He’brew Gift Pack 2014 – Rejewvenator Double Doppel – Shmaltz Brewing

Today is the third review of eight in our nine part He’brew Gift Pack series.  For links to the other posts, see the intro.

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Similar to last nights amazing Funky Jewbelation, Shmaltz once again goes with the theory of “why brew a simple beer when we can combine multiple styles and ingredients, and just maybe we can make something unique and great.”  Unique, check.  Great…we’ll see.  Let’s start with the description from the brewery themselves:

“Brewed with a combination of Abbey and Trappist Belgian ale yeast and European lager yeast, this ale-lager hybrid showcases qualities of two of our favorite traditional styles in the most untraditional way,” says Shmaltz Brewmaster Paul McErlean. “The addition of California Merlot and Upstate NY Concord Grapes brings Shmaltz’s bi-coastal roots full circle and contributes a luscious complexity of vibrant flavors.”

The experimental process of brewing Rejewvenator® 2014 begins with 4 specialty malts and 4 hop varieties blending European tradition with brazenly innovative American craft beer flavor and attitude. Cold, bottom fermentation starts with the European Lager yeast, and once the beer warms, McErlean pitches the Abbey/Trappist Belgian Ale yeasts brought in exclusively for this brew. Finally the succulent juice of grapes is infused into the wort (beer) and ferments for several weeks before filtration and packaging. A delicious tribute to the original craft beer warriors, the Monks, and a fitting welcome to warmer days and the new life of Spring and Summer.

Born in California now Reborn in New York – it’s a Rejewvenator 2014 – with grape! Concord & Merlot, East Coast West Coast mashup – everyone is a winner. Malts: 2-row, Munich, CaraVienna, Dark Crystal. Hops: Warrior, Cascade, Amarillo, Crystal, Goldings. California and New York Grape Juices.

So it starts as a lager, continues as an abbey ale, then gets infused with two kinds of grape juice.  Sounds intriguing, let’s get right to it!

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First things first.  My friend Bobby is drinking this sampler is the same fashion I am reviewing it.  I asked him to send me some thoughts each night, but then forgot to include them due to sheer tiredness.  I won’t make that mistake again tonight:

Not as dark as the rest of the series. Aromas of sweet raisins and toast.  Taste is smooth, not hoppy and not malty. Light grape juice sweetness. Slight bitterness on the finish.

That sounds like a pretty good summary to me, let’s see if we agree.

Appearance 4/5

The first thing you notice is the color: orange, amber, brown, and even golden at the edges.  It is much lighter than the previous two, and lighter than I expected given the addition of grape juice.  The cloudiness reflects light and makes this brew burst with color when held up to light.  I got about a half inch of head off the pour, light brown in color, and consisting of medium to large bubble sizes.  The carbonation activity seems low as I watch the glass, and is supported by the head which is all but gone after only a few minutes.2-DSC_0335

Aroma 4/5

The prominent aromas for me are 1) grape juice and 2) Belgian yeast and 3) caramel malt.  I love this aroma.  It’s simple, but it’s excellent.

Taste 7/10

Compared to the aroma, the taste is far less grape and much more alcohol.  Additional flavors not noticed in the aroma are a honey sweetness and a bitter hop edge.  I am really enjoying the caramel malt, the bitterness balancing out the sweetness, and the high ABV, which is much more noticeable that last nights, even though this one is lower (8%).  I’m really missing the grape flavor though- it was so prominent in the aroma, I got my hopes up for a big tart grape flavor, and for me, it’s just not there.  In fact, if I try not to smell it before drinking, I don’t get any grape in the flavor at all.  The lack of grape flavor doesn’t turn the other good flavors bad, it’s just not what I had hoped for.

You know when you notice the grape flavor?  After you’re done the glass.  You get the tartness and the slight dry finish associated with a white grape juice.  I think that the grape flavor is there, but in this presentation, it is mostly masked by the relatively strong bitterness.

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Palate 3.5/5

Stealthy carbonation- plentiful in the mouth, but no where to be seen in the glass…interesting.  Strong alcohol flavor, but it is well supported by the malt backbone.  Medium heavy body, and honey/syrupy feel are all very nice.

