THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Grammy Night Adventures

by Harvey Gold on February 14, 2012

A couple well known brewers in Northern Ohio that have a pretty high profile in these parts are Great Lakes Brewing  out of Cleveland, and Thirsty Dog in downtown Akron. Both are brewing some fabulous beers. But there’s a third, located on the fringes of Greater Akron near the southern border of Summit County. They have a fun but goofy label, generally big flavor, high ABVs and only bottle in 22 ouncers… and they have been over the last few years, the most highly regarded brewer in the state. Truth be told, one of the best in the world! It’s called Hoppin’ Frog, and ratebeer.com has placed it as the #20 best brewer in the world, and their Barrel Aged B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher the 32nd best beer, period.

I haven’t talked much about them because I often don’t have anyone to share a 22 with, and as professed more than once in these posts, I’m something of a cheap date, and HATE to waste beer. I’d had a couple of Hoppin’ Frog’s offerings quite a while ago at the legendary Luigi’s and liked it a lot, but I wasn’t writing and reviewing at the time.

So, with people coming over last Sunday, I decided to open and share HF’s Silk Porter. Interestingly, that’s the right word to describe it, as it is one smooth, silky beverage. It’s got a 6.2% ABV, a low bitter at 26 IBUs, and while it has what we would expect in a porter, a higher relative level of malt, that good roasted, slightly sweet taste of darkness, the thing that made it work best for me was that it’s not typical of what the world of porters have largely become. The usual spectacle these days offers the big bang of coffee and chocolate, both milk and dark, sometimes so dark you can taste the expresso mud or the powder of Baker’s Chocolate on your tongue. This isn’t to say these can’t be awesome qualities. Some of my favorite brews of all time have these huge personalities.

But Hoppin’ Frog’s Silk Porter is a smooth operator. All these qualities are there, but from end-to-end, the subtleties of this fine offering from one of the world’s best brewers is what makes it stand out. Delicious.

Viking Fun

After dinner there were enough of us here who, allegedly, were game to open a contribution from YBN stalwart Big Carl, our Whole Foods Rockin’ Food & Beer Maven. Carl told me I had to share. Pretty funny as it’s become clear this was another one that required sharing…in spades. From Dansk Mjod, in Denmark, comes Mead, Nordic Honeywine with Ginger and Hops. From the brewer:

The oldest known recipe for mead to be written down in the Nordic countries was in 1520 by the Archbishop Olaus Magnus. The recipe comprised of water, honey, hops and brewers yeast, and concludes, that “on the eight day – or earlier in emergencies – the mead may be drunk, but the longer it is left, the purer, better and healthier it will be.” Our products are brewed based on a recipe from about year 1700, and the ingredients are pure and 100 pct. natural – guaranteed free from additives of any kind. Honey is the major and most important item in the recipe.

At 19% ABV in a 750ml bottle, this was shared by a bunch of us. I poured maybe five tasters, mine the only one I filled, as I’m a pro and I needed a pro portion to evaluate. Right, big fella. It goes without saying that the nose was of honey. All but one (a honey hater) sniffed and sighed an expectant “mmmmmm.” No head, minimal carbonation, and poured like apple juice. First sip confirmed honey, and alcohol was the statement here. Delicious, STRONG, with a bit of ginger coming through, and really STRONG. We couldn’t tell if there was enough of a hops component to be contributing to the nose, and this was so honey-sweet and STRONG, there was no telling if hops contributed much to the flavor. No one finished his/her glasses and no one had more than maybe 3 oz to start. I can’t remember if I finished mine, but I know as the night wore on, and I would occasionally collect stray dishes and glasses to take into the kitchen, I’d run into the odd mead taster and have yet another sip. This mead was delicious, STRONG, too sweet to be taken in large doses by yours truly and apparently all his family and friends as the one actual Viking in the family is now a tea totaller… which, now that I think about it, might effect his “active” status.

As I write this, 20 odd hours after opening it, I JUST popped the cork and, excited to find some left, took a draw from the bottle. Room temperature, the honey flavor is even more amazing, the burn on the tongue from the ginger and the warmth as the high alcohol goes down making for  an extraordinary elixir, but the one swig will do me for now. By Thor’s Hammer, everyone simply MUST have at least that one swig!

Kimono My House

Aside from using the title of this section to tout a wonderful old album with a special cover from the band Sparks, we’re touching on a little number we shared earlier in the evening. Our dear friends, Chef Joe and wife Emiko returned from Japan with a wonderful treat, The Hakushu 10-year-old Single Malt Whisky, from Suntory.

They don’t call it Scotch Whiskey, presumably because this doesn’t come from Scotland. If you go to their site they take pains to discuss the “art of Japanese Whiskey” so I’ll not waste your time here on that subject.

What I will say is that the experience of drinking Hakashu feels very Japanese, or at least how I sometimes think about Japan. First, any smokiness they claim was pretty much lost on me. After all, they have no Islay peat, so…. and if they age this in wood casks, I don’t taste it – certainly no oak. So treating it as a very different animal from the Laphroiag, Mortlach, and Bowmore that top our list of favorites is a good idea and in doing so it did not, by any means, disappoint.

Pouring a clean crisp gold, the Hakashu has a pleasant, not terribly alcoholic nose. We went neat with literally a drop of water in the glass. It’s odd writing this just after our conversation about Mead, as the overwhelming consideration in the flavor of this Single Malt was how sweet it is. Very clean on the palate, crisp, sweet, no standalone alcohol presence to claw through… an incredibly well mannered, everything in the right place, sweet and delicious whisky. You’re not going to go out and get hammered on it. You’re going to sip it and gently smile.

Half joking, after taking a sip, I grabbed up my accomplice’s Lagunitas IPAfor a chaser. This was a terrible idea. It was like applying sandpaper to a pearl. And there we have it, all that sterotypical Japanese imagery comes roaring in with that last sentence. But it was true. The Lagunitas is a nice IPA. That combo was still an awful idea. Im going to have to think long, hard, and probably much lighter than our usual wont to come up with a shot and a beer pairing with this lovely, delicately balanced whisky. Thanks Joe/Thanks Emi. And a respectful bow to Hakushu.

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