Monday, 21 March 2011
Jack & Ken
Jack is Jack McAuliffe, whose New Albion kicked off the US small brewery boom back in 1977 (and then lasted until 1982 — Maureen Ogle’s fascinating Ambitious Brew charts the rise and fall on pages 291-299). Ken is Ken Grossman who continues the dream with Sierra Nevada. Jack & Ken’s Ale is a celebration and collaboration between two pioneering souls (the series also included a mashing of tuns with Charlie Papazian, Fritz Maytag and Fred Eckhardt). This beauty appeared at my door, like an orphan in storm, begging to be allowed in, sometime in the autumn. Christmas and New Year passed it by and — truth be told — it could have sat in the cellar for ages, King Arthur asleep until his country’s call, or just a beer in hibernation, until an inner voice said: it’s spring, it’s beer, now drink it. Which I did. Black barley wine was the subtitle, apparently an homage to some powerful grog that New Albion came up with. First thoughts: in the mouth it’s luxurious and creamy, a version of luxury and exclusivity (Louis Vutton, Rolls-Royce, a berth in first class on the Orient Express); now back to reality and less dreaming. The nose pulsates with a spirituous swag bag of chocolate, mocha coffee and Sambuca while a spike of dry grainy barley cuts through the air like the swish of a pirate’s cutlass. The palate is a condundrum, bearing contrasts: creamy cold espresso, ripe dark plumy fruitiness, fruit gums steeped in alcohol and dusted with chocolate, while some dry, sooty, smoky notes add a hard edge to the generously chewy finish. If there’s a black barley wine style then I must admit it seems to me that it shares rooms (en suite of course) with our old friend the Imperial porter, but that argument’s for the medieval philosophers amongst us who rack our brains night after night deciding how many angels one can detect on a pinhead. A worthy tribute to Jack McAuliffe this, but even more pertinent: it’s just one big bruiser of a beer of which I wish I had two, just to see how it would develope over time. So if seen, snap up, double up on the snap up and then let it seep into your soul.