Sunday, August 24, 2008

Beer of the Week: Special Anniversary Edition

[Update, 11-14-08: I've recently learned that Browning's went out of business last month. Sad times, when the economic downturn takes out a local brewery.]

One of my favorite beer mantras is drink locally. Not only does drinking locally help support local businesses, it also helps increase the quality and diversity of the beer available where you live. If your city can support a locally brewery, it can most likely also cultivate a market for better imports and craft beers.

To that end, in Louisville, we beer lovers are delightfully spoiled. There are four different brew-pubs in the Louisville area - three in Louisville proper (Bluegrass Brewing Company, Browning's, and Cumberland Brews), and another just across the river, in New Albany, IN (New Albanian Brewing Company). Each local brew-pub crafts a wide variety of beers, offering a mixture of brews made year-round and seasonals. You can find almost any style of beer you'd want, and find it locally.

Knowing my passion for local beer, Sami - who says she doesn't like beer, though I've been working on her - has resigned herself to dining in local brew-pubs in those rare moments when we can actually eat out. She even bravely pretends to enjoy herself.

Going above and beyond her duty to occasionally put up with my culinary eccentricities, for our anniversary she even suggested that we go to a local brew-pub, Browning's.

Browning's has a fantastic location, on Main Street downtown, sharing a converted old warehouse building with Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Cincinnati Red's Triple-A affiliate, the Louisville Bats. We were hoping to package dinner with a baseball game, but alas the Bats were out of town.

Before we even arrived at the brew-pub, I had my evening planned out. I was going to have their Louis XVI Guillotine ESB with dinner, and follow it with their Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout. The ESB - despite the incongruence of having a British-style ale named after a French monarch, which could only happen in Louisville, named, as we are, after Louis XVI - is a pretty damn good beer, one of my two Browning's regulars (along with another British-style ale, their John Shield's Blacksmith Porter). The Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout I'd never had, though I like the Bluegrass Brewing Company's Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout, a local favorite.

Bourbon barrel ales are made by brewing an ale - usually a dark one, like a stout or a porter, though the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale is an amber - and then aging it in a used bourbon barrel. This creates both a stronger beer and a more complex flavor, as the beer both goes through an additional fermentation and takes on some of the flavor of the bourbon barrel. Because bourbon is native to Kentucky, and because it is illegal for a distillery to reuse the charred oak barrels that bourbon is aged in, there are several different kinds of bourbon barrel ales made in Kentucky. It is a kind of local specialty, a way to reuse bourbon barrels without violating the laws concerning the production of bourbon. The end result is often quite a treat.

However, I had neither the Bourbon Barrel Imperial Stout nor the ESB, because when we arrived at Brownings I scanned the Seasonals list, and spied two beers I just had to try.

The first was the 80 Schilling Scotch Ale, which I started just before our meal and finished with our meal. It had a promising beginning. The color was amber/brown, which shone red when held up to the light. The aroma was both sweet and complex, with hints of caramel and vanilla. However, the head was thin and dissipated quickly. Still, I put it to my lips anticipating, based on the aroma, a very good beer.

Alas, what I got was both thin and weak. It was very drinkable, and it didn't taste bad. Rather, it simply didn't taste enough, if that makes any sense. The promise of a rich, complex flavor made by the aroma was left unfulfilled. There simply wasn't enough malting.

It was by no means a bad beer. It just didn't live up to its promise, and was vastly inferior to, say, Schlafly's Scotch-Style Ale. I'm glad I tried it, but I would have been better off sticking with the ESB or the Porter.

The other beer I tried was their Belgian Quad. A strong, dark, Belgian-style ale is my all time favorite beer, and this promised to be just that. It had alcohol aplenty (the waiter couldn't remember if it was 11% or 13% ABV, but whichever, it was certainly enough!), and was thus served in a half-pint rather than a pint. It was also certainly dark, mixing browns and blacks, and nearly opaque when held to the light. The aroma was, surprisingly, more subtle than that of the Scotch Ale, and as I put it to my lips, mildly depressed by the failure of the previous beer, I was prepared to be underwhelmed.

Instead I was startled. Richly malted, the Quad opened up a whole universe of complex flavors, delighting my palate, tickling my tongue. It was well crafted, by no means thin, and certainly not weak. I'd hold it up there with almost any domestic copy of a dark Belgian ale. In fact, it reminded me most of Brewery Het Anker's Gouden Carolus "Grand Cru of the Emperor."

So, if the dinner beer was a dud, the dessert beer more than made up for it.

On a final note, if you happen to find yourself in Louisville sometime, check out the local beer. It won't disappoint.


Here's what the Beer Advocate community thinks about Browning's.

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