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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Beer Baron - I Just Had an Epiphany (No. 1)

Belgian beers – especially Trappist beers, which are brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery under the control and responsibility of the community of monks – are pretty highly regarded by beer geeks.

In fact, when I tried my first really good Trappist beer, Chimay Blue, I was totally wonderstruck. It remains one of my favourite beers and was part of my motivation for visiting Belgium exploring the world of craft beer ever since. Another Trappist beer, Westvleteren 12, is usually at or near the top of the list of greatest beers in the world, so it is safe to say I was more than a little bit excited for the release of Black Oak Brewing Co.’s Epiphany No. 1, an Ontario craft beer made in the Belgian style.

Specifically, Epiphany No. 1 is a 9.5% Belgian-style quadrupel aged on cherry wood. A quadrupel – or “quad” is you speak beer geek – is defined as “a Belgian style ale of great strength with bolder flavour compared to its Dubbel and Tripel sister styles; typically a dark creation that ranges within the deep red, brown and garnet hues”. While that is all true, it was described much more succinctly in Pulp Fiction:

After first trying Epiphany No. 1 at Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium and then not-so-patiently waiting for it to finally hit the shelves at the LCBO to try at home, I was really impressed and needed to know more, so I went right to the source.

“I think the inspiration for Epiphany No. 1 was just to really highlight and show off the creative talent of our brew team,” says Erica Campbell, Sales, Marketing, Social Media & Events Manager, Black Oak Brewing Co.

So, it is a style of beer I love made by an Ontario brewery that makes one of the best beers in the province, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was good. Thankfully, this was one of those times that the final product lived up to its hype.

The aroma was a beautifully enticing mix of dark fruit, sweet caramel, a hint of tartness and – despite the fact that cherry wood doesn’t smell or taste like cherries – cherries. It’s the kind of beer you wish you could dive in to. The taste certainly lived up to the scent with deep, rich notes of caramel and dark fruits backed up by warm spiciness and roasted malts. It is certainly on the sweet side (which will help it age nicely) but it manages to hide its 9.5% alcohol by volume beautifully and is never overwhelmed by the cherry wood.

“Jon [Hodd, Black Oak’s Head Brewer] just thought the cherry wood would be a great idea. The wood was available in Ontario and we were able to get some and it really complements the flavor profile of the quadrupel,” says Erica. “The whole beauty of Belgian beers is the balance, so we didn’t want to overdo it with the cherry wood. We kept things wonderfully balanced and smooth.”

As far as food pairings go, Erica recommended rich desserts such as cheesecake, crème brûlée, dark chocolate and dark fruits, as well as rich meats like lamb or duck – and, of course, soft cheeses. I thought Oka, which is aged in the original cellars of a Cistercian Abbey, would be a good match for Epiphany No. 1 both spiritually and physically and I’m happy to say I wasn’t wrong.

So, after a wonderful Epiphany No. 1, what’s next for Black Oak’s Epiphany series of limited-release beers?
“We just did the pilot batch for Epiphany No. 2 but I can’t give anything away right now. We’re going to release the next one in the spring. It won’t be Belgian-inspired and we aren’t tied down to any one style. It could be an Imperial, it could be a session ale – but it will be fascinating,” says Erica.

Regardless of what Epiphany No. 2 turns out to be, Epiphany No. 1 was fantastic – but it is an epiphany that will be short-lived on the shelves, so fire up the LCBO website or app and seek out an epiphany of your own while you still can.

This post is by Matt, the Beer Baron.  Find him on Twitter at @geekcanuck  

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