Sunday, March 8, 2009

Review: Avery Brabant

Avery Brewing has taken a big chance with Brabant, a new barrel-aged dark ale.

Brabant, which was aged in zinfandel barrels, is the Boulder brewery’s latest appeal to beer geeks. The brewery released only 694 cases of Brabant, making it very elusive and very expensive. The ale costs about $7 per 12-oz. bottle.

It is the first beer in Avery’s new barrel-aged series, so expect to see more artisan beers from the brewery along the same lines. Such beers are ingredient-intensive and labor-intensive, serving to justify the high price.

Brabant is brewed with Brettanomyces, a cantankerous wild yeast that can be either very desirable or a complete disaster. Brewers avoid it in other beers; its unexpected appearance can ruin a batch. Some brewers cultivate Brettanomyces, also called Brett, in special beers, as Avery is doing with Brabant. The tradition is chiefly Belgian (the name Brabant comes from a Belgian province), but Deschutes Brewery in Oregon scored a notable hit last year with The Dissident, a sour Flanders-style brown ale. Deschutes used a completely separate brewing system for The Dissident to ensure that the Brett would not infect its other beers. It worked: The Dissident was a huge success and won a gold medal at the 2008 Great American Beer Festival.

Brabant is not Avery’s first go-round with Brett. The brewery used the yeast in its much buzzed-about Fifteen, which won a silver medal at the GABF.

Brett is often used to impart a sour taste and Brabant is no exception. The sourness could be somewhat off-putting to a beer drinker who is not used to it. Personally, I love it. Beers brewed with Brett tend to taste nearer to wine than other beers do. Avery’s decision to age Brabant in zinfandel barrels pushes it further in that direction.

Brabant pours a completely opaque black. A dark ale, indeed. The carbonation is delightful. Brabant retains a modest fizzy head. Tiny bubbles linger throughout the glass.

Brabant’s taste is smooth, well-refined and balanced. It is sour, though not as sour as The Dissident, and the zinfandel influence is evident. I kept thinking of black licorice, although Brabant’s taste is much more subtle than that. A strong aftertaste lingers and the high alcohol content (8.65 percent ABV) sends it right up your nose.

Brabant is a special-occasion beer. It is too expensive, too rare and too strong to drink regularly. This is the kind of beer you pour in your best glass and savor, perhaps with a seafood or poultry dish.

I purchased my Brabant bottles in Breckenridge, but Avery does distribute in Durango, so it may yet show up here.

Avery has done well with Brabant. It is an impressively complex and interesting beer. My only complaint is the decision to bottle it in 12-oz. containers. It simply isn’t enough. A pint is really necessary to get a good gauge on a beer, and a 22-oz. bomber is preferable. I don’t see why Avery didn’t bottle Brabant in bombers. The brewery has a whole roster of interesting beers it puts in bombers.

Avery deserves credit for taking risks. The Boulder brewery is perhaps foremost in Colorado in pushing the envelope with its beers. To my knowledge, none of the Durango breweries has experimented with Brett. It is an expensive and time-consuming brewing process that is high-risk and high-reward. I hope one of our hometown breweries takes the plunge. Until then, we can enjoy beers like Brabant. A-

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