The beer: The Vermonster
The brewery: Rock Art Brewery
Style: American Barleywine
ABV: 10 percent
Normally, I like to introduce you to new beers in this space. There's been no shortage of choices in that regard -- tons of great breweries have been entering Arizona lately. But while some grow and expand, others are contracting to focus on more local markets. Vermont's Rock Art Brewery is the latest victim of the growth of demand for craft beer. They'll soon be leaving our shelves, which means you'll only have a while to enjoy Vermonster, Rock Art's biggest and most notorious brew.
Why notorious? In 2009, Hansen Beverage Co. -- the California-based company that makes Monster energy drinks -- sent Rock Art a "cease and desist" letter claiming the brewery was infringing on their intellectual property rights. The name "Vermonster" was just too similar to the name of their own product and would create confusion for customers, Hansen said. Needless to say, nothing ever came from the frivolous litigation, and we're still free to enjoy this tenth anniversary brew with impunity.
Stick it to the big, evil corporations by pouring Vermonster into a snifter and watch the murky, clay-colored brew build upon itself like bricks. The nose -- herbal, spicy, pungent -- supplies notes of mint, pine needles, pale tobacco and caramel-drizzled oranges.
Once in the mouth, the beer hits sweetness with rock candy and caramel, but an incredible bitterness (Vermonster packs 100 IBUs) washes away any saccharine notes upon the swallow. The considerable hops deliver flavors of grapefruit peel and pine trees. As you move Vermonster around your mouth, you'll notice the beer's peppery carbonation; its syrupy, viscous body; and an impressive surge of booze. While alcohol fumes flow through the nose and heat warms the tongue, white rum and smoky tequila can be picked out in the fray. Notes of bitter, mint-infused dark chocolate linger after the swallow.
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The Vermonster roars. Between the beer's bitterness, big flavors and the smackdown of alcohol, you're in for a battle. Rock Art will pepper the shelves for a time, but get it while you can -- we won't be seeing new bottles of this stuff for a while.
You could go with the pairing Rock Art brewmaster Matt Nadeau himself presented at the 2008 GABF: cheeses. Sharp cow's milk will allow the hops of the beer to shine, while a smoky gouda will bring out the malt. If a meal is your thing, try Vermonster next to smoked pork belly. The minty, herbal qualities of the hops will provide an interesting foil to the sweet, salty meat.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized beer expert akin to a sommelier in the wine world.