River Horse Brewing Company - Gentle Giant (RBC Exclusive)
- ABV: 8%
- Bottle Size: 750-ml
- Serving Temperature: 40–47° F
- Suggested Glassware: Tulip, Goblet, or Chalice Glass
River Horse’s limited-release Gentle Giant will be featured this month as a Rare Beer Club exclusive, only available to our club members and through the brewery’s taproom in Ewing, New Jersey. We wanted to do a big witbier with the folks at River Horse. They’d released an imperial wit once before (though it wasn’t quite marketed as such…), and a general idea had been kicked around to do a beer that tasted like egg nog (including lactose, bourbon barrels, and just a touch of nutmeg). Eventually, we’d settled on an imperial witbier for the summer months—coming in at 8% ABV, with a firm lemongrass addition to amplify the citrus.
Gentle Giant pours a bright pale straw color in the glass, capped by substantial pillowy foam, which shows solid retention and lacing. This is brewed with around 50% wheat (its malt bill is basically just Pilsner malt and wheat), and that bready, toasty quality of the base maltiness is apparent from the first pour. The aromatics provide vibrant citrusy lemongrass and hints of that sweet orange peel from the beginning, presenting an expansive citrus character. This gets an addition of Citra hops in the whirlpool as well to further drive the citrus (but not to, like, IPA levels by any means). The house Belgian yeast strain comes through predominantly with dry pepper and cloves, staying away from overly fruity esters. Citrusy and nicely crisp.
Some lively, effervescent carbonation lands with the first sip, and Gentle Giant lands heavily with a citrusy, not-super-sweet approach, following the aroma. Medium-full body, very light on the sweetness, with some nice bitterness from the hops and yeast. There’s just a touch of bubble gum and caramelized sugars, plus some banana-like esters and lemon verbena. But it really gets steered by that lemongrass addition and the citrus, tropical presence of that Citra addition. Those two components take this imperial witbier to a whole other level, without relying upon fruity yeast esters or sweet core malts. A delicious, and crisp, imperial witbier.
River Horse expects Gentle Giant should hold up in the cellar for a short bit of time, about three to six months. Beyond that though, the lemongrass will start to fade, with more of the other aspects of that Belgian yeast character coming in. For pairings: the brewery suggests going spicy—charcuterie? hot wings?—pairing up with that citrusy lemongrass emphasis.
River Horse Brewing many seem like a new name to many of our Rare Beer Club members in places distant to New Jersey, but the brewery’s actually around 25 years old at this point. Expect this to become a more and more common occurrence going forward, with well over 8,000 breweries in the U.S. The fact is River Horse has been seeing a rebirth in recent years, and we’re looking forward to giving our Rare Beer Club members a taste of what we found.
River Horse, per owner Chris Walsh, was originally founded by three brothers, who saw it through one rise and fall of the craft beer tides before it was purchased by Walsh and Glenn Bernabeo in 2007, both having worked heavily with distressed companies. They redid all the packaging, branding and beer lineups, while keeping the original name intact. They were joined by Head Brewer Chris Rakow, who signed on around 2008 after studying to be an electrical engineer and quickly departing that field for brewing school and a job at Harpoon Brewery. In 2013, they were able to move into a facility two and a half times larger than the last one. James Evans recently took on the role of head brewer in November of 2020, having been the lead brewer at 21st Amendment. River Horse has also since added a canning line, as well as been developing brewery-exclusive sours and barrel-aged releases, expanding their range.
It’s been exciting for us to watch everything going on over at River Horse, including releases like their Hipp-O-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin Ale, and barrel-aged versions of their Oatmeal Milk Stout. The brewery’s Barrel Aged Series further includes a rum-barrel-aged Baltic porter and a cranberry sour—brewed with a mélange of yeast, bacteria, and New Jersey cranberries. Some Rare Beer Club members may recall the brewery’s delicious Imperial Chocolate Porter, which we featured as another exclusive some years back, as well as the Night Grazer imperial stout, aged on espresso beans, chocolate, vanilla beans, and ancho chili peppers.
This month, we’re excited to offer up River Horse’s Gentle Giant as an exclusive release via the Rare Beer Club. This imperial witbier comes in at a breezy 8%, emphasizing the citrusy nature of its lemongrass addition, alongside a small addition of sweet orange peel in the boil. Big ABV for the style, but carefully crafted and refreshing. It’s a brilliantly built offering that builds off a number of the brewery’s strengths, and it will be available exclusively through the Rare Beer Club and the brewery’s tasting room in New Jersey.
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