Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Talking Head: When is a beer not a beer?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 20, 2009 at 3:52 PM

click to enlarge Brooklyn's Manhattan Project at Leon's Full Service
  • Brooklyn's Manhattan Project at Leon's Full Service

Brooklyn Brewery's Garrett Oliver is one of the industry's staunchest defenders of traditional brewing styles. The brewery's core offerings are straightforward versions of an American lager, a German pilsner, and an English IPA. His book, The Brewmaster's Table, is a sophisticated look at Old World styles and their natural affinities for food. But while Oliver has been portrayed as something of a curmudgeon when compared to envelope-pushing brewers like Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione, his Brewmaster's Reserve series has shown remarkable creativity. The latest offering in the series is a collaboration with cocktail expert and James Beard award winner David Wondrich, a strong ale brewed with rye malt, botanicals, and tart cherry that seeks to replicate the bittersweet balance of a classic Manhattan cocktail.

Wondrich introduced Oliver to the classic version of the Manhattan, which is made with rye whiskey, red vermouth, and bitters, and it quickly became one of his favorites. He naturally thought of exploring the flavor combinations in a beer. Along with the rye malts, a portion of the beer is aged in Rittenhouse 100-proof rye whiskey barrels. Caramel syrup and brewer's sugar boost the alcohol content to a modest 7.5 percent, while lightening the body. German Perle hops and a variety of spices, including gentian root, nutmeg, coriander, and clove provide the bitter counterpoints. Orange and lemon peel and organic cherry juice are the sweet-tart garnish.

Whether the result is a success may depend on your perspective. I love a good Manhattan, and this beer certainly echoes some of these flavors, although I found it lacking in rye character and alcohol bite. Overly sweet initially, a more bitter element emerges as it warms. The spicy aroma is pleasant all the way through, suggesting a traditional wassail or spiced winter ale. As Oliver suggests, it would pair nicely with rabbit, as well as game birds or pork. Ultimately, I'd rather have the cocktail than the beer, and perhaps the experiment leans too heavily on its inspiration, leaving its beer roots too far behind. Still, this is a worthy effort, and I'm glad to see a brewer as talented as Oliver thinking outside the box.

Manhattan Project is available on draft only and is on tap now for a limited time at Leon's Full Service in Decatur.

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