“I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.”
David Livingstone, Scottish missionary and explorer
Even though Livinsgtone explored Africa, I think his quote can be applied to any pioneer. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine what it was like for the early explorers of the North American Continent. The excitement of discovering the unknown and the intrinsic need to push boundaries caused these pioneers to leave no step uncharted as they drove deeper and deeper into this land. Well, in a way, Adam Avery’s legendary explorations into the world of craft beer have been a “Manifest Destiny” of the best kind. A modern day malt-milling version of Lewis and Clark, Avery has forged his way down a winding river of traditional styles and innovations without any secure notion of where the path would ultimately lead, propelled only by his love of beer and his desire to conquer unknown territory.
Last year at Cleveland Beer Week, I got to join Adam in an exploration of his products at McNulty’s Bier Market. Although the event wasn’t well attended (only a dozen of so people showed up), it gave us a chance to talk more, and Adam shared some amazing stories about his beers and how they came to be. It was reminiscent of the old Western movies, where the cowboys gather around a fire at night and share tales of their lives, legends and passions. When I heard Adam was going to be back in town for another “Adam Avery Experience” during Cleveland Beer Week 2010, I purchased my tickets right away. I knew that any encounter with this groundbreaking brewer was certain to be a good time!
This year’s venue was the Beer Engine in Lakewood, the home of Buckeye Brewing. That immediately meant two things: the beer dinner would be sold-out and the food would be incredible. The Buckeye certainly has their supporters in this town, myself being one of them, and we were even more thrilled when we got the menu. Fifteen, count them, fifteen beers paired with Chef Greg Tushar’s innovative, beer-friendly dishes. The food and beer would be served in five flights, each with a theme and each with a story courtesy of Adam Avery himself. Also, Adam was willing to share not one, but four beers from his personal cellar and the debut of Avery cans in Ohio. I arrived early to secure a good seat and, as the minutes ticked by, I got more and more excited for Adam’s arrival. He finally appeared at 10 minutes to seven and said hi, then ran downstairs to check on some last-minute items. The sold-out crowd of fifty explorers gathered and made our way down to the Engine Room to begin what was sure to be an epic night of great beer, great stories and wonderful food! Introductions were made and the kind Beer Engine staff brought out the first plate and beers as we welcomed Adam Avery back to Cleveland. In lieu of reviewing all fifteen beers or this review, I decided to provide a recap of each flight and food pairing and pick the beer I think stood out the best. So, let’s take a closer look at all five separate experiences that made up this wonderful event!
Avery ‘Joe’s Premium’ American Pilsner with summer roll
Avery ‘White Rascal’ Belgian Wheat Ale with baby arugala salad
Avery ‘India Pale Ale’ with white bean and roasted pork chili
Course one started off with the Ohio debut of the new canned beers from Avery. In an effort to be more environmentally conscious and also present a better product to the consumer, Adam explained his choice to invest in a canning line. These beers represented three cornerstones of his portfolio and the beers were all tasty, fresh and had not a single note of light-stricken skunkiness. Thanks, cans! The Joe’s American Pilsner was paired with a summer roll that contained spicy soba noodles inside and was delicious. The pairing of the White Rascal with the baby arugala salad with vinaigrette and tomatoes was by far the best interplay between the beer and food. The amazing way the vinegar brought out the citrus and the herbs worked with the Belgian yeast had our table jotting down notes to always pair bright Belgians with slightly bitter greens. Finally, a delicious roasted pork chili worked in perfect harmony with Avery’s IPA. The hops and spice from the chili complimented each other and the IPA’s bitterness almost reset my palate for each delicious bite of chili. We were off to a fantastic start, and it was hard to make a choice; but, in the end, the Pilsner was my favorite beer in course one because of the huge taste packed into such a low ABV beer.
