Enough with These Confounded Closures! Gavroche French Red Ale

I have no idea why Gavroche is sealed the way it is. A tiny, tiny cork is inserted in the bottle, with only a fraction of an inch protruding from its rounded lip. Then, as if that weren't enough, it is pinched in place by a piece of hardware that seems better suited to stapling upholstery than protecting beer. Topping that is a zip-stripped plastic wrapping. Why?

Something about the setup still has me somewhat convinced that I'm missing something. Perhaps it's meant to be a swing-top affair, with a quick bit of leverage bringing the cork and bracket off in one completely un-frustrating piece. I fiddled around with it for far longer than I'd care to admit before giving up in impotent frustration, resorting to brute force.

After prying loose the vice-like grip of the metal bracket with a vice-grip, I turned my attention to the indented cork. Its soft composition proved an additional hindrance, making it difficult to get a decent hold on it. Pushing and prodding with thumbs served only to squish it around, as if someone had stoppered this beer with the dismembered limbs of a Stretch Armstrong doll.

I honestly don't know how the brewer expects you to open this. Maybe I'm a weakling or have a less than typical understanding of basic physics, but I resorted to a wine key. I was not injured. Your mileage may vary.

Gavroche pours out a dark, dark reddish-brown. It's crystal clear, with extremely vibrant carbonation. That carbonation produces a pixelated taupe head, both firm and rocky, with decent staying power and nice lacing.

There's a light, dry caramel aroma right up front. A bit of fruit (mostly grapes) shows up in back. It's slightly toasty, and just a little earthy. Some herbal stuff is at play which I can't quite place, and some sort of chicory/mustardy/vegetal components.

The flavor follows suit, with lots of dry caramel and a slightly winey undercurrent coming on strong out of the bottle. A nice big dose of bittering hops, with no trace of citrus or grassy character, undercuts everything early on. It's big, boozy and surprisingly balanced.

The texture is a bit chewier than expected, given all that carbonation, giving the beer a mouth-coating character. A hint of earth comes through in the swallow, like the smell of dirt after a rain. Complementing that is a hint of spice, sort of like za'atar. In the finish, there's a slightly dank character, like unearthing a piece of timber partly buried, where the eaters of the dead have half completed their work. A woody undercurrent reinforces that, flashing me back to the discovery of a garden in my backyard, long abandoned to the weeds. Its wooden framing now more a part of the earth it once restrained, the intricate pathways and planters reminders of how very fleeting human efforts are in the face of nature's patient insistence. A sweet and thick thrum of honey helps that somber medicine go down, vibrating brightly up your throat after you swallow.

A malty sweetness comes out as it warms, and the mustiness fades a bit. The spice notes come out, too, while the bitterness fades slightly.

For its size, it's not bullying. It's like the Andre the Giant of beers. You know it could crush you, but you also wouldn't be surprised if it nursed you back to health in the Thieves Forest, right before it rustled up a few pretty ponies for your escape from storming the castle. Put that in your MLT, Billy Crystal, and put Gavroche in your glass.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall