much of that was due to my Christmas Miracle, and how much to the 8 percent-plus ABV, I'll leave to you to decide.
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