Tony the Tiger Never Knew What Hit Him

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Great American Beer Fest is so much more than a chance to try beers you've never had before; what's the point of a ridiculously-huge beer fest if you just drink what you know? That's like going to Per Se in New York and asking for a burger. No, the GABF also hosts a competition that separates the wheat from the chaff.

One of this year's winners is Michigan-born Cereal Killer. From Arcadia Brewing Company in Battle Creek, Michigan (home of Kellogg's), this huge barleywine promises to go homocidal on your tastebuds.
I'll avoid the temptation of saying that Cereal Killer pours a slight blood-red color, and instead go with this: Cereal Killer pours a hazy red cherry color (harbinger of things to come, perhaps) that deepens to a cloudy brown from the bottom of the glass towards the top. The thin egg-shell head dissipates quickly, yielding effervescent bubbles that form on the surface. This is a beautiful beer.

Sorry, Tony, but Frosted Flakes aren't so Grrrrrrrreat when it comes to the Killer. Sure this beer shares some of Cereal City's trademark roasted grain aroma (it just seems to float in the air in Battle Creek), but beats it and buries it under layers of juicy caramel, unsweetened cocoa powder, a hint of citrus and a heavy, sticky malt. If my breakfast cereal smelled like this, I'd have had trouble making it through school.

Cereal Killer hones-in on the tongue as much as it did the nose. Immediately, the tongue is battered about by a blend of heavy, rich caramel and syrupy-sticky malt. Mixed in to the malty syrup was roasted nuts, dried cherries and even some honey. Funny that something that reminds me of a happy, friendly ice cream sundae would be called cereal killer! At the end, a bit of bitterness peeked out of the cloyingly-sweet body of the beer, not so much from hops but more of a citrusy bitterness. The beer finished with a beautiful milk chocolate note that along with the hint of bitter was like oranges dipped in a fountain of cacao.

Cereal Killer finishes dry, and the moderately-high carbonation cleanses the tongue between sips. Yes, sips. This is no quaffing beer. This is a beer like a thick port or sherry wine; enjoy it among several people after dinner lest the whole bottle tire out your mouth. It is drinkable and enjoyable for a barleywine. I had to resist writing this up using murder euphemisms, because that is apart from the spirit of this beer. Cereal Killer, despite its name, is a sweet after dinner treat. Maybe the hipsters at Arcadia were going for the ironic thing? Perhaps, but whatever their goal in naming the beer, they certainly made a great barleywine, worthy of its recognition on a national stage.

Or perhaps the judges simply feared for their tongues.


steves 9:26 AM  

Best review I have read in a long time. I will have to pick up some of this stuff over the weekend.

Smitty 9:38 AM  

Thanks steves! I enjoyed this beer, but it was so thick and sweet that finishing a 22oz bomber alone was difficult. This is a beer to share for sure.

Barleywine is to beer what cognac is to liquor: sip it by itself after a meal in front of a fire.

They have some of the 2008 vintage at Oades. The 2009 stuff (that won the award) gets officially tapped next week. Even if you get your hands on a 2009 bottle, I would honest to God cellar it in a cool spot in your basement for a solid year.

steves 11:17 AM  

I'll check out the 2008 then. I am the only beer person in the house, so maybe I'll bring one the next time we all get together.

Mike 7:25 PM  

I love this brew. I'm sure I've commented under its influence at times.

Of course I don't remember specifically.

Monk-in-Training 8:41 AM  

A very nearly transcendent review! I am sending a link to one of the very few guys I know who is such a connoisseur of beer.

Sopor 9:48 AM  

Smitty, could you perhaps be enticed (bribed) into picking up a bottle of the 2008 for me? I've got a couple of seaonals I can bring your way ;-) This sounds like the next candidate for a vertical tasting, as soon as I finish up my Pilgrim's Dole Vertical.

Bob 12:57 PM  

A very nearly transcendent review!

That's a pretty huge complement. That said, Smitty's beer reviews are the highlight of ATK.

Smitty 9:11 AM  

Huge compliments all the way around. I am flattered! Thanks everyone; I love doing these beer reviews and it is fun and challenging to find the right words to adequately describe a beer. Thanks to all of you!

steves 10:35 AM  

Smitty, you really have a gift for reviewing beer. I take most reviews (food, movies, music) with a hefty grain of salt, but you provide enough information that I can get a good idea of what it will be like before I even try it. Since most premium beer is expensive, it is a good way to decide what to get.

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