TEXT: The Jesuit
At the behest of the always enterprising Greasylightbulb, it was agreed that the Thirsty Boys’ July tasting would be held at Stately Lightbulb Manor (or as our genial host prefers, The Boathouse Wharewaka) on the windswept (not to mention rainswept) Southern Coast.
The theme of the evening was to be the beers of Allagash Brewing of Portland, Maine. This brewery founded in 1995 specialises in providing a distinctly American twist on traditional Belgian styles. By all accounts, Allagash is deeply engaged with its local community, supporting numerous heritage projects and modelling principles of environmental sustainability.
Geographical and Ethnographic Note:
The brewery is named for the AllagashRiver, a branch of the Saint John River that forms the boundary between the state of Maine and Québec. The word ‘Allagash’ appears to derived from the language of the Penobscot Indians and means ‘bark stream’. By and large, the foregoing falls into the category of useless information but will please Malice as it shows evidence of research.
In order to economise on transportation costs, a few of the Thirsties gathered in the Saint Ignatius Loyola Lounge (also known as the Jesuit’s living room) to share a bottle of Hallertau’s full bodied and lately newsworthy Porter Noir. The 750 ml bottle divided quite happily among Mr. Horse, Malice, the Distinguished Visiting Fellow, and the Jesuit.
We’d sampled this one before at any extremely boozy tasting organised by Scotty B. before he left The Malthouse for literally greener pastures. It’s full-bodied, a little fruity but not aggressively so, and went down a little too easily given that we were soon to move on to even stronger stuff. Man Points were not assigned because we are lackadaisical but if you put a gun to my head, I’d give it a 7.0.
The Main Event
Eventually, armed with a supply of vegetarian treats (to respect Greasylightbulb’s eccentric dietary habits), the four of us embarked upon the arduous taxi ride to that outer bastion of civilisation, Island Bay.
The first cab off the rank was Victoria Ale 2009, a 9% ABV Belgian strong ale brewed with white grapes. As it turned out, a lot of Allagash beers have a distinct vinous quality.
This is what we thought:
A golden colour, reminiscent of a spätlese desert wine. (The Jesuit)
Smells slightly acetone-y (Distinguished Visiting Fellow)
Has a Pimms-ness about it… a white winey Pimms (Greasylightbulb)
This does smell like a Guthrie Bowron paint store (Malice)
Grassy, coriander, a bit of orange (Gingerbeardyman (in showing off mode)
Impressive looking vessels, really artisanal bottle (Mr Horse)
Not convinced by the wine and beer mixing; the grape and the hop (Mr Horse)
The consensus on this one was that the infusion of Chardonnay grapes into the mash was, if anything, gilding the lily. Belgian yeasts are what they are.
Man Points 6.5
Next up, and an interesting basis for comparison was the Victor Ale again from 2009 and weighing in at a hefty 9.0 ABV, but this time featuring Cabernet Franc grapes rather than Chardonnay. What did the panel think?
We have stumbled across the rich ladies’ version of beer
Smells like Parma violets (Greasylightbulb)
Smells like purple grape juice you give to kids (Distinguished Visiting Fellow)
Big but not obviously boozy, again has a botrytised quality (The Jesuit)
A port(like) sweetness (Gingerbeardyman)
Slightly syrupy, slightly off (Mr. Horse)
Full disclosure: I liked this one rather more than did the other Thirsty Boys but once again, the vinous qualities of the beer failed to appeal.
Man Points 4.0
The next beer we’d encountered before, at the end of a memorable bar crawl organised by Mr. Horse, and the occasion upon which we met Dan Hargreaves – of Raise1Glass and LBQ fame – when he was still at the Taphaus. Emboldened by earlier boozy adventures, we shared a bottle of Fluxus, the net result of which was temporary but highly noticeable impairment of my internal gyroscope, i.e. inability to walk a straight line.
On this occasion, perhaps buoyed by Gingerbeardyman’s homemade sourdough with haloumi, the effects of the demon Fluxus (2009, 8.3% ABV) were somewhat less deleterious to my ambulatory capacity.
The beer is a Saison brewed with sweet potato and black pepper and was far more warmly received than its predecessors.
The nose is all saison, isn’t it? (Gingerbeardyman)
A little waxiness from the sweet potato…? (Gingerbeardyman)
It’s spritzy, peppery. A little boozier than you’d think (The Jesuit)
Getting some tropical fruit (Distinguished Visiting Fellow)
Back to beer! Hoorah! I thought we were at a wine tasting! (Mr. Horse)
No doubt this was a good one, a point reflected in the awarding of Man Points.
Man Points 7.5
A Brief Interval between Acts 1 & 2
At this point, we decided it might be prudent to take a little break from all this Belgian massiveness, so I brought out a bottle of a domestic oddity I’d been saving for just such an occasion. The beer in question was Steampunk Strong Ale (7.3% ABV) from Monkey Wizard Brewery in Motueka.
It proved to be not so much a palate cleanser as a safe harbour of Anglo-Saxon virtues amidst the onslaught of Belgian style heavyweights.
Like an ESB on steroids (The Jesuit)
Easy drinker (Greasylightbulb)
Bit yeasty (Mr. Horse)
Well balanced beer with a steel backbone (Gingerbeardyman)
Man Points 7.0
Thus fortified, our brave coterie of explorers set forth on the second phase of their Allagashian adventure. Our next entry was the weirdly, wonderful Interlude 2009, a 9.5% ABV Farmhouse Ale aged in wine barrels.
This is another wine related thing… (The Jesuit)
Very tart (Greasylightbulb)
Sour! (Mr. Horse)
Much less winey than the first two (Distinguished Visiting Fellow)
I was thinking I was going to hate this beer. I’m loving it! (Gingerbeardyman)
At this point, Interlude was clearly the star of the night.
Man Points 7.5
Our final beer of the evening was an 11% ABV bourbon barrel aged strong ale, Curieux 2010. Essentially, a very true to type Belgian Tripel that benefits from eight weeks aging in Jim Beam barrels, the Curieux stood up very handsomely next to its immediate predecessor.
Oh my God, that’s potent! (Mr. Horse)
That’s full on boozy. (Gingerbeardyman)
Corn syrup sweetness … like sugar but not as full (Distinguished Visiting Fellow)
There is a slight burning sensation in the area of my lungs. (The Jesuit)
I suspect that our faithful scribe Malice had been rendered speechless by this point as his only annotation on the tasting notes amounted to circling the word coconut in the brewer’s description. At any rate, the consensus was that Curieux is as satisfying as it is huge.
Man Points 7.5
As the evening drew to a close, and negotiations about sharing taxi fares broke out, the Thirsty Boys were one and all suffused with a warm sense of wellbeing. We were all deeply grateful to Greasylightbulb for sharing his hospitality as well as generously supplying a challenging and satisfying selection of beers. Kudos also to Malice for his usual yeoman-like effort taking notes. A good time was had by all.
***Behind the scenes bonus feature Greasylightbulbs Allagash Beer Tasting Programme