“I believe that today more than ever a book should be sought after even if it has only one great page in it. We must search for fragments, splinters, toenails, anything that has ore in it, anything that is capable of resuscitating the body and the soul.”
Well, old Hank got one thing right – “splinters” can be worth searching out, especially if they’re the Splinter series beers from Tröegs Brewing in Harrisburg, PA. However, this series of four barrel-aged delights nowhere near resembles a book with only one great page. They’re more like a well-written thriller, where each new page gets better and better. Not to mention that each and every offering is unique and delicious, and, for better or for worse, the beers are a special treat due to extremely low production numbers. That’s part of the reason why I was anxious with excitement when the Winking Lizard announced that the Splinter series was touching down in Lakewood for one night only. The Lizard was certainly scheduled to be the only place in the entire world where one could order Splinter by the glass instead of traveling to Harrison, PA and waiting in line for hours.
The other reason was the fact that the Tröegs Splinter series and the Winking Lizard have history. In fact, the Lizard was the first place in the whole country where people could try a Splinter beer. See, I was fortunate enough to try Splinter Red last year at the Lakewood store, long before it was even called Splinter Red (it was simple Barrel-aged Mad Elf), at an event hosted by owner Chris Trogner. That was easily a highlight of 2009 Cleveland Beer Week. And, with Chris scheduled to be on hand again to explain the evolution of the critically acclaimed series he launched last year, I knew some surprises were in store. Tröegs delivered, with cases of bottles of Splinter Blue, Black and a special surprise – the most rare beer in the bunch, Splinter Gold.
While setting up, the Lizard bartenders asked me if I knew anything about the 750ml bottles that had been dropped off earlier in the day. I explained that the event was advertised to have Splinter Blue and Black, and I told them a bit about the descriptions of the beers. I also said that the Black was the first bottled version ever and wasn’t set for release until; December, so it wouldn’t have labels. You can imagine the look on my face when the bartender pulled out a bottle with a gold label and asked “What about this one?”
Tröegs Splinter Gold
American Wild Ale
So, Chris brought his last case of Splinter Gold to the Winking Lizard, where it was sold for $5 a glass. I had about a 6oz pour into a wine goblet, and I made sure I got the cleanest pour possible as these bottles have a ton of sediment. The corks are difficult to open since they’ve been resting for about two years now. They’re also slow gushers, with snakes of white foam with noticeable yeast chunks escaping the bottle until half of the beer has been poured. Use a stopper for this one if you’re not planning on pouring it all at once. Once you get past the demanding opening and pouring, it all becomes worth it while gazing into the glass. The beer is a golden, almost chardonnay color with some suspended yeast. It’s relatively clear, but later pours from the same bottle were muddy. The head is small but bright white and thick, and it leaves spotty but appreciable lacing on the glass. The smell is dominated by a “horsehair” smell from the brettanomyces and some noticeable but subdued lactic sharpness. The brett has developed a ton in the last two years according to Chris, who commented that he thought the beer had reached its peak. Not as crazy as a Saison Dupont (an extremely wild smelling beer) or anything, but some wild notes and fruitiness, reminiscent of eating apple skin and drinking white grape juice while walking around a barn. Some mild spice and oak round a wonderful nose that could just be a bit more expressive.
The beer tastes wonderful! It is brett-based at first, then some Belgian yeast and oak and grape flavors reminiscent of chardonnay rush in. Just a hint of peach and green apple tartness, with no lacto-sharp lemon flavors at all but for the very end. The oak has left some vanilla and mild spice and makes this very sophisticated. The malt is sturdy and has a Belgian Tripel like taste – sweet candy malt and a touch of herbs and citrus. Splinter Gold is more tripel than wild and more wild than sour. It is a very well constructed and delicious beer. The mouthfeel is courtesy of crisp carbonation and a medium body. The finish is dry with some oak and mild horsehair lingering. I get that this is a rare beer (over 450 ‘wants’ and just 10 ‘gots’ on Beer Advocate) and I’m very happy to have had it. What a wonderful surprise! But I must admit, if I had traded an arm and a leg for it instead of having it poured for $5, I probably would have a bit of trader’s remorse. It’s just nothing that unique or extremely new or different. It is very well done, as were all the offerings at this legendary event. However, at the end of the night, there were bottles left while the cases of Black and Blue went quickly. I didn’t see one person order a sampler and only get this beer, so maybe Cleveland beer people just don’t “get it” or, it could be, the Blue and Black are just that much more world-class. Still a great treat, and a nice surprise to start the night!
Does Bobby Like Tröegs Splinter Gold?
