Brooklyn brewery have long been at the forefront of the craft beer movement, often being peoples first introduction to the world of great beer. Before I knew about pales and porters, could tell you what Cascade and Centennial are, I knew that there was something different about Brooklyn Lager. It poured darker than other lagers, it had this aroma I’d never smelt before, the beer had a body and flavour that put everything I’d had before it to shame.
However, the bank balance won over taste buds back then. By the time I became serious about craft beer, I never went back to it, much to my shame – it was all about IPAs, imperial stouts and funky sours. That is, until a few months ago, when it was the only decent beer on at a pub I was sessioning in. All those flavours I had tasted all those years ago were still there, and I now appreciated them even more!
What Brooklyn had done was to create a lager that would appeal as much to a lifetime lager drinker as it would to a craft beer lover. Unfortunately, they have become synonymous with lager and that can occasionally people are put off the rest of their incredible range. As we were about to learn, their range is anything but standard!
Our guide for the tasting was Brooklyn’s newest UK ambassador, Rachael Weseloh. She started us on our way with a tasting of their summer seasonal; the aptly named Summer Ale
. The idea behind this beer was to create something that was light, and easy drinking, but still flavourful. Using a mixture of American, English and German hops, there is the floral, citrus bitterness present in most APAs, but with a crisper finish. At 4.5%, this was a good start to the evening, because we quickly ratcheted it up from there!
Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace
is one of those beers that has a story longer than some breweries. We learnt that the eponymous hop was first grown in Japan in the late 1970s, but was deemed to be a bit too weird. It wasn’t until 2008 that a family run Washington hop started growing it commercially in the USA. A year later, Brooklyn’s brewmaster, Garret Oliver, smelt this hop and within 30 seconds knew the exact recipe for this beer.
A 7.2% saison, this beer is brewed entirely to show off the Sorachi Ace characteristics. Perhaps more so than any other beer, there is a huge divide in the palates of those drinking it. People were tasting lemongrass, strong pithy, citrus flavours whilst others were getting herby, dill tastes from the beer. There were also calls of bubblegum, blue cheese and coconut! This is one hell of a beer which caused as much discussion at a tasting as I have ever seen.
We also took a quick aside to learn about the history of Brooklyn. Founded in 1987 by Steve Hindy, a Middle Eastern correspondent, and Tom Potter, his downstairs neighbour. They set about persuading Milton Glaser, designer of the “I ❤ NY” to create their companies brand. When at a home brewers event they were introduced to a man in a French lieutenants coat circa the 1880s with knee high leather boots. This man turned out to be Garret Oliver, and they would later appoint him as their brewmaster.
We then continued with the beer tasting, and this time we were trying their Blast!
, an 8.4% double IPA. Eleven different hops used in this beer gives it a depth and complexity that is unmatched by many other IPAs. Despite it’s high ABV, pretty much everyone agreed that this was dangerously drinkable – few people were able to detect more than a hint of booziness. A slightly sweet and dry finish helped to make this beer far more quaffable than it should have been. People were already a bit tipsy, and we’d only just passed half way.
Next up was one of the Brooklyn top shelf beers, their Local 2
. This is their 9.0% Abbey ale, inspired by the traditional Belgian beers. English chocolate malt give this beer its rich, dark appearance that works with the Belgian yeast to add hints of spice and dark red fruits. Locally sourced honey and Belgian candi sugar are added to the beer to give it a moorish sweetness. An awesomely complex beer, it may appear intimidating, but it is incredibly approachable. Although we had it on its own, this beer would go great with rich food or strongly flavoured cheese.
Last up for the evening was the highlight, Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout
, a huge 10% imperial stout that is mashed three times to give it a deep, dark chocolate flavour. This beer is luxurious with great coffee bitterness and a warming feeling of alcohol. When planning this event, we wanted something special to end on, and this beer gave us the perfect opportunity. Both us and Rachael had separately come up with the idea of finishing by turning this beer into a “coke float”. Even better, this is a recipe recommended by Garrett Oliver himself!
Vanilla ice cream was added to everyones glasses, and the two somehow blended together to release the most amazing of aromas. Sweet vanilla mingled with dark chocolate and coffee. Half drinking, half eating this was a crazy cool experience. The ice cream perfectly cut through the booziness and when it had half melted it gave the beer a sticky, milkshake body. By the end, the beer was like a milk stout in its sweetness. If you want to try something new, give this a go! There was not a single person in the room who did not talk about trying this at home.
With that final beer, the night came to an end. As we all mingled around at the end, I spoke to several people who admitted that they were not expecting such an incredibly diverse range of beers from Brooklyn. Whilst their lager may be seen by some as “mainstream”, it is still a wonderful beer worth revisiting. Furthermore, these guys have consistently shown time and again that they are a world class brewery who are as innovative and boundary pushing as any one else out there.
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