Overall

This is an interesting combination of two styles- caramel malt from the lager and yeasty, high ABV flavors from the Belgian ale.  The grapes don’t shine as bright as I wanted them too, and I wonder if toning down the bitterness might let them come through more.  This is an interesting beer with good flavors in a unique combination, but it falls just short of being great for me.3-DSC_0336

Score: 18.5/25, 3.7

Tomorrow Night – St. Lenny’s Belgian Strong Ale

He’brew Gift Pack 2014 – Funky Jewbelation

Today is the second review of eight in our nine part Hebrew Gift Pack series.  For links to the other posts, see the intro.

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3 candles lit means it’s time for Funky Jewbelation tonight.  I’ve been anticipating tonight’s bottle more than any other I would say, as the construction of it is pretty ridiculous.  The front of the bottle says it is:

A blend of 7 ales aged in 35% [Buffalo Trace] bourbon barrels and 65% [Sazarac and Willett] rye whiskey barrels

7. Ales.  Jewbelation 15, Messiah, Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A., Reunion, Origin, Rejewvenator, and Death of a Contract Brewer.  That’s an American Strong Ale, a Nut Brown Ale, a RyePA, another American Strong Ale, a Pomegranate Fruit Beer, an Abbey Dubbel, and a Black IPA.  So the concept is essentially, “can we take a bunch of our beers, mix them together, and then age them in a combination of different barrels and get something that is drinkable?  Better than the components of the mixture?  Sounds pretty crazy to me, but I’m always up for something new, let’s give it a shot.

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Appearance 4/5

The pour looks syrupy and dark.  The color is such a dark brown that the reddish orange only comes through at the very top and bottom of the glass.  Like last night, there’s not much carbonation on display here, perhaps 1/3″ of tan colored head at best, made up of small size bubbles.  It’s nearly impossible to see into the darkness of this liquid, but I can barely make out a fair amount of bubbles rising quickly to the top of the glass…I sure hope this is more carbonated than the Messiah was…2-DSC_0331-001

Aroma 4.5/5

1-DSC_0329-001I’ve got to tell you, I haven’t moved the glass off of the desk yet,  and I can already smell the fruity, sour aroma bursting out of the glass.  Closer inspection reveals sour apple, red grape juice, and prominent bourbon/whiskey.  There are so many aromas working here it’s difficult to pinpoint more than that.  Based on the aroma, I expect this to pack quite a sour punch.

Taste 9/10

My first impressions are that the taste is more reserved than I expected, and there is a lot of Gose (salty) flavor coming through for me.  Then again, after picking it up and tasting it again, I’m more inclined to notice the strong sour fruit flavor (no doubt in part from the pomegranate ale).  And with the next drink, the darker roasty flavors hinting at chocolate.  It’s not particularly hoppy, or if it is, you don’t notice it before being drawn to other flavors.  The bitterness is minimal, and the alcohol is practically unnoticed for me…in fact, I think the barrel aging and high ABV serve to impart a lot of flavor intensity, without overwhelming at all with bourbon/whiskey flavor.

You know, for all of the description they give about how they made it funky…they don’t actually say anything about how they made it sour.  I think the Gose comparison is valid here, as that is a style that works because the saltiness balances out the strong sour flavor, making something that might otherwise be too sour to be very drinkable.  I’m not sure the salt in Funky Jewbelation is intentional, but regardless, the sourness is very nicely balanced, and is more of a tart than a full fledged sour patch kid taste.

You really do get different tastes with each different sip, and yet it doesn’t come across as a jumble…I think it’s more your brain only being able to interpret so much at any one time, and so it continually captures new flavors as it locks down the old ones.  Does that make sense?3-DSC_0332-001

Palate 5/5

What is there to say?  If there ever was a masterwork of bringing multiple different style of beer together, aging them, and souring them, this is it.  I really can’t imagine this turning out any better than it did.

Overall

On the one hand, the mixture of 7 different beers, aging in different barrels, the souring process, and creating something that tastes like it was meant to be this way from the start is nothing short of amazing.  On the other hand, we don’t want to get toooo carried away with the process itself (incredible though it may be), when the beer is being judged in it’s own right.  The question of ” if I knew nothing about the creation of this, what would I think about it” comes to mind.  Say someone handed you this and said, “it’s a bit sour, what do you think?”