Tröegs Splinter Blue
American Wild Ale
Back to the regularly scheduled portion of tonight’s elbow-bending activities – it was time for Splinter Blue. The beer is a pinkish-grapefruit color with mauve and salmon colored highlights plus a bright white head. It looks absolutely stunning in the glass. The compact head leaves behind some nice lacing. Some active carbonation is noted but the beer is cloudy for the most part. The beer is so pleasant to smell and it’s pretty expressive. It’s composed of sour cherry and brettanomyces, giving it a wild and sour aroma. Some earthiness from the wood leaves subtle vanilla hints. The cherries go well with the wheat and brett, and the horsehair/sour combination is a winner. The beer reminds me of a less sour and earthier version of Russian River’s Supplication, and, quite honestly, I think I prefer it to its highly regarded peer.
The taste is wonderful with tart cherries, wheat, and funky brett making up the main flavor components. Apples, cherry skin, oak, vanilla, and wheat make an intricate and balanced splash on my palate. Not too sour, actually barely sour at all save from the tartness from the cherries, and the wheat from the Dreamweaver Wheat beer that was used as a base is still a component. The barrels are all virgin barrels made of Pennsylvania oak, and the newness of the wood has some tannin qualities. The cherries are ripe and juicy and add a lot to this beer. Splinter Blue is very complex and a taste of the divine. The mouthfeel is lively and well carbonated. The beer is light-bodied but packed with flavor. This beer is just 4% ABV, so it’s imminently drinkable. Just a fantastic American Wild from Tröegs. To have nailed this beer on the first shot shows some real mastery or ninja skills. Either way, this was the best American Wild I’ve had in a long time and runs circles around beers that have way more brash flavor with no real underlying consistency. Highly, highly recommended.
Does Bobby Like Tröegs Splinter Blue?
Tröegs Splinter Black
Russian Imperial Stout
We got to witness the first cork pulled on this beer ever! Splinter Black is beautiful in my glass. I’ve only ever seen a handful of beers that can hang with this – it is dark, sexy and luscious. The beer is such a great dark black that the lights dimmed when it was poured. The cappuccino colored head has brilliant retention leaves some amazing lace that sticks to the glass and may never be able to be washed out. Dense and foreboding, this is a perfect looking stout in every way! The smell has some fantastic depth. The bouquet is composed of tons of chocolate, roasted malt, spicy oak tannins, and some fantastic vanilla. Not a vanilla bean bomb, the spice makes this inviting and a touch exotic but never approaches the candy level of beers like Goose Island Vanilla Bourbon County and Vanilla Bean Dark Lord. Some vanillin from the Pennsylvania oak makes a great base for all the flavors, and the tannic quality is spot-on, not distracting. Black is just a touch less expressive that the best of the world, but fantastic nonetheless. As it warms, exotic scents waft up to my nose – brilliant!
The beer tastes like a dream come true. Oak and vanilla, almost a crème brulée taste. A touch of tannins and some hops anchor this as earthy and not otherworldly; without those elements that remind me this is a beer I may have seriously thought it was some magical new elixir. The malt is sweet with nice roast and chocolate flavors giving the spices and oak a good partner in flavor. Some molasses and just a touch of booze are noted towards the middle of the palate. The vanilla beans mask the booze without making the beer take on an extract-like element. I dream of well-rounded beers that incorporate all my favorite flavors. This does it with finesse – no bourbon or extreme roast required. This beer is like Andre the Giant in a ball gown. Whatever that means to you is, well, up to you – to me, it means a Tröegs managed to make drinking a member of the high ABV American Stout brute squad into an elegant experience! The mouthfeel is creamy with low-ish carbonation. Chris was a bit concerned the beer may not be fully carbonated, but he seemed happy with the results. Splinter Black is medium to heavy and is just a touch sticky. For an 11% beer, this was enjoyable to drink but didn’t drink lighter than it indeed is. I would love to have the chance to drink another of these some day. Until then, it was fantastic to serve as lab rats/guinea pigs and test how Black was coming along!
Does Bobby Like Tröegs Splinter Black?
Thanks to Chris Trogner, Kev at the Winking Lizard, the fantabulous Lakewood Lizard staff, and all the beer fans that came out to enjoy this unique treat. All three styles/colors of Splinter were a hit; although, I must say, the Splinter Black was probably the beer that I saw ordered the most after people had tried a sampler. I will officially go on the record to say this was one of my favorite events of Cleveland Beer Week – there’s just something magical about going to one of your favorite local watering holes and paying a more-than-fair price for a beer that you never thought would cross your path. In the meantime, Splinter Black looks on target for a 1000 bottle release in December (along with Splinter Tan, a wild-yeast aged version of Mad Elf). Regardless of the actual release dates, one thing is for sure; Tröegs will keep experimenting and I’m sure they will keep creating beers jam-packed with goodness and “ore”. Until I have the chance to sample another one of their wood-aged beauties, I know that my body and soul have been completely resuscitated. Maybe Henry Rollins was on to something. Now, if he’d just loosen up and have a beer.
Finally, Here’s a little video shot by Tröegs on the morning of the Splinter Blue release, and it should provide a bit more insight into the brewers intentions and tasting notes. I’m just sad I forgot to bring the donuts to the Lizard!
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