January 16, 2013

What Ales You: Sometimes a beer is just a beer, sometimes it's more

By TOM ATWELL

I bought a bottle of Peak Organic Brewing Co.'s Oak Aged Mocha Stout more than a month ago when I made my first stop at Tully's Beer and Wine in Wells. I greedily grabbed the bottle as soon as I saw it.

Peak Organic’s Oak Aged Mocha Stout should be imbibed slowly, to fully savor and enjoy its complexity.

Courtesy photo

I spent a good part of the winter a year ago looking for this seasonal, and I never did find it. So I bought it and stored it through the Christmas and New Year holidays. It just didn't seem appropriate to drink such a complex beer while concentrating on holiday socializing. 

Last Saturday, while fighting a cold and a sore throat, I wanted something to sip while watching the Ravens-Broncos football game on television. It was a great game in which I had no serious rooting interest, so I could totally enjoy the beer.

This is another one of Peak's local projects. The organic coffee used in the production comes from Coffee By Design, a small Portland coffee company. The chocolate comes from Taza, a small organic chocolate company in Somerville, Mass.

But that is just part of the reason I wanted to try this beer. I have been nuts for mocha for more than half a century. I regularly drank mocha frappes before I was old enough to drink beer, and I still love the days when Red's in South Portland is serving coffee ice cream so I can get a hot fudge sundae with it.

And sticking with the ice-cream theme, I remember when they used to add malt to chocolate shakes, so it makes perfect sense to add chocolate to a heavily malted beer.

The beer, however, is a lot more complex than any ice cream dish.

The double stout is an almost impenetrable black with a nice, stiff, tan head. The immediate flavor was chocolate, but then I got the malt and coffee, a little bit of the oak from the barrel aging and a lot of spices from the hops.

I sipped this beer throughout a large part of what was a very long football game, and the flavors seemed to round out and get more complex as the beer warmed. It is definitely a beer that needs to be enjoyed slowly.

The price at Tully's was $7.30 for a 22-ounce bottle, and the beer is 8.4 percent alcohol.

We drank a couple of other Peak beers during the holiday madness, and enjoyed them both.

I bought a Winter Session Ale at Tully's, and it was as good as I remembered when it came in at the top of a head-to-head tasting of winter beers two years ago. It is a complex, dark wheat beer with a wide palate of flavors.

And when I found a six-pack of Peak Amber Ale for $9.99 at Whole Foods, I bought it. I know the amber has been part of Peak's year-round offerings just about since the brewery opened, but I had no memory of actually drinking it.

It was a good, straightforward, malty ale, at 4.9 percent alcohol. That is the kind of beer you want to drink when there are a dozen or more people engaging in three or four conversations at a time. The beer is good, but you don't have to pay a lot of attention to it.

I RECENTLY TASTED Oxbow Brewing Co.'s Saison Noel during a stop at Mama's Crow Bar in Portland. This is a highly complex, high-alcohol -- 10.5 percent -- ale, with a a lot of spiciness from the hops, as no spices were added to the beer. There were also hints of figs and dates in the flavor.

Oxbow, located in Newcastle, is just in its second year of brewing, and continues to be impressive. It makes a lot of beers, and is not afraid to experiment.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth.  He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

tomatwell@me.com

 

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