Bobby’s Pick for Experience One: Avery ‘Joe’s Premium’ American Pilsner
Adam Avery introduced Joe’s Premium American Pilsner to Ohio for the first time. It will be available in cans in 2011 and should be a year-round staple in many of our refrigerators. The beer is named after Adam’s grandfather and is meant to serve as a session beer for those of us who can’t drink like we’re in our 20′s any more. But, in true Avery style, this is anything but an over-the-hill offering. The beer pours a filtered straw color with some gold and yellow notes around the edges. The color is consistent and inviting, and the white head sticks around long enough to be noticed, then dissipates, leaving wonderful lace in its wake. Some active carbonation rounds out a great appearance and a nice start to the drinking experience. The smell is not just your typical Pilsner. Sure, the requisite grain, floral, and grassy notes are present along with a kiss of sweet malt and even a hint of grape. The malt has just a touch of biscuit that makes it even more complex and inviting. But there’s a boatload of Hersbrucker Hops that leave a pleasant noble aroma and a touch of spice. The lager yeast is clean in the nose and everything comes together in fine form.
The taste is also well rounded and imminently quaff-able. It’s a decently expressive mix of sweet cereal grains that have just a touch of toasted depth and avoid being too gritty or dirty. The hops add a nice bitterness and some great floral tones with just a touch of citrus and spice as well. The overall taste is malt-focused with just enough hops to please an aging hophead without doing some serious taste bud damage. It’s expressive and cohesive, and some mild to medium bitterness pulls everything together. The mouthfeel is accentuated by bubbly carbonation while the light to medium body and heavy malt makes it feel creamy as well. There is no discernible booze at all, which makes this at the top of the drinkability spectrum. A great new entry to the craft Pilsner market and a beer I plan on enjoying on a regular basis in the near future.
Does Bobby Like Avery ‘Joe’s Premium’ American Pilsner?
Avery ‘Salvation’ Belgian Golden Ale with mussels
Avery ‘Reverend’ Belgian Quadrupel with smoked trout
Avery ‘Hog Heaven’ Barleywine with spicy shrimp taco
The second course paired Avery’s “holy trinity” of beers with some fantastic seafood dishes. The plate chef Greg prepared was beautiful, and each of the foods went well with the beer without trying too hard to match the big tastes of the two Belgians and one Barleywine. To start off, I enjoyed the golden Belgian flavors of Salvation paired with some steamed mussels. The Westmalle strain of yeast used in the beer was enhanced by the flavor of the mussels in a majorly impressive way. The Reverend is a big bruiser of a beer, and, quite honestly, it was probably my least favorite of the entire evening. The lack of spice and one dimensional, raisin-forward taste didn’t cut it for me against the best Belgain Quads in the world. But chef’s smoked trout with Crème fraiche was tasty and helped me enjoy the beer, plus the capers he included gave me a salty contrast. Hog Heaven Barleywine was paired wonderfully with some spicy shrimp and salsa over a tortilla. Like in the first course, the pairing demonstrated how hoppy beers can cut through spicy food and reinvigorate the palate. Not only was the Hog Heaven my favorite beer in the bunch, but the pairing was my favorite as well.
Bobby’s Pick for Experience Two: Avery ‘Hog Heaven’ Barleywine
Hog Heaven is one of Adam’s favorite beers. He likes it so much flavor-wise that he started to put on a few pounds from drinking it so often. So, he made a lighter version called ‘Piglet’s Purgatory’ which captured the flavors but could never duplicate the drinking experience. I decided to splurge on the calories and dive into the mud with the hog. The beer is a deep red with some caramel, amber and copper notes. It is cloudy and a touch murky but still appealing – I didn’t expect the swine to be squeaky clean. There’s some nice white head and excellent retention and lace. This isn’t just lipstick on a pig – this is a beautiful looking American Barleywine. The Columbus hops jump out of the glass with their signature citrus notes. There’s a huge hoppiness that is never overbearing, but brings great notes of grapefruit and mandarin orange, complete with sugary sweet syrup. Some malted barley and caramel lurk underneath, giving more sweetness and substance to the whole package. There is absolutely no alcohol, quite a feat for an almost-double digit ABV beer.
We’ve seen and smelled the hog, now the taste is where the heaven comes in to play. Columbus hops, some dark fruit and sweet caramelized malt make a potent and tantalizing beer with blissful bitterness. The hops give some celestial citrus and some slight pine notes that are balanced and expressive. The malt is sweet and perfectly integrated into the palate; almost omnipotent in the way it doesn’t let the hops eclipse its dominance. Some booze is noted in the finish, but it’s not enough to bring down the overall beatific experience. Low carbonation, heavy body and high sugar leads to a lightly syrupy sensation that keeps the mouthfeel from scoring higher and vaulting this into the upper-echelon of American Barleywines. But the feel is good enough to keep me sipping just about every second until my glass is empty. The drinkability approaches the divine, but falls just short. Still a very good beer; when you’re ready to consume a pig-load of calories, reach for a hog!
