Sunday, November 01, 2009

Taste Evolution

I must first give thanks to the book All Belgian Beers, compiled by Hilde Deweer and published by Stichting Kunstboek in 2007, before I truly delve into the heart of my musings.

A brick of a book, she single-handedly documents all beer brewed in Belgium (duh) current to publication with the very limited exception of small family breweries. A particular point of personal amusement was the phrase "taste evolution" oft-used by various breweries in describing their beer's flavor potential. Seemingly quaint, cute, and lyrically catchy, my sniggering inner cynic figured it to be yet another marketing shtick...until I experienced first hand my own taste evolution last night with the Avery Brabant.

Brabant is the first release in a limited production venture undertaken by Avery Brewing to push the boundaries of wood aging and its influence on various beers. First from the wood, Brabant is a wild ale fermented with two strains of wild yeast (Brettanomyces) and then subsequently aged in used zinfandel barrels for eight months. On February 10th 2009, Brabant was bottled to a whopping total of 694 cases. At 24 individual 12oz bottles per case, that breaks down to a mere total of 16,656 bottles. Period.

Brabant was then sent out to carefully selected areas of the USofA for the lucky few to reverently sup, savor, and cellar. Expectations were understandably high, and I was personally able to get my hands on a case for my store, and myself.

Like a child counting down the days until Christmas, I counted down the days until my Brabant arrived safe and sound. As soon as she was delivered and signed for, I immediately dug into that case with twinkling eyes and eager fingers. The toys of yesteryear are nostalgic and all, but truly, the best gifts come when one is much older and in assorted sizes, shapes, and styles.

Patience is a fickle attribute, and mine was apparently throwing fits because I immediately put a bottle in the cooler for a brief chill. Waiting was not an option. Oh, I fully intended to and did bring home multiple bottles to cellar and savor in whimsically timed slots. But the first, she was to be as fresh as morning dew before the sun has even crested. The logical side of me reasoned all the more better to perform future comparisons on how she matures. The geek side of me just wanted to taste a purportedly great new beer as soon as possible.

Enter Avery Brabant's taste evolution and my revelation.

Young and fresh, she was but a fragile babe struggling to realize her future potential for greatness. A medium clear brown, her brash nature shown through with rambunctious Brett doing what they do best: whatever they damn well please. After all, that is largely why we Brett-heads love them so. In the process, they bless us with the gifts they leave behind: complex aromas, textures, and flavors which boast a life all their own, evolving over time and whimsy.

Take those wild funky brothers, throw in eight months of lazing about in used zinfandel barrels, ending in a live bottling and a special kind of magic began to unfold before my unsuspecting palate. My first Brabant tryst was months ago, and in-between then and now I have explored two more bottles at appropriately whimsical intervals.

My second tasting was different from the very first pour, her colors deeper, richer, and showing a damp woody zinfandel hue. More zinfandel and sweeter, her brash Brett had mellowed some, creating a smoother transition of flavors complimented by a mellowing of her previously assertive carbonation. Wood, leather, and zinfandel dominated with a dry underbelly and finish.

Our third and most recent fateful meeting came last night. and it was upon pouring her lustrously liquid bounty into my chalice that I finally understood what those Belgian brewers in All Belgian Beer meant. This was no gimmick. This was Brabant taste evolution at its purest.

Last night's Brabant appeared black as pitch, though light revealed her to be a rich velveteen hue of pure zinfandel drenched wood tainted by black earth. Thicker than ever, the mouthfeel was a sensual revelation of silk and velvet, any carbonated rough edges having been exquisitely smoothed out. Her luxurious sophistication revealed more prominent layers of Brett permeating every ounce of her body. Grape skins, supple leather, steeped wood, earth, and a new bright finish brings Brabant to her third taste evolution.

Where will she go next? I don't know, but I do know she has yet to reveal all her secrets to me. As patience waits, so too will I until our next meeting of taste evolution.

(an original written work by Kristyn Lier. plagiarism is not tolerated)

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