A small dilemma sometime last week had me wondering about my choice of beer for Saturday night. I had no interest in pursuing a selection ritual in front of the hundreds of beers on the many shelves at the beer stores in town. But there was a turn of events.
One of my sons had an interest in the St. Bernardus Abt 12 quad that I wrote about last week. Being the avid quad guy that he is, he laid a couple of twenties on my desk and asked if I could pick up a couple of bottles for him the next time I spotted it in my travels.
I knew there were none to be had here in town but I thought of a way to kill two birds with one stone. I’d take a trip to Cardinal Liquors in Joliet. I’d pick up a review beer for myself and the St. B for the kid.
Once at the store, I wandered the craft beer aisle, back and forth a number of times. I spotted a beer that I wanted to try but the price was a little steep. It wasn’t too long before I relented. I wanted to taste this beer. It was Dogfish Head’s Noble Rot. Ale brewed with grape must and with grape must added. The side of the label had this blurb:We brew this unique, sorta-saison with a little help from our friends at Alexandria Nicole Cellars using botrytis-infected Viognier grape must. This “noble rot” magnifies its complexity and long finish.
A Trouble Brewing cartoon came to mind.
I bought this beer based on the reputation of DFH and the few comments I read on a couple of beer forums. Minus about 30 bucks later, it was the return trip back home. A total of a little over an hour on the road… just for beer. Yeah. (No St. Bernardus for the kid. They were out. Sorry.)
This was what Sam Calagione had to say about this beer:
I had plenty of time to do research. What the hell is grape must? This from Wikipedia:
Must (from the Latin vinum mustum, “young wine”) is freshly pressed fruit juice (usually grape juice) that contains the skins, seeds, and stems of the fruit.
The next question is what is this botrytis infection?
Botrytis cinerea. Botrytis is a good fungus, that will infect or grow on the grapes when they are ripe. (If they stay moist, grey fungus can destroy the crops.) Botrytis on dry ripe grapes that start to raisin (reduces water content) are hand picked to make very sweet wine. The fermentable sugars for Noble Rot comes from the must.
The wine guy in the video below has a decent explanation of this noble rot.
Enough. Let’s drink.
The beer looked thin when I poured. The liquid was pale yellow in color and the 1/2” head was a brilliant white. The liquid was crystal clear and thousands of micro-bubbles formed nice lines streaming to the top. And… the head is gone. Just a little soap scum floating around on top. The aroma was faint and seemed to have detected a very slight metallic note. Wait, that was more like what I got sniffing lagers. Pale or pilsner malt.
The first sip was very different from what I expected. First a reminder of a hefeweizen. Then a nice pilsner. Finally, the sweetness kicked in with a little tart along the sides. A bit dry at the finish. Quite odd yet quite nice. Like a saison. But different.
The mouthfeel was moderate. To dissect all the flavors and ingredients would be quite a chore. Pale malts were present in abundance. Carbonation was non-stop. I kept getting the reminder of a wheat beer but less tart and sweeter with no bitterness. It was very similar to a saison but sweeter and less spicy. There was no hop character noticeable. The DFH website lists this beer at 18 IBUs. Hops were added just to say they added some hops.
There I sat, staring at the half-full glass, looking at absolutely no head whatsoever as I felt a little heat start to well up in my stomach. This beer is wrong on a few levels, but it has a lot going for it. The alcohol was almost expected with the beer weighing in at 9%. The lack of a foam head and no lacing at all along the sides lends credence to the grape sugars with which the beer was brewed.
The sweetness was not subtle, yet not cloying. It was there a bit at the beginning of each sip and grew large by the swallow. Quite a bit like a saison, I was convincing myself. Applaud the yeast for that. Yet the beer was somehow different. It brought to mind the Sam Adams Infinium which was brewed with champagne yeast.
As the glass warmed up, the flavors became more pronounced. The sweetness became bolder and the tartness was more overt. Still, there was that hefe note that I kept getting from time to time.
I apologize but I am not familiar with wines at all and I couldn’t tell you how this would compare with a sauterne or a pinot ‘georgio’, a claret or a merlot. I just don’t know and I care not to know. But I’m sure that some of the sweetness that I was tasting was quite reminiscent of a white wine of one species or another. Hell, the stuff even looked like a sparkling wine sitting there in the glass.
This beer had a unique taste all its own. I have to hand it to Sam and the gang at DFH for not only attempting this beer/wine hybrid, but actually pulling it off. I wondered how many test batches they went through before they said that it was good to go.
I’d classify this beer as a novelty beer, although BA and RB disagree as to its classification. I’d have one on the shelf for personal beer geek gatherings or a gift to bring to a party or festive occasion where beer and wine people mingle (if that’s at all possible.) I doubt that I’d buy this beer again unless the occasion called for it. 14 bucks a 750 is a little cost prohibitive based on what’s delivered to the palate. This coming from a guy who just recently shelled out 35 balloons for a fourpack of DFH 120 Minute.
If you finally got your income tax refund check, swing over to your LBS and pick up a 750 of DFH’s Noble Rot. Share it with your partner or a fellow beer geek just to say that you’ve tasted it. Bragging rights. Then reflect on on how good you have it being a beer drinker rather than one of those snooty old wine people. Finish with some Tank 7 from Boulevard or Domaine DuPage from Two Brothers or Flying Dog’s Wildeman Farmhouse ale. It would make for a great time.
Taste: Familiar, yet different and a bit odd. Tasty.
Smoothness: Easy going. Almost like a summer beer.
Drinkability: The taste and the ABV will dwell on your conscience.
Bang for the buck: A bit expensive for the taste delivered.
Amount paid: $13.99/750ml bottle
Get it again? I’ll think about it.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Yeah. It looks like a white wine. (sniff) It doesn’t have a real beery smell either. (sip) Kinda lemony. (sip) It’s more winey than beery. (sip) It’s more fruity… tangerine, lemon. (sip) It’s not bad, but it’s dry, like a white wine. (It’s a chick beer.)
Finally, Chris, from the Beer Temple, gives us his expert review: [12:37]