I’d say you’ve got a wide, wide range of flavors from sour to fruity to salty to malty to very slightly woody, and, bottom line, despite all that you got a pretty drinkable beer.  So there you have it.  It’s a feat of beer engineering, and it’s awesome in it’s own right even without all of that.  I can honestly say I thought this was going to be an interesting novelty beer, but at the end of the review I would probably be fine with not having more of this until (potentially) next year’s Hebrew gift pack.  But this far exceeded my expectations.  I’ve not seen a bottle of this outside of the sampler pack, but you can bet I’ll be on the lookout for them.

Score: 22.5/25, 4.5

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Rejewvenator Double Doppel!

He’brew Gift Pack 2014 – Messiah Nut Brown Ale

Today is the first review in our 9 part Hebrew Gift Pack series.  For the intro and lots of pictures, see last nights post.  First up, Messiah Nut Brown Ale:

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My original plan was to work left to right on the box, and the order that I presented the bottles in the pictures yesterday…but I was informed that the candles are to be lit right to left.  So I’ll keep the order, but arrange them right to left for the presentation.  Should work, right?  In the interest of time, and me having a chance to post one review per day, I plan to keep these concise.  Here we go!

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1-DSC_0322-001Appearance 3

The pour shows minimal carbonation, and a medium dark head that lasts about as long as it took me to take 3 pictures before it was gone.  Bubble size was medium to small.  I see no carbonation rising from the bottom of the glass (or sticking to the sides of the glass, take that Reddit clean freaks!), indicting super low carb in this one.  Color-wise this looks like cola.  Dark, mostly brown, but with black, orange, and maroon colors adding to the overall brown.  It’s completely clear, and looking even more closely does reveal some medium size bubbles rising from the bottom.  I must say…I’m worried…I don’t want to get this series off on the wrong foot, and this pour is a bit…flat for me so far.

Aroma 4

The aroma improves on the appearance by offering a full bodied, dark malt, molasses sweetness, dark chocolate, and an almost walnut like combination of buttery and bitter.  I realize that was a horrible explanation of how walnuts taste.  How would you describe a walnut?  The overall aroma is very good.

Taste 5

Before I get to the details of the taste, let me say that the last “nut brown ale” that I had was one by Sam Adams.  I think it was called Hazel Brown, or something close to that.  I remember it having a very full body, and an authentic hazelnut flavor that was well supported by a balance of sweet malts and bitter hops.  I liked that one a lot, and apparently, so did many others.  I’m sorry to say that in taste, Messiah pales in comparison to the Sam Adams product.  The immediate problem here, and this belongs in the next section, is that it is altogether too light in feel and flavor.  The flavors I talked about in the aroma are there, but…maybe only a half or a third as much as I wanted them to be.  It’s like they are in the background, and in the foreground is a base of grain and dark malt that tries, but is just too weak to stand up like it should.  The overall weak package of flavors tends to bring out the bitterness for me also.3-DSC_0325-001

Palate 2

Much too low on carbonation, much too light in body.  Alcohol is a non factor (5.5%).  For a dark ale, you really expect this to have some body, but it’s simply not there.

Overall

After thinking about this for a few minutes, I feel like there are two things that would improve this ale greatly: higher ABV, and higher carbonation.  I feel like the flavors present are good flavors, they’re certainly not bad in any way, but they are just spread too thin.  And the carbonation doesn’t help.  Have you even had really flat soda and wondered how something you like so much can taste so bad without the simple inclusion of bubbles?  How much better could this be if it was bumped up to even a medium level of carbonation?  And the body, well I think an ABV a few notches higher would remedy that watery feel that is off-putting in an ale with this appearance, but that’s just me.2-DSC_0323-001

Score (Out of 5): 2.8

So it looks like we’re starting off this holiday with somewhat of a miss, and I think we’ve found the lowest scoring bottle with our first try.  Only way to go from here is up!  Stay tuned for Funky Jewbelation tomorrow!