For some time now I have been only dabbling around the edges of the influx of Europe’s boundary pushing breweries. The grandaddy is, of course, Mikkeller but we have seen a handful of others over the past year or so, including Evil Twin, Nøgne Ø and Beer Here. What singles these breweries out, for me, is their constant mode of experimentation. Their beer have unusual ingredients, push style boundaries and consider flavour combinations that are less than common. There are, most certainly, breweries of this nature worldwide. However, for some reason -maybe because of their relative exotic origins and more recent accessibility – the European boundary pushers get more of the attention.
People tend to fall into two camps around beer of this nature. There are the devoted fans of these beer, people who seek out any and all opportunities to sample their latest out-there offering, scooping them up as fast as they can. Then there are those who feel a lot more ho-hum about them. This latter group argues the beer isn’t worth the price point, that they can get just as good (or better) quality from beer closer to home.
I make no efforts to endorse either camp – they both have their points, and ultimately it comes down to personal taste and preference. Myself, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of these two groups (I suspect many of you do). I will pick up a beer from one of these breweries once in a while, out of curiousity, but by no means do Isample them all. Sometimes it is a price-point thing (even I guy like me can get sticker shock), sometimes other things that catch my attention more, and sometimes I just don’t feel up to the palate challenge these beer can offer.
Over time I have found my reaction to these types of experimental beer (and my comments here are not exclusive to the Europeans I mention – there are many U.S. breweries whom I would classify in the same category) is hit-and-miss. Some are interesting, others downright wonderful. But I also find my share of underwhelming versions. Sometimes there is just too much going on and the flavours clash. Sometimes I wonder if age is a problem, given the long shipping times and the “dynamic” nature of many of these beer. And once in a while I think the thing might be contaminated.
I have repeatedly stated that I believe the beer market needs to have space for a large diversity of brewing approaches. The experimental brewers are definitely on one end of that spectrum. I commend them for their fearlessness, rejoice in the fact that there is space for them, and often really enjoy the beer they make.
This is a situation where I am very curious what you onbeer.org readers think of these breweries. Am I being fair? Am I possibly missing some of their wonder that you can see? Let me know.
In the meantime, allow me to offer up my latest Vue Weekly column as an example of a time when I truly enjoyed one of those boundary pushing beer. It is a review of Beer Here’s Morke Pumpernickel Porter, brewed with rye, pumpernickel and fennel seeds (You can ead the review here). I almost stumbled across this one by accident – it was a recommendation by one of the servers at the Sugar Bowl before Xmas. I enjoyed it enough to include it in one of my fall tasting evenings at the Sugar Bowl and spun it off into a full review.
I think I like it, in large part, because I doubted the three flavour combinations of spicy rye, more earthy pumpernickel and the licorice accent of fennel would fit into a single, malty beer. But I was proven wrong. I really appreciated the first taste impressiions, which blend chocolate, coffee, licorice and a grainy sweetness.The finish remains balanced while allowing some spiciness to surface. It is a case where the additions make the beer. Alone it would have been robust yet one dimensional porter. Add the grains and spicing and it becomes more than the sum of the parts.
And that is, after all, the point of experimenting. You might just find something that surpasses expectations. Beer Here does it in this case.