Saturday, March 5, 2011

A beer to marry
Renato Redentor Constantino

I haven't published anything lately even though I've been writing. I've also been doing a bit of pushing with a few pieces of work I'm focused on but that's about the only stuff that's been coming out for the consumption of some.

Since the schedule's all messed up, I've built up an impressive backlog of great stories and things to share, and I need to take them off my chest bit by bit, just so I feel less flattened by the crush of narratives that have accumulated over so many months.

So here's one, about bubbles of truth. Because it's true. The first town on this planet that legally recognizes human-and-ale marriage, I'd go there straight away to ink my vows.

I think I'd marry a few beers in one go, but I'd plead against beer monogamy and ale divorce - the aim is to spread the romance.

So here's a beer that got me cross-eyed. This one deserves to be called extremely wonderful. It's called the Palo Santo Marron, it's made in one of the Himalayas of brewing, Dogfish Head Breweries of Delaware, and it left my list of all-time greats all messed up.

Erstwhile incredibles perched on top of my list tumbled down to great but less than spectacular when I tasted this rambunctious, impressively complex unfiltered brown ale.

The amount of flavors that the makers managed to swirl in so naturally left me speechless after the first sip. Espresso, chocolate, a lighted panetela cigar, vanilla, a burst cherry -- and this was before the finish, just before the rush of carbonation transforms the original flavors into new variations of aroma and liquid and air. A smoking, humid, sweet jungle at dusk; a liquid experience.

Filipinos have a biblical word for awesome -- susmaryosep. I'd use it on Palo Santo Marron each time.

Yet the most amazing thing about this beer is its alchemy. Throughout the magic of bursting, rushing flavors, you don't taste the alcohol, which is mind-boggling, considering that Palo Santo Marron's 12.0 % AbV.

It has always been the ambition of Dogfish Head, "to make beers so potent and unique that they couldn’t be judged by ordinary standards." The thing is, they keep achieving their vision.

It's going to take a lot to knock off Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA from my top three, and the quadruple Rochefort 10 by the esteemed Trappiste brewery of St. Remy in Liege, Belgium. The former's 18.0 % AbV and as an insane IPA registers 120 international bitterness units (IBU) while the latter registers 11.30% AbV. I think Palo Santo Marron, which has a 50 IBU rating, can sit comfortably with these two other lovelies.

Sam Calagione, the chief mad scientist of Dogfish Head, had sent John Gasparine, a beer hunter, to Paraguay to track down Bulnesia sarmientoi, a willowy tree sometimes called ironwood. “I told him to get a shitload,” said Calagione. “We were going to build the biggest wooden barrel since the days of Prohibition."

It was Gasparine who hatched the idea. After all, "Dogfish was already aging some of its beer in oak barrels. Why not try something more aromatic, like palo santo" which is considered one of the two or three hardest woods in the world.

The wood "felt disproportionately heavy," said Calagione, "as if subject to a stronger gravity—one part wood, one part white dwarf star." The barrel was eventually built at a cost of "about a hundred and forty thousand dollars—three times the price of the oak barrel beside it." According to Calagione, “If Dogfish were a publicly traded company, I’d have been fired for building this.”

It's a great, great beer, and great brews deserve great writing, so if you're keen, dive into more details. Read the New Yorker's Burkhard Bilger's excellent take on Calagione and the rise of the only revolution - a great one - that the US is leading in the world today -- craft beer.

I don't use the word "revolution" lightly. Truly, a huge number of Americans are creating magic even as I write this. There are a few places in the Philippines -- liquor stores and bars -- that more and more frequently push the right beer brands, such as the products of Rogue Ale, a brewery with groovy brew pubs like the one in San Francisco that I went to a number of times in December and which together form another hugely interesting story that I need to write, one day, maybe soon, or maybe not. Yet. Whatever.

For now I'm celebrating Palo Santo Marron. I bought my first four-pack at the same Chinese deli in Rockville, Maryland where I met another love, the 120 Minute IPA, last year.

I had the Palo Santo Marron with my good buddy, Sze Ping, in a dinner hosted by Athena and Patrick, last February. It went really well with caldereta and the samosas cooked by Sunita Dubey, who joined us with her husband.

I got about three four-packs in Feb. I consumed two of these in Maryland and brought one pack home. Last night, I opened a bottle for Kala, in anticipation of the coming lurch to Berlin and a hello to fellow beer hunter Daniel Mittler. A sip later, she said, "Susmaryosep."  #





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