Saturday, May 29, 2010

Widmer Brothers Prickly Pear Braggot

This beer represents the first step in a direction I’d like to move this summer of beer reviews. That step is toward the more “common” beers available from local breweries. While the Prickly Pear Braggot is part of Widmer’s “Brothers’ Reserve” series, it is easily found in the Seattle area. Yes my definition of Local may be vague, but this bottle was purchased from the Safeway grocery store within walking distance of my house. Sounds pretty local to me, despite the fact it’s not brewed in Washington.

Understand that while a brewer may crank out the same recipe of an American Pale Ale over and over and over and over again, there is no less devotion in that beer than there is in the one-off Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout with Chocolate Nibs and wax-dipped cap. If there is less devotion, then I would wager that brewer or brewery won’t be around in a year or four...

Yes, it’s exciting to seek out rare and special release beers from the many great breweries across the country or the world. But every beer lover needs to step away from the Dark Lords, the Pliney the Younger’s, Kate the Great’s, Darkenss, Abyss, Consecration, and Trappist Westvleteren 12’s of the world to take time and appreciate what lies in your own back yard. Appreciate what you have.

Therefore, in the coming months I will be taking a look into the more “common” beers available in the Seattle area. While many of you will have had these beers on many occasions, you may not give them the proper credit or consideration they deserve. I do have one bottle of Stone’s 09 Vertical Epic that I’ll have to crack open soon...but after that, look out Sierra Nevada Pale Ale! ...or whatever else I decide to buy next.

Now that my Braggot has warmed up, what the hell is a Braggot anyway?

From the BJCP: “A braggot is a standard mead made with both honey and malt providing flavor and fermentable extract. Originally, and alternatively, a mixture of mead and ale. A braggot can be made with any type of honey, and any type of base beer style. The malt component may be derived from grain or malt extracts. The beer may be hopped or not. If any other ingredients than honey and beer are contained in the braggot, it should be entered as an Open Category Mead.”

The description on the Widmer box reads: “Our Braggot is a strong ale brewed with a blend of honey, red prickly pear juice, and a variety of pale malts. The addition of alchemy hops helps balance the sweetness while still retaining the natural honey aromas and flavors. The prickly pear juice adds a unique hue to the beer as well as a subtle and refreshing herbal quality in the finish.”

Prickly Pear Braggot
Purchased at Safeway $9.99 (22oz)

Aroma: Upfront is the prominent, but not overpowering, aroma of sweet clover honey. At least I’m guessing it’s clover honey since that seems quite common. Light caramel notes with white bread and a Vienna malt character similar to what you find in a Märzen. Just a hint of alcohol on the nose. No hop aroma.

Appearance: Pours a diluted copper, balancing between pale straw with a reddish hue or even slightly pink. Brilliant clarity with continual carbonation bubbles easily seen rising to the top. Head pours a low, half finger of pure white but fades to a ring along the outside of the glass. Some light lacing down the edge.

Flavor: Light tartness hits the tongue at first before quickly transitioning to an earthy bitterness. Sweet honey plays into the mix, but not as much as I expected from the candy-like aromatics. Alcohol presence is quite prominent on the tongue with it’s spice lingering throughout the middle and into the finish. Earth and light wood retain a presence with hop bitterness coming back once again toward the dry finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium-high carbonation. The carbonation and alcohol presence combine to create a tingling warmth on the palate. Though, similar to a Barleywine, this Braggot will dry out the palate with an almost cooling sensation as you breath out. Just a hint of sweet honey stickyness on the palate before the finish dries out the tongue and back of the throat.

Overall: While I’ve tasted some Braggot’s at homebrew competitions, this is the first commercial example I’ve tried. It wouldn’t hurt to back off on the carbonation a little with this one and let the honey sweetness play a bigger role. Barley malt and honey characteristics are well balanced, with just a slight preference given to the honey. Hop presence is barely noticeable through the moderately strong alcohol. If Barelywine’s are often too strong for your liking, I recommend giving this Braggot a try as it combines nice alcohol presence with just enough sweetness to balance things out. As a beer brewed with honey, this is a nice example. As a mead blended with beer...I think Widmer could place a greater emphasis on the mead side of things to make a bolder statement. A nice drinking beer/mead/braggot though.

I rated this Braggot a “B+” on BeerAdvocate.

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Beer enthusiast and advocate. Recognized beer judge and traveler of west coast beer destinations.