First of all, I’m popping open a beer and writing this because I’m annoyed that I’m not at the Funky Buddha tonight for its orgy of special release beers. To those of you who are there, I’m jealous, and you suck. Anyway, nothing I have can match what’s going down at the Buddha tonight, but I’m hoping to open something at least a little interesting to begin to ease the pain of missing out.
I never know what I’m going to get with the “gypsy brewer” Mikkeller, and I like that. These guys are pretty experimental, and while not all of their experiments pan out so well, when I open up one of these beers, I’m guaranteed to not be bored. Sometimes Mikkeller is at the height of brilliance (in the key of “Beer Geek Brunch Weasel”), other times complete weirdness (a la Spontankoppi) – but either way, there’s always something to talk about.
All I know about this Funky E * beer is what I’m reading on the label – Belgian Wild Ale aged in Sauternes barrels. Note for the uninitiated – all “wild” implies is that we’ve got some Brettanomyces “wild yeast” helping make up some of the flavor profile. It’s not “wild” in the sense that the beer’s going to leap forth and bite you, requiring a visit to the doctor for a rabies shot.
Sauternes will be familiar to the wine enthusiast, but many beer aficionados may not know that it’s a sweet white wine produced with noble rot-infected grapes in the Bordeaux region of France. Like many of the best sweet wines, they’re fairly expensive. My most obvious beery reference point here is Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot, an interesting saison-Viognier hybrid beer that definitely left little doubt as to its vinous origins.
I guess my questions here are going to be 1) how funky is it, and 2) how much Sauternes comes through?
It pours like an red ale, decent level of foam that wants to stick around a while, over a clear dark amber. It actually is clear, even if the picture I took doesn’t show that.
The nose is nuanced, varied – there’s the expected apricot and honey from the sweet wine influence, with a little bit of that telltale cat pee and molded plastic from the yeast. It’s pretty funky, and smells tart – if I didn’t know any better, I might think it’s an old lambic, or at the very least a tart saison based on the smell. As it warms, I seem to get less of the Sauternes, and more of the underlying base beer – a thick Cointreau-cake malt character.
Here’s one that is nowhere near as sour on the palate as it smells. It’s just a little tart, and a very smooth tartness at that, delivered by a surprisingly creamy mouthfeel. In fact, I think the texture might be my favorite part of this beer, its creaminess dovetailing perfectly with a hint of vanilla on the back end; that’s probably the wine barrel influence. Up front, it’s a little off-dry stonefruit, not terribly sweet, but certainly nowhere near the typical austere dryness of a saison. Some cat pee and leather make their way from the aroma to the palate, but no big deal on that score, I’ve had funkier.
Alcohol is almost at 10% – I feel it, but don’t taste it. This one isn’t a chore to get through, as some of the higher-ABV brews can be. I can’t say it slapped the hell out of me with wine-like acidity, but I’m not sure I was in the mood for that anyway. This one’s more balanced and creamy, with an apparent, but more restrained wine and barrel influence than some other comparable beers. I’d almost call this easy drinking if not for the fact that I can already feel the alcohol going to my head.
Well, it didn’t make up for the Buddha, but that was always going to be a tall order. If you can find some of this in a dusty corner of an out-of-town liquor store, don’t hesitate to give it a go. It’s a shame that South Florida’s Mikkeller availability is so spotty-to-barely-existent.