Does Bobby Like Avery ‘Hog Heaven’ Barleywine?
Avery ‘Sui Generis’ Barrel-Aged Sour Ale with some rich stinky cheese
Avery ‘Depluceleuse’ Barrel-Aged Wild Ale with sour cherry and goat cheese turnover
Avery ‘Quinquepartite’ Barrel-Aged Sour Ale with grilled spent grain bread
For the third leg of the journey, it was time to get wild. Adam dug deep into his personal stockpile and emerged with three rare beers from his Barrel-Aged series, two of which were only sold at the brewery and sold-out in a matter of hours. Avery has always been on the cutting edge and their barrelhouse is a wonder to behold. With literally hundreds of barrels (everything from bourbon and brandy to every kind of wine, including the legendary Opus One), the cellar is just a wonderland of wood aging. The expertise and experience showed in the beers, which were smartly paired with cheese and bread. The Ohio debut of Sui Generis pitted the sour beer against some stinky soft cheese. The cheese was creamy and rich, and the beer really showcased the way ten different barrel-aged beers can come together in a magnificent blend. There were hints of bourbon, oak, wine, port and sour cherries, lemon and apple skin. The sour cherry and goat cheese turnover was divine, and the way it worked with the funky cherry flavors in the Depuceleuse was to die for. The beer itself had some nice vinous notes and went wonderfully with the puff pastry, lush cherry and goat cheese. Finally, my favorite beer of the flight (and of the evening altogether) was paired with delicious spent grain bread with some more spring cheese on top. The bread was fantastic, and Quinquepartite was everything I hoped it would be. With four kinds of wine barrels aging a sour beer, sometimes the individual contributions get lost. Such was not the case with this amazing beer.
Bobby’s Pick for Experience Three: Avery ‘Quinquepartite’ Barrel-Aged Sour Ale
This was the “rarest” beer Adam brought out with him as less than 1000 bottles made it to the general public. The name of this beer (Quinquepartite) means ‘something divided into five parts’. I know Adam chose that name because it is the fifth release in the series, but I have a better meaning: I, like all beer raters, always review my beers based of appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, and drinkability. So, here’s my Quinquepartite review of Quinquepartite! The beer is a nice amber color with a white head. It looks a bit more appealing than the other two barrel aged beers I have it next to. Some gold and orange highlights around the edges of the glass and a nice white head leave me thinking this is a great looking American Wild, especially on that is almost 10% ABV. The beer smells great! Tart sourness and chardonnay grapes jump out along with some port and black grapes. There are notes of lemon, cherry, orange and strawberry. A nice touch of wood adds some earthiness and slight tannins to the mix. There’s also a slight presence of lactobacillus bacteria, giving a sour edge, as well as pediococcus bacteria, which lends a touch of butterscotch to the mix. The malt is sweet but is buried in a sea of wine barrel, fruity esters, and funky organisms.
This beer tastes simply amazing. If I had to describe it in one phrase it would be: sour woody wine. What I mean is that the beer has four huge, distinct wine barrel aged elements as the base. The mastery of the blend here is unparalleled. I can taste the buttery Chardonnay hints, the Port wine’s dark dried fruit and spice, the plum and cherry from the Cabernet and the spicy kick of the Zinfandel. The wood comes into play next, with some great tannins and touches of oak, spice, and vanillin. Finally, the sour element from the bacteria brings in hints of sour cherry and tart lemon. This is so complex and so well executed. One of the best examples of multi-dimensional flavor in an American Wild Ale I’ve ever experienced. The beer has low carbonation, which leads to a lightly sticky sensation in-between sips. But the body never becomes syrupy and the beer is enjoyable to sip. There is no hint of alcohol, as the complex wood and sour tastes that linger cover up any booze. I’d happily drink this beer again and I’m actually going to try to find a bottle or two to share with wine-drinking family members. A world-class barrel aged beer from Avery’s Basement!
Does Bobby Like Avery ‘Quinquepartite’ Barrel-Aged Sour Ale?
