Whenever I go to Canada, I try to stuff a few tasty brews into my suitcase so that Beer Nerd Boyfriend can share in the awesomeness of the American craft beer scene. This time around, I had some ground to make up, since on my last visit my suitcase was mostly taken up by Zombicide, a very large but extremely fun board game.
There are lots of fantastic beer stores around New York City, but my favorite at the moment is Prospect Heights Beer Works – both because of their location close to my place and their awesome selection, especially in terms of local and Belgian breweries. This time, I told myself I’d limit my haul to three beers but of course, I couldn’t resist and bought five. Whoops.
First, we tasted Gray Jacket, a collaboration from De la Senne in Brussels and Washington D.C.’s Bleujacket. Somehow, I’m a mind reader – Beer Nerd Boyfriend has been catching up on his beer literature lately and according to him, all of the books mention the same brewer: Yvan De Baets. Who just so happens to be one of Brasserie De La Senne’s founders and head brewers. He’s renowned not only for his contributions to sour ale styles, but also to all beer wheat styles. He’s a master of yeast culturing as well as one of the most dedicated beer historians of our time. Basically, he is a big deal in the brewing world. Gray Jacket is one of these sour ales, based on a long-gone style of farmhouse ale called a Grisette.
Grisettes originated in the Hainut province in Wallonia, the French part of Belgium. The Grisette was considered a working class beer style aimed towards miners and factory workers, just like the saison (another type of farmhouse ale) was considered the official drink of choice for farmers. What distinguishes a farmhouse ale is the use of wild yeasts in fermentation, leading to a funky tartness, and a low ABV that makes it easy to drink on warm summer days. After all, this was a beer style that was brewed to keep farmers busy during the winter, and meant to be enjoyed in large quantities by men working the fields in mid-summer.
Quite simply, the Gray Jacket was awesome. You could smell the acidity and tartness immediately, along with a nice peachy funk. It’s dry and very refreshing, and I could see myself totally having a couple of these on a humid summer day instead of lemonade. It tastes quite a bit less tart than it smells, allowing the funky peach to take over. Those notes really cut through the thick wheat backbone and lead to a nice bitterness and some spicy hop business. According to Beer Nerd Boyfriend, this taste was “almost wild celery.” I’m not sure what he means, but there you are.
We then went for Mikkeller’s Beer Hop Breakfast – we’ve already had a lot of Mikkeller because it’s one of our favorite breweries, but I couldn’t resist this black IPA. Like a lot of what Mikkeller does, it was tasty. However, it wasn’t a stand-out. It smells more like a stout, and the taste is heavy on the coffee with not much hop presence. There’s coffee, caramel and a lingering bitterness, but not the kind of hoppiness I was hoping for.
Next came the Tørst Front Room from Evil Twin Brewing. Evil Twin is a very funky operation founded by gypsy brewer and Danish transplant to Brooklyn, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø. He’s gained a lot of clout since 2010 as a maker of out-there, unexpected beers, most of which are only brewed once and then never again – although they have recently started brewing year-round offerings. Front Room was brewed exclusively for Tørst, a wonderful bar in Brooklyn. It serves a huge variety of frequently rotating craft beers, most of which are Evil Twin concoctions. Front Room is a barley wine aged in Malaga wine barrels – at 11.2%, it’s quite a strong beer. We were a little skeptical at first because while Evil Twin is great with lighter brews (like their Femme Fatal line of beers, one of my favorite things in the world), we’re found that a lot of their brews above 10% are somewhat disappointing.
Front Room, however, was delicious, especially as it did indeed have a lot of red wine on the nose. It’s a full, sweet beer with molasses and caramel up front, follow by red wine in the middle. It ends with a coffee bitterness and remains boozy throughout. Very nice!
I also brought along one of my bottles of K Is For Kriek, a Brooklyn Brewery Quarterly Experiment that I wrote about a few months ago. I just really wanted to taste more than a teeny, two-sip sample! The color is a deep reddish brown, and it’s quite tart on the nose. The taste is reminiscent of cherry sour candies and has a lingering bitter cherry. The tartness is definitely more present – I feel like I definitely got more booze and oak the first time around.
I also brought along two more beers from Evil Twin: I Love You With My Stout and Femme Fatal Blanc. I’m ashamed to admit that I accidentally popped open the I Love You With My Stout one night while friends were visiting. To be fair, I was distracted by a Chopped Challenge we issued to Beer Nerd Boyfriend and his buddy (who, it should be noted, is a professional sous chef): make us a delicious meal in half an hour using beer stout jelly, kielbasa sausage, a packet of chicken noodle soup and bell peppers.
Sadly, I Love You With My Stout didn’t really do much to distinguish itself from most coffee stouts I’ve had. On the other hand, Femme Fatal Blanc was so tart and delicious that I forgot to take notes. Sometimes, you just get distracted by tasty beer.
All in all, not a bad haul! Thank you, Prospect Heights Beer Works, for being so fantastic… and for being so close to my apartment.