Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Brooklyn Brewery Ghost Bottles

The January meeting of our homebrew club, the Malted Barley Appreciation Society, was held at the Brooklyn Brewery where brewmaster Garrett Oliver was our generous and entertaining host. We usually meet at Mugs Alehouse (125 Bedford Avenue) on the second Wednesday of every month but on a rare occasion we like to switch things up and this was the perfect chance to check out the new expansion of the brewery.
Garrett gesturing faster than the speed of light
After a quick tour of the brewery's expansion and being greeted by Monster, we gathered in the tasting room to try a few special selections.

A little elegance in the brewhouse

A forest of tanks
Garrett's favorite part of the brewery - the catwalk

First up, a bottle version of Radius, a 4.8% saison. The original concept of the beer was to only serve it within a 5 block radius from the brewery but they scrapped the plans out of fears of alienating the bars located 5 and a half blocks away. Initially, it was only available at the brewery's tasting room and at the Diamond where they hosted a "ghost bottle" event over the summer (more on those events below). Now it is available at a few bars around the city. It's a very light-bodied and easy-to-drink saison and was created by Garrett as something that he'd want to drink a few glasses of on a regular basis and still be coherent.
 Next up, we tried one of the ghost bottles. These are special brews that are not released to the public nor are they sold anywhere. Instead, they are poured for free at special events - the next one takes place tonight, Tuesday 17 January, from 6.30-8pm at Blue Ribbon Bakery, 35 Downing St. The brewery doesn't want to creat a bunch of hype around limited, special releases and would rather share these beers with fans of the brewery in a setting that encourages conversations about the beer instead of an impersonal transaction. 

Maia of Brooklyn Brewery and B.R. are more restrained in their drinking
The first ghost bottle that we tried was the Cuvée du Crochet Rouge Rosé. This is Local 1 that has been fermented on wine lees from wine provided by the Redhook Winery. The grapes come from Long Island but everything else is done at the winery in Brooklyn. There, they follow the principles of natural winemaking so that there is nothing added to the grapes and their juice.  No added laboratory yeast is pitched and the yeasts are only the ones that are found on the grape skins. This version of the beer spends 9 months in bourbon barrels, which previously had beer in them, with the lees of 2 different wines. The Cuvée du Crochet Rouge is a blend of 2 barrels of beer on chardonnay lees and 1 barrel of pinot noir lees.  After aging, it is bottled and refermented with champagne yeast. 
Monster doing quality control
The beer, with a pinkish hue, has a funky aroma with moderate notes of brettanomyces and a lovely, delicate fruit flavor.  It's a very balanced beer with intriguing nuances from the wine lees and very little bourbon character but rather a light sourness and some gentle vinous notes.

barrel of light grade maple syrup
The next beer was a prevue of the upcoming new Brewmaster's Reserve, to be released later this month. Mary's Maple Porter is named for their Quality Control Manager, a position that she share's with Monster. Her family has a maple farm upstate in Onondaga, NY and they provided the maple syrup for the brew.  Each 50 barrel batch of beer has 50 gallons of a blend of light and dark grade maple syrup in it. In the aroma there are notes of chocolate, coffee, and maple; the maple character carries over to the flavor but is subtle and not overwhelming or cloying. The flavor is very smooth and the dark malts are well-integrated without any acrid flavors or excessive roast. The beer finishes with a gentle, lingering bitterness.

Bob is quite thirsty

The final beer that we tried was another ghost bottle. In fact, I don't think this beer even exists but if we were to try it, this it what I would imagine the Black Ops Late Bottle Vintage to be:  an 11% bourbon barrel aged stout that spent 4 years, instead of the usual 4 months for the regular non-existent Black Ops, in a Woodford Reserve barrel and which was then referemented in the bottle with champagne yeast. So dark that it makes the stealth bomber look fluorescent, the beer doesn't have much head or carbonation and arrives with a subtle aroma with hints of vanilla and coffee as well as some woody tobacco notes. The flavor is mellow yet complex with more notes of wood, coffee, cherries, and just a touch of sourness.  

We finished the night with a selection of drafts from the tasting room bar including Blast!, Winter Ale, and the previous Brewmaster's Reserve, The Companion.

End of the night

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