The beer: Life & Limb
The brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co./Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Style: American Strong Ale
ABV: 10.2 percent
Craft beer is a funny business, wherein traditional ideas about competition and market domination are thrown out with the spent grain. Rather than attempting to destroy one another, contending breweries often join forces to create new drinks -- which is great for us.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery are from opposite ends of the country and are two of the craft brewing tree's most successful (if dissimilar) branches. By their powers combined, we get Life & Limb, a strong ale that defies traditional style categorization. The "Limb" in the beer's name refers to the two kinds of tree syrup added to the brew. Maple syrup, straight from the family farm of Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione in Massachusetts, was added to the boil; birch syrup was shipped from Alaska and added to bottles before they were corked. "Life" alludes to the living yeast in each corked bottle -- a blend of the house strains from each brewery -- which will munch on the sugary birch syrup, naturally adding carbonation to the beer and allowing it to develop new flavors over time.
Pop the cork and pour Life & Limb into a snifter -- you'll notice how the maple syrup-colored amalgamates in the glass into opaque sable. Capped with half an inch of creamy cappuccino foam that deposits sticky panes of lace on the glass, this is pretty stuff.
The nose is deep, and complex -- a playground of flavor. Bitter coffee and sweet maple syrup teeter totter back and forth, as do cocoa and wood. Occasional notes of caramel, walnuts and some tangy plums slide in as well. Move past the nose (if you can) to taste and you'll notice the mouthfeel is like liquid velvet -- a soft, creamy body that's a delight to roll about.
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You'll notice more dark chocolate and sweet toffee as you sip, along with a plethora of other flavors: plums, raisins, maple syrup, sweet cola, pecans, ethanol. Permeating the background is the vinous wood of maple and birch, reminding of a walk through a forest. The finish -- long and boozy -- leaves sweet fruity notes and signs of wood-aging, reminding of oaky red wine.
Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada have wildly different creative approaches to their respective lines of beer, yet Life & Limb manages to interweave them nicely. It's a tasty display of teamwork now, but we suggest you buy a bottle to stash away for a year. Give it time in the cellar to let the malt flavors and carbonation develop. Your patience will be rewarded.
Food pairing suggestions
Life & Limb makes it obvious that maple syrup and dark beers play nicely together. Know what else is classic with maple syrup? Bacon. Try this beer alongside a BLT -- the toasty bread pairs with the beer's chocolaty roasted barley; the smoky sweetness of the beer resonates with the meat while cutting its salt, and the savory tomato brings out new flavors in the brew you may not have caught on the first pass.