Hahn Brewing Company - Special Vintage 2000
- ABV: 8.12%
- Int’l Bittering Units (IBUs): 30
- Malts: pale, dark crystal
- Hops: Willamette
Beer deserves a whole lot more respect than it gets. But in order to get that respect, it needs to stop making itself look like a convenience product that you buy from the supermarket. Beer is much more than that; beer is the wine of the north. And if you are going to bottle condition, it's probably a good idea to use a hefty bottle, with a cork and wire hood. The Belgians are very keen on that sort of champagne presentation. It gives the beer a little elegance when it is served at your table. When you serve beer with food, which I greatly espouse and approve of, you want the beer to look elegant when it is brought to your table. You certainly don't want a can.
After this elegant beer created by Chuck Hahn is fermented with both lager and ale yeasts and matured for a week or two at the brewery, it is centrifuged to get rid of the yeast. It is then re-yeasted with a wine yeast, like the dosage in a champagne, and a little sugar is added to encourage the beer to ferment again. It's really a third fermentation, with primary and secondary in tank, and the third in the bottle. In Belgium and northern France, they would call this re-fermentation.
You drink beer with your eyes as well as your mouth. That's true of any food or drink, the appearance is very important. This beer has a lovely claret color, with a creamy head, a little rocky on top. That's all part of the sensuous experience.
Nosing it brings soft fruits, a Pinot Noir kind of character. A little vanilla; it has not been in oak, but still has that vanilla character. Spiciness in beer is often something that occurs naturally during fermentation, especially if the beer has been fermented at warmer temperatures using an ale yeast.
It's got a lot of texture to it, starting with some sweetness, and then developing a restrained, soft, appetizing dryness. Where are those flavors coming from? There's pale malt, which gives a cookie-like malt background. Dark crystal malt gives a more nutty, luscious flavor, and maybe a little of the finishing dryness, because it is kilned and gives a slightly sweet and burnt quality. The hops are Willamette hops from Oregon's Willamette Valley. This is one of those cases where the variety name of the hops is simply taken from the region where they are grown. Willamette hops evolved from Fuggles hops, which is an English variety grown in the county of Kent. Fuggles hops are named after farmer Fuggle, who first identified the variety. They have a soft, gentle bitterness.
In addition to the hops there is also orange peel used in the brew kettle; it does not give a hugely citric character, but just a kind of Moorish bitterness that you get from orange peel, almost the way it tastes when you put lemon zest in a martini.
Two yeasts are used, a lager yeast for a clean character and an ale yeast for a more fruity character. If Chuck were making this beer with entirely ale yeast, it would be fruitier and spicier. He wanted to have those characteristics but without having them dominate, so he used a lager yeast for a clean, round background, and then an ale yeast to punch in some spiciness and fruitiness.
As the beer warms up a bit, it yields up complex aromas and flavors. Spiciness comes through, perhaps cinnamon and more length - the flavors develop and linger, they don't just go away. Great beer, like great wine, goes well with food. It's not the only moment for drinking great beer. I could cheerfully drink this beer if I was hanging loose one afternoon, or maybe doing some cooking while listening to jazz. But this is a very food-friendly beer, with a teasing interplay of sweetness and slight bitterness. I can imagine it going with a dish of sweet meat, like pork - how about pork with prunes, say with a splash of bourbon? This could go with a dessert, if it contained quite a bitter black chocolate.
I usually see Chuck Hahn every October at the Great American Beer Festival, where we both serve as judges. I look forward to seeing him again. Thanks very much, Chuck.
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