FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Harv & Dave’s Big Mini-Session

by Harvey Gold - Dave Daugherty on August 25, 2011

A lot of traveling has been taking place here at YBN, so when Dave and I got together last week to hang and taste, having been quite a while since our last get together, it made for an occasion.

After a hearty lunch at a local haunt, Gasoline Alley, Dave going the corned beef route, me the blackened burger with a variety of tongue burning taste sensations, we laid low for a bit before starting our BIG mini-session.

I call it big, because we started out with the huge Imperial IPA from Avery, The Maharaja. Seasonal, brewed from March through August (this was from batch #13), I’d been saving this 22 for such an occasion, as it’s got an ABV of 10.54% and, as our faithful readers know, I’m something of a cheap date, thus the need to share.

Pouring a beautiful deep orange, Maharaja, one of Avery’s “Dictator Series,” presented a lovely floral, citrusy nose.

The flavor, however, was striking. Avery will shout out to anyone who’s willing to listen, that this is the hoppiest beer in the known universe, and it is a VERY hop heavy brew. Sure there was a sweetness and a real bitter (102 I.B.Us), and while the high alcohol content gave the beer a substance and gravity (which is , btw, a 1.09 O.G.), there was a flavor that neither Dave nor I could put our fingers on. We even tried to mess with our palates by lighting up a couple fresh Cohiba Pequenos we had purchased right after lunch. Still, the flavor bounce, while maintaining a real presence in the face of our smoky tongues, couldn’t be identified.

In looking at some other reviews of this beer, posted by our friends at The Beer Advocate, one suggested candied pineapple, and I could see where that came from, but another, though I know of no ingredients that would lead us to this, seemed to hit it right on the head. Mike Duncan had an epiphany and shouted out… Cantaloupe!! And yup, that muskfruit flavor note (also found on the back of the tongue w. fresh pineapple) is as close as I’ve been able to get to it.

This by no means makes Maharaja a fruit beer or a novelty, but a fabulous Imperial IPA with a flavor that distinguishes it from the others. While not a well balanced beer- and Avery will tell you that in their efforts to build a Hop-Bomb, there was never an aspiration to achieve any balance whatsoever – we found the alcohol to sit well, not imposing itself on the mouthfeel or any part of the experience… other than getting this taster a notable early buzz.

Drinking this huge Maharaja while smoking a nice, meaty little Dominican was a fabulous after lunch experience.

Next up, after a reasonable break, was an astonishing experience… at least for me. I’ve not spent a lot of time with Smoked Beers. I’ve had a couple smoked porters, and one or two stouts, but nothing prepared me for this. As you may recall, when we posted our Top 20 beers that had thus far been touched on by YBN, either on facebook or this site, Dave listed Maerzen Smokebeer from Bamberg, Germany’s Schlenkerla.

What we had here, though, was an Oak Smoked and aged Doppelbock, also from Schlenkerla. Dave poured into big red wine glasses with a bit of a gleam in his eye, and let them sit for a minute. Coppery in color w. the slightest cloud to it, the nose knocked me back on my heels. I smelled a delicious spicy smoked ham. Anxious to see what this olfactory experience translated to on the tongue, I sipped and tasted… yup, a big, beautiful, glazed, smoked ham. This does not seem to be, by any stretch of the imagination, something I would think of an appealing profile for a beer, but it was spectacular.

Every sip was sweet to the tongue, the smokiness flavorfully present yet more subtle than the nose. At a (by comparison to the previous brew we were drinking) reasonable 8% ABV, this was smooth and refreshing. This was a fine Doppelbock, crafted with wonderful smoked malt, not by any means your run of the mill brew with smoke. As I’ve paraphrased before, a brewmaster friend once offered that a brewer can cover a lot of mistakes by throwing enough hops at it. I think there may be some that could feel the same way about smoke. This one, however, started and finished as a terrific and distinctive drinking beer. Kudos, once again, to our German friends and Schlenkerla.

So we got lucky here, a couple really well crafted beers with their own unique qualities, distinguishing them well from the pack… along with a nice cigar, making for a fabulous little session with a couple BIG beers.

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