The Beer: Gift of the Magi
The Brewery: Lost Abbey Brewing Company, San Marcos, California
The Stats: 12.0% ABV
The Style: Biere de Garde (French Farmhouse Style Ale)
It's happened to everyone at some point: the anticipation of Christmas morning and the hope of getting that very special gift. The hours go by, the excitement builds, the minutes tick by slowly and it feels like days until the gift is finally opened. When the moment of truth arrives, one peek inside the box reveals . . . an ugly holiday sweater. And not the ironic, hipster kind.
Now, we're not necessarily saying this Gift is the liquid equivalent of an ugly sweater. But the truth is, the pedigree of the Lost Abbey Brewery has a way of raising one's expectations — expectations that were somewhat dashed upon consumption of the Gift of the Magi beer.
However, we have to give Lost Abbey credit for creating a special story to go along with this brew. The website references the well-known story of the three kings of Christmas, in which gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were given to the child king. The Lost Abbey claims the beer is bittered with the bark of frankincense and that myrrh has been used in its creation.
This Gift of the Magi is an ale-style beer that Lost Abbey produces with a lager yeast, later adding Brettanomyces to the bottle to "bottle condition" the beer through extra fermentation. The Brettanomyces, a form of yeast that can ferment some larger sugars that regular beer yeast strains cannot, adds a barnyard-like character reminiscent to hay. The hay aromas combine with malt-derived notes of toasted bread, nuts, and a sweetness reminiscent of caramel and honey. The website tells us to expect a "gold beverage," but this particular bottle poured more of a reddish-copper color with small, tan colored bubbles.
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The malt was full of melanoidin-type flavor characteristics, which comes from the kilning of the malt as well as from extending boiling of the wort. Kilning is the process of heating, drying and toasting the grains to make them ready to use by brewers. These melanoidins give the beer a richness and taste like toasted bread crust with caramel overtones. The malt is strong on the front of the palate but gives way to a fully attenuated, dry finish on the back end. The Brettanomyces fully ferments the beer, producing a beer with little remaining sugar, as well as producing the carbon dioxide that gives the beer its effervescence and creaminess.
The beer is medium-full bodied and the carbonation is medium-high, driving the aromatics outward with a vengeance. Alcohol warmth is prominent and center stage, bordering on fusel in nature. Fusel alcohols are higher molecular weight alcohols that often give off aromas and flavors reminiscent of nail polish remover. It's not quite there in this beer, but it's close.
Overall Impression: The initial aromatic experience is less than pleasant, but it belies the actual flavors of the beer. The alcohol increases the complexity with a spicy heat that works well alongside the malt forward beer. Biere de Gardes can be brewed to many different strengths and can be presented in many different colors; much to the brewer's discretion. This one definitely tops, and exceeds, the traditional alcohol limit. The use of lager yeast along with Brettanomyces ensures that the beer has a clean and thorough fermentation and, subsequently, the high alcohol content. Enjoy Gift of the Magi with a hearty meal of chicken or pork.
Check out the Lost Abbey Brewing Company website for more information on the brewery or the beer. Lost Abbey products can be found at many of the fine craft beer-centric stores around metro Phoenix, such as all area Total Wine locations.