Beer Behemoths, Part Two

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Okay, let's recap. In part one, I told you about Delirium Tremens and four beers from a recent Smithsonian Resident Associates beer seminar, but there's still seven to go! So read on, if it doesn't drive you mad with thirsty envy....

Even though we were sipping only a few ounces of each beer, by the time we got to the Brooklyn Monster, the notes of the woman next to me had devolved from detailed descriptions to "Mm, pretty good," and two old men were quarreling loudly over the cheese platter (they were promptly shushed, of course). It dawned at me that the event's name wasn't just an exercise in alliteration—these beers were all "behemoths" in terms of alcohol content!

They seemed to be getting stronger as the lineup progressed: The Brooklyn Monster has 10.8 percent. It's a classic barleywine, strong and sugary. I found it a bit too sweet, but it was well-paired with a musty blue cheese called Persille du Beaujolais.

The next pour was truly unique: A single batch of barleywine made by the brewmaster at the District Chophouse, which was clearly such a labor of love that I feel like a jerk for disliking it. It was tank-conditioned for a full year, then aged for several years (I think he said five?) in a used bourbon barrel. I took a sip and scribbled down, "Weird, licoricey, don't like," a sentiment the woman next to me shared. (But to be fair, I think maybe I just don't like barleywine.)

On the opposite end of the taste spectrum, the Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA was an extremely bitter beer, one of the weakest of the day in terms of alcohol content (7.2 percent) but surely the hoppiest. The aroma evokes pine trees and lemons, which would be nicer if it didn't make me think of cleaning products, but I still found it surprisingly drinkable. The brewery announced earlier this year that Torpedo is now on their year-round roster, so you can try it for yourself sometime. We also tried the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, which I'd had before but never realized was a barleywine because it's so hop-heavy. (And I liked it, so there goes my theory above...)

Among the biggest of the behemoths was Samichlaus, a 14-percenter which is brewed only on December 6 of each year at the Schloss Eggenberg brewery in Austria, then aged for 10 months before bottling. Samichlaus shares some of the sweet, syrupy, raisiny taste of barleywine, and it took me a few sips to make up my mind about it. I wouldn't want a full glass—it seems more like a liqueur than a beer—but I liked it, especially with the cheese pairing (a semi-hard, raw cow's milk cheese from Switzerland called Tete De Moine).

At the 10th-beer marker, just when my interest was starting to flag, I fell in love. The chestnut-colored brew that arrived in the next cup had the aroma and flavor of caramel...or was it, chocolate...maybe vanilla? It was reminiscent of an expensive cognac and yet unpretentious. It tasted so smooth that I was startled to hear it had a whopping 12 percent alcohol, but I'm not surprised this delicious brew came from the folks at Dogfish Head in Delaware. I like everything I've ever tasted from them. This one was called Palo Santo Marron, named after the exotic wood it was aged in. All I can say is: Try it. Now.

The Sam Adams Imperial Stout is a brand-new offering from the Boston Beer Company, a robust black brew with hints of anise, chocolate and coffee. It's fashioned after the English imperial stouts reportedly favored by 18th-century Russian empress Catherine the Great, which had to have a high alcohol content (9.2 percent in this one) and intense flavors to withstand the long journey. I'd say Catherine had very good taste!

I opted out of the brutally strong closer, Mikkeller Black from Danish craft brewer Mikkel Borg Bjergso, after just a sip. It's an imperial stout packed with a ridiculous 17.5 percent alcohol. It reminded me of grappa mixed with blackstrap molasses (which is also what it looks like), and I thought Tupper's description of it as a "heavy, pompous, violent" taste was apt. "It's not for everybody," he noted. No kidding.

Here's the full list of beers we tasted, in order:

1) Huyghe Delirium Tremens 2) Gordon Biersch Urgestiner Dunkel 3) Vintage 50 Scotch Ale, 4) Chimay Grand Reserve, 5) Brooklyn Monster, 6) Chophouse barley wine, 7) Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA , 8 ) Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, 9) Samichlaus, 10) Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron, 11) Sam Adams Imperial Stout, 12) Mikkeller Black

If you're interested in participating in future events like this in the DC area, keep your eye on the "culinary arts" program listings from the Resident Associates, as well as the Brickskeller's events page.

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