Friday, March 7, 2014
By TOM ATWELL
Over the winter, I drank some Scotch de Silly while waiting for takeout at Silly's restaurant in Portland. When I asked the woman who waited on me if the beer was brewed especially for Silly's, she told me it wasn't -- it was just a good beer, and the name was a happy coincidence.
Black Lobstah Lager from Red Hook is going to be sold only in New England, so it feels more local.
The beer is an unusual mix. It's brewed by Brasserie de Silly in the town of Silly, in the Walloon half of Belgium, about 20 miles southwest of Brussels. It's described as a Wee Heavy, a strong Scottish ale.
Because of where it is brewed, it tastes as much like a strong saison as it does a Scottish ale. It's about 7.5 percent alcohol and has a great, malty backbone with some flavors of dried fruits and nuts, a roasted toffee flavor and a hops bitterness far in the background.
The beer has since disappeared from the Silly's menu, the server told me, because it was viewed as a winter beer. I hope it comes back next winter.
When I received the Bier Cellar's Beer Geek Friday email blast that included Barrel Aged Scotch de Silly, I knew I had to have one. I wasn't alone, apparently, as there were only three bottles left when I got there about 4 p.m. Friday, co-owner Greg Norton said.
This is a wonderfully complex beer. It has all the good attributes of the fresh Scotch de Silly, but with additional nuances.
While most barrel-aged beers spend their time in whiskey barrels, this one used wine barrels from Bordeaux, and I could taste a bit of the red wine and oak.
When I first looked at the beer in my glass, I thought it was a really dark brown, but when I held it up against a sun-filled window, I noticed the rich amber color. Through the wine or something else, the alcohol content of the barrel-aged version jumped up to 9 percent, and the alcohol was evident in the flavor.
This is a beer you want to drink slowly and savor, which I did while grilling and eating some pork chops.
My wife, Nancy, thought this was a good beer, but when she asked me how much it cost, she wasn't sure it was worth the price: $13.99 for a 750-milliliter cork-and-cage bottle. Even when I discussed all the extra costs that go into creating a higher-alcohol, barrel-aged beer, she thought it was expensive for what you get. The price aside, I really liked it.
RED HOOK sent me a 22-ounce bottle of its new Black Lobstah Lager for trial.
I have not written a lot about Red Hook even though it has a brewery in Portsmouth, N.H. The company was founded in Seattle and still has its main brewery in Washington state, so I consider it mostly a Washington-state company. In-Bev, the conglomerate that owns Budweiser, owns almost a third of the company, but Red Hook stands on its own.
The Black Lobstah Lager is made as part of the brewery's Brewery Backyard Series, and is going to be sold only in New England, so it feels more local.
Lobstah Lager is Red Hook's take on an Old World oyster stout, but I found it to be a distant cousin of the stout. It's made with fresh-caught New Hampshire lobster instead of oysters.
In oyster stout, the oysters provide a sort of mineral brininess, but you don't really taste the oysters. Because lobster has a milder flavor than oysters, the seafood is even further in the background.
Second, this is a black lager, not a stout, which is an ale. It had a malty sweetness that I expect from black lagers, but was lighter than most stouts. The alcohol content is 5.3 percent.
This was a good, but not great, beer. It was easy drinking and pleasant, and because I got it for free, I don't know what it costs.
I did like most of the Red Hooks I drank before I started writing this column, so I will have to shift my mindset and consider it a local brewery.
THE JUNE ISSUE of Food & Wine magazine has an interesting article about improving how you taste beer. It suggests trying different foods -- such as malt balls and grapefruit -- to learn how to discern maltiness and bitterness, for example.
Several local beers were used as examples. Gritty McDuff's Best Bitter was the beer to try as a mild bitter, Geary's London Porter was the beer to try as a porter, and Red Hook ESB (keeping the resolution from above) is the beer that is most malt ball-like in its range of malt flavors from malt ball to dried fruit.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: