Tasting notes: The ‘Odds of March’

Beware the Ides of March. These words from a soothsayer to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, with a slight twist may be appropriate for beer drinkers as well.

Today, for this Ides of March, I’ve put together tasting notes on some recently sampled brews that I’ve dubbed “The Odds of March,” because of the unusual ingredients that the brewers have chosen to include in their recipes, among them bacon, chili peppers, coconut, garlic, hazelnut flour, wattle seeds and an entire rack of spices.

These are the odds of March,

These are the odds of March,

You’ve got to hand it to American brewers for their willingness to experiment. But why must they foist these brews on us in large bottles that are sold at outrageous prices? Some the brews in this tasting are available only in 750 ml bottles that cost around $20 each — some more.

A few of these beers were enjoyable. Others were difficult to either swallow or to even overcome the notion of putting a glass to one’s lips.  But I did—with some friends in a tasting group known as Long Islanders for Fermentation Enjoyment.  Many in the group found the tasting altogether interesting, but some of the beers less than enjoyable.

Here are my tasting notes:

Fantastic Voyage from Perennial Artisinal Ales, of St. Louis, Mo., an 8.8 percent imperial milk stout brewed with coconut. A mellow, creamy smooth, opaque dark brown brew with chocolate on the nose and notes of roasted coffee mingling with hints of coconut.

Maracaibo Especial by Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales of Ann Arbor, Mich. Is this 7.5% brew an American brown ale or an abbey brown ale?  I’d have to go with the latter, given the Belgian-style flavorings – cacao, cinnamon and orange peel used in this oak-aged brew. Cloudy amber in color with notes of cinnamon and apple on those, it comes across as yeast, spicy and extremely tart.

Birra Etrusca Bronze, a Dogfish Head collaboration with Italy’s Birra del Borgo and Birrificio Baladin.  This is an herbed, spiced beer brewed using a recipe based on the analysis of residue recovered from drinking vessels found in 2,800-year-old Etruscan tombs in Italy. Its ingredients include raisins, hazelnut flour, pomegranates, Italian chestnut honey, Delaware wildflower honey and clover honey. A handful of whole-flower hops were added, but Dogfish Head attributes the bulk of the bitterness to gentian root and the sarsaparilla-like Ethiopian myrrh resin.  This copper hued brew offered up aromas that first suggested bubblegum, but soon turned to Patchouli, the musty scent popular in the Hippie era. On the palate, I can detect some sweet malt, but overall this is more like sipping dry, liquid incense.

Urkontinent, also from Dogfish Head, is an 8.1 percent Belgian-style dubbel based on Pilsner, Munich and chocolate malts and Belgian dark candi syrup. But any similarity to a Belgian dubbel ends there. To the grain bill, Dogfish Head has added wattle seed, toasted amaranth from South America, green rooibos from Africa, myrica gale from Europe and Hiveplex Honey from California. Quite a mix, but somehow it works to make a pleasant brew that’s medium brown with a mocha-colored head. There’s chocolate on the nose and a creamy nuttiness on the palate and flavors that recall chocolate-colored cherries.

Smoking Wood, an imperial, smoked, barrel-aged rye-based porter from The Bruery, of San Diego, Calif. This 13 percent brew, was concocted with malt smoked over beech and cherry woods and was aged in rye whiskey barrels. This is a dark opaque brown brew with a smoky, somewhat medicinal nose. Hints of vanilla and strong alcohol notes.  I’d love to revisit this after a few years of aging, when I believe it will mellow out.

Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Porter from Rogue Ales, Newport, Ore.  Reviews elsewhere give this beer either raves or rants. I’m with the latter group.  This 5.6 percent smoked beer named for the bacon maple donut popular at an Oregon donut chain is made with Briess cherry-wood smoked malt, Weyermann beech-wood smoked malt, house-smoked hickory malt, Great Western 2 Row, Munich, C15, C75 malts; apple wood-smoked bacon, pure maple flavoring and Rogue’s homegrown Revolution & Independent hops. Copper colors, there are aromas of French toast, bacon and maple.  Suggestive of a Denny’s breakfast in a glass, only one word comes to mind: Ugh!

Mama Mia Pizza Beer, a sessional 4.6 percent brew made with oregano, basil, tomato and garlic by Sprecher Brewery, Milwaukee. Appropriately named, this golden brew reeks of oregano, garlic and spicy tomato sauce.  It finishes dry. I doubt I could sip too much of this, but it’s okay as far as novelty beers go.

Ghost Face Killer from Twisted Pine Brewing, of Boulder, Colo.  If you can remember Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer from the 90s, this is nothing like it.  Ed’s had a simple jalapeno character.  This 5 percent beer, however, is brewed with six peppers: Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeno, Serrano, Habanero and Bhut Jolokia. The last also is known as the ghost pepper; it offers 200 times the heat of jalapeno. The brewers say they had to wear masks and gloves to cut the peppers up for the mash. Pale gold in color, there the scent of raw peppers hot the nose. On the palate, this is a beer with hot sauce lighting up your mouth from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat. It’s a heat that lingers and lingers.  For those game enough to try it, small sips only are recommended.

Have you tried any of these? What do you think?

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