- Mike Riedel
Sadly, that big middle finger that 2020 has been sticking in our faces will extend to Thanksgiving Day, jamming up another of our social traditions. If you find yourself detached from friends and family this year, a special beer may help ease your isolation while spicing up an otherwise traditional meal. So, if you're looking for some full-flavored cheer, look no further.
Proper - Coward's Fist: Pours a murky honey-amber with a dense appearance of creamy froth. Sharp aromas of distilled spirits are clean but piquant, as a tingle in the nose comes with the scent of citrus, potpourri, pine and caramel. That aspect of caramel spreads across the tongue with a nutty, toasty, granola-like maltiness.
The similarities in taste that are shared by both Pacific Northwest hops and juniper berries start with citrus and end with pine nearly to a tee. Even the botanical character of gin suggests that a marriage with hop perfumes would be seamless. A gradual release of sweetness keeps the hops and barrel contributions supported, even as the ale prefers a drying track. Meanwhile, the hoppy flavors of pink grapefruit, orange peel and lime quickly develop into the quintessential bitterness of pine, grassiness and pepper. Dry oak, bitter herbs and spicy heather tease and taunt the late palate with botanical heat. Full-bodied and finishing bittersweet, the hops and barrel spirits outlast the caramelized malt for a forceful punch of prickling alcohol.
Overall: The hops—from aroma to palate to bitter finish—were certainly less potent than when fresh, but there was not the slightest hint of staleness. The gin barrels added a remarkable complement to the profile, as well. I've recently become reacquainted with gin, and this adds a flowery/sage character that blends perfectly with the base beer. Pair this Spicy IPA with turkey and stuffing sandwich leftovers.
Level Crossing - Red Sea Rift: This coffee-infused imperial stout has a jet-black body with copper-colored foam that dissipates to a thin film on the surface. Rich, thick coffee and chocolate aromas are strong here, like when you mix a packet of cocoa powder into a fresh cup of coffee—medium roast with slight fruit tones and some rich earthiness, underneath a very light char and smoke. Also, you might note some rich chocolate syrup and a malt character similar to malted milk balls in there.
Following the nose, there's medium-roast coffee (earthy, moderately fruity and floral underneath the roast), creamy, rich chocolate (like dark chocolate mousse), plus citrusy and floral tones (orange peel, fresh-cut flowers and lemon peel) which could either be hops or the coffee. Underneath it all, there's some smooth malt character from the oats, lending an earthy, brown-sugar oatmeal cookie sweetness. It's chilling out there beneath all that coffee and chocolate, but it adds an excellent depth, and acts as an outstanding base for the coffee, citrus and creamy chocolate components overhead. A modest booze note creeps in, but it fits the style and blends in extremely well.
Overall: What an incredibly enjoyable beer. It's got depth, it's got complexity, it's got body and character. It's plenty bold, and it doesn't sacrifice any of these things in the name of anything gimmicky. It doesn't redefine the style or anything, but man oh man, I'm pretty sure it nails whatever it set out to do. Really, this is a quality, high-value Imperial Stout that could
seriously convert neophytes to the dark side. I'd pair this with bourbon pecan pie, pumpkin pie or a creamy fruit salad.
Actually, I think these two ales will pair perfectly with leftovers, so seek them out and hunker down for a long, quiet weekend. You'll find them at their respective breweries, but note that they will be closed on the holiday. As always, cheers!