Avery and Russian River ‘Collaboration not Litigation’ Ale ’07 with lamb slider
Avery ‘Seventeen’ Anniversary Ale with grilled veal bratwurst
Avery ‘duganA’ IPA with grilled chicken breast in ghost chili cream sauce
For the dinner course, we needed some protein. Well, Chef Greg delivered and told a funny story about how he always puts too much food on our plates but we were getting a substantial lamb slider tonight come hell or high water. The slider was paired with the original batch of Collaboration not Litigation from Adam’s personal cellar. The beer has a unique story: years ago, Avery and Russian River both had a beer called Salvation (and both still do). Rather than sue each other, they met up, brewed a batch of each, and blended the two. What a refreshing outcome in today’s litigious environment where brewers sue over names, tap handles and even fonts. The slider was delicious and the slight gamey taste played well with the beer’s great rich malty Belgian vibe. The grilled veal bratwurst was incredible – chef makes these himself – and the subtle flavors (including cinnamon) went well with Seventeen, a huge anniversary lager. The beer was easily my favorite of the bunch, but the duganA IPA was very fresh and refreshing. Its hop kick did all it could to cut through the ghost pepper chili cream sauce on the well-cooked piece of chicken. The ghost pepper is the hottest in the world, and chef used a quarter cup of his special sauce with two quarts of cream. It was huge, epic and some could not handle it. I was in heaven, especially when the frest citrus hop kick of duganA cut through the heat. The dinner course was a feast for a king, and the beers and food were all exceptional. My favorite happened to be the Seventeen Anniversary Ale.
Bobby’s Pick for Experience Three: Avery ‘Seventeen’ Anniversary Ale
Seventeen is an interesting pick for an Anniversary beer if it came from any other brewer. Given that Adam Avery made it, it’s absolutely par for the course. It’s by no means a Schwarzbier because it’s too hoppy and roasty. But it is a lager, so let’s call it an Imperial Black American Lager, OK? Whatever we call it, it’s a pretty looking beer. Seventeen pours a dark black with an off-white head. The head sticks around for the long run and crowns the dark body like a crown. Beer royalty, that’s what they’ll say! There is just a touch of light peeking around the edges and casting some ruby and brown notes around. This is a very nice looking beer. Get it? Avery nice looking beer! The smell is dominated by roasted malt with a nice hoppiness lurking around, and even a touch of smoke. The roast gives impressions of coffee and chocolate. There are also some dark fruit notes reminiscent of a nice Dopplebock. The smell is expressive enough, but nothing too crazy. However, have your seat backs in the upright and locked position when you taste this!
I’m floored from my first sip. The Seventeen Anniversary Ale tastes awesome! I’m a HUGE fan of a well-done Schwarz, and this breaks the mold but has the flavor and clean finish I crave. It’s almost like a Dopplebock, Schwarzbier, Black IPA, and Oktoberfest fell in love and blended together. The beer features a nice chocolate malt taste, some mild smoked character, and nice clean German dark malt as a foundation. The hops are more earthy than pine or citrus in the taste, but they’re big and bold and really kick my taste buds into overdrive. There is also a nice licorice or anise taste that is mild but makes its presence known. Finally, a touch of dark fruit makes me think of raisin and fig. Yeah, the flavors are an interesting take, but I would say this still qualifies as stupendous thanks to the malt, lightness, and clean finish thanks to the wonders of lagering. The mouthfeel is light to medium body that drinks and feels lighter than it is due to the lack of grain and overall cleanliness. The beer is creamy and smooth. A nice amount of carbonation adds some pep and fades just in time for a great, clean finish. Overall, I loved this beer. I’d have it again in a heartbeat. I just wish the hops would last forever, as they’re already showing a bit less in the smell and taste. Seventeen is a fine example of innovation by a master of the game.
Does Bobby Like Avery ‘Seventeen’ Anniversary Lager?
