Nobody's Fool

Thursday, June 10, 2010

First, a discussion of Real Ale can be found here. For the lazy, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) defines a Real Ale as

"beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide". The term "traditional ingredients" is designed, like the Reinheitsgebot, to prevent artificial preservatives or cheap adjuncts or chemicals from being used in the making or storing of the beer. The heart of the definition is the maturation requirements. If the beer is unfiltered, unpasteurised and still active on the yeast, it is a real beer; it is irrelevant whether the container is a cask or a bottle. If the yeast is still alive and still conditioning the beer, it is "real".
Just because, you should now go back again and check out CAMRA. It is the largest single-issue consumer group in the UK. Color me jealous.

I bring this up because today's beer is a Real Ale from Indigo Imp Brewery in Cleveland called Jester.

A real ale, as you saw above, is not so much a kind of beer as it is a comment on how a beer is fermented and matured. Thus, a brown ale can be a real ale, a stout can be a real ale, etc. Indigo Imp's Jester claims to be a Belgian Pale Ale (a classic example of this style is Trappist Westvleteren Blonde or the even better Orval Trappist Ale). While I have a hard time comparing any Belgian Pale to the likes of Orval, there is at least a solid set of criteria with which to judge Jester.

Like a good Belgian Pale, I got a glass full of a pale copper, slightly cloudy brew capped with a thin eggshell-white head, not dense but indeed thick with bubbles. Light effervescence floated up the middle of the glass, dissipating the head quickly but leaving a fine lace across the top of the beer. As beer goes, you do taste with your eyes first and this had all the right looks.

Biscuity malt and tart citrus aromas were what I was hoping for, and what I got to a certain degree. I had a "bonus" moderate banana-and-clove phenolic aroma, slightly inappropriate for the style but certainly never unwelcome in a beer with these aromas and flavors. Unfortunately, these really pleasant aromas were overpowered by a heavy sourness. More sour-smelling than some of my favorite Jolly Pumpkin ales - which are sour on purpose because of the oak barrels they are aged in - the correct aromas of citrus rinds and pepper and spice lost out.

The taste suffered the same. I got hints of what I craved: toasty malt, biscuit malt, pears, with a delicate peppery finish. But these were afterthoughts to the strength of the sourness. More than a Belgian-characteristic Brettanomyces sourness (present not so much in their Pales as in their Strong ales), this sourness almost hinted at something...wrong.

But then is occurred to me: this is an attempt at a Real Ale, and Real Ales are about the maturation process..."matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed." Was there something to this? Is this a beer aged in oak kegs - like Jolly Pumpkin is aged in oak barrels - and then pulled into this bottle? Could that be the source of my sour angst? A decent Belgian Pale aged in tannin-inducing oak? Could this be, then, the marriage of two concepts into one beer?

If it is the last question, then maybe it could be. Just not particularly artfully done. But looking to the bottle for a clue, I spotted that it is bottle conditioned. Still a Real Ale by definition, it is indeed fermented and matured in its dispensing container. But that wouldn't explain the puckery sourness.

Ultimately, I had to put the beer down. I was left wanting for a pure, clean Belgian Pale Ale. What I like about other attempts at adding a flair to a beer is that - like Jolly Pumpkin - it is done in a balanced fashion. The parent beer is there to reassure you while the new addition is there to challenge. In this case, I was either overwhelmed or confused. And confusion is not why I drink beer. I get enough of that at work.

Confusion, I mean.

I could always use more beer.


steves 4:45 PM  

I was going to ask for a job if you got beer at work.

Bob 7:42 PM  

I will ask for a job without beer.

Is it possible that just THIS bottle was bad?

Smitty 10:04 AM  

Steves: I *do* get beer at work. Part of the perks!

Bob: It could be just this bottle; I will try another and see if something weird happened. Somehow, though, I think it's just a confusing beer.

趙佳治: Exactly. I suspect it was purposeful.

Greg,  8:24 PM  

Every bottle of the ale tasted exactly how Smitty described it...Confusingly sour.

btw, 趙佳治 means Zhao good governance, so it must have been purposeful.

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