Beers: Belo Ipe & Belo Sao Francisco Brewery: Cervejaria Wals Style: Quadrupel & Dubbel ABV: 11 percent & 7.5 percent
I'd like to kick this week's review off with a few contrasting images of Brazilians. The first is brought to you by the 7-1 blitzkrieg the German national squad delivered to team Brazil during last week's World Cup semifinals. Behold:
Grief. Heartbreak. Misery. The pain in this picture is palpable, and yet it fills me with happiness. The Germans have a word for this: schadenfreude, or delight brought on by the misfortune of others. You see someone feel bad; you feel good. Here's another one.
These are photos of Brazilian citizens at their lowest. Now witness a pair of Brazilians at what may be the happiest moment of their lives:
These two party animals are Tiago and Jose Felipe Carneiro. They founded Cervejaria Wals, a brewery located in Belô Horizonte, Brazil, in November 1999, and they're celebrating because they've just won two medals -- silver and gold -- at the 2014 World Beer Cup.
The most striking aspect of this victory was only partially the reverie of the brothers Carneiro -- their shouts of triumph, which filled the grand hall in which the World Beer Cup was held, were both heartwarming and hilariously