Avery ‘The Kaiser’ Imperial Oktoberfest 2010 with apple strudel
Avery ‘The Czar’ Imperial Stout 2009 with hop brownie
Avery ‘The Maharaja’ Imperial IPA 2010 with blood orange tartlet
Desert is always one of the best parts of any beer and food pairing. I feel like it’s the one course where the range of flavors and styles in beer can decimate anything wine can come up with. You can have malty beers with caramel flavors, chocolate desert beers, fruit beers or even hoppy beers. The only rule of thumb is ‘bring the flavor’. And that’s exactly what Adam Avery’s Dictator Series is based on – tyrannical flavor that doesn’t give up when your taste buds scream ‘uncle’. While the food on the last plate of the evening didn’t cause quite the same reactions as the ghost pepper chili cream sauce, that doesn’t mean they were any less powerful in contrasting and complimenting the beers. The Kaiser, perhaps the highest ABV Oktoberfest beer in the world, was paired with apple strudel. The malty sweetness of Kaiser went perfectly with the apple and cinnamon, and made many of the drinkers and diners remark it was their favorite pairing of the bunch. A hop brownie was teamed up with the rich, chocolaty Czar Russian Imperial Stout and was my favorite (no, the brownie wasn’t green like the ones some of you may have enjoyed in college). The sweet and decadent brownie brought out the fruit notes and caramel in the beer and added depth and awareness. To complete the trio, Avery’s excellent Maharaja Imperial IPA was paired with a blood orange tartlet. The citrus flavors and acidity of the orange went well with the hug hop kick the Maharaja brings to the table. It was difficult to pick a beer out of the bunch, but I thought the Czar just brought a little something extra to the party.
Bobby’s Pick for Experience Five: Avery ‘The Czar’ Imperial Stout
The Czar is the beer in the Dictator series that is perhaps the most feared and the least understood. It’s not entirely evil and you can tell when you pour it into a glass. The beer is not completely opaque; instead, some ruby red edges are noted offering a glimpse of fleeting compassion in an otherwise black-hearted tyrant. The body is strong and ready for battle, but the head doesn’t seem to be all there, receding from a fluffy brownish tan to just a ring in no time. A bit of lace is noted but quickly fleets. The smell, however, is unique and powerful. The typical roasted malt notes are all accounted for, giving some fudge brownie, molasses, and dark fruit notes. There’s also some nuttiness and caramel. The alcohol is well hidden, which is impressive considering there’s not a ton of overpowering burned malt or coffee flavors. Just a hint of booze shows that we aren’t messing around with a sissy sultan of suds. This beer is a malty mogul ready to attack my taste buds.
Staying true to a classical battle plan, the taste is pretty straightforward after exploring the bouquet and knowing what to expect. My reconnaissance paid off, as I was not thrown off guard by the blasts of sweet caramel and molasses, fudge and chocolate, and dark fruit. Some hops also join in on the beat-down, assertive but certainly in proportion to the massive malt. The beer is bitter after so many battles but finishes up sweet with lingering roast, hops and sugar. A touch of alcohol is by no means a missing link in the armor of this absolutist, but it does show more vulnerability than some of the beers I consider to be at the top of this style. The mouthfeel was a touch disappointing; for it is here that the brute force of this 11% authoritarian ale emerges. The beer has relatively low carbonation and some noticeable syrup. The carbonation tries to fix things with a nice, crisp feeling, but overall the medium to heavy body becomes just a touch too sticky. That being said, it is enjoyable to drink and I expected an 11.03% stout to pack a wallop. This beer has battle scars to prove how many feeble palates it has decimated. Thank goodness I’m also a veteran of the brown bottle battlefield, or the Czar could have been my conqueror.
Does Bobby Like Avery ‘The Czar’ Imperial Stout?
It really is incredible how Adam Avery has kept pushing and exploring the complete range of beer styles, some totally traditional and some he seemingly created himself. Too many brewers get stuck and simply regurgitate recipes while relying on their reputation to pull them through. Yet, this ambassador of ale wouldn’t be content resting on his laurels; he has an undeniable and unspoken duty to formulate something new with the weapons in his brewer’s toolbox for each and every product. To surrender to the status quo just isn’t an option for this incredible inventor and illustrious imbiber – the call to break new ground flows through his veins. And, after another excellent exploration, the fact remains clear that Adam Avery has continued to persevere and to delve into the unknown as he constantly forges a trail of legendary libations. What hidden lands will he discover next? Only the future and the road ahead will tell. Whatever the answer is, I can guarantee it will move beer and beer culture forward. I am prepared for the journey, are you?
The Avery Experience Photos and Photo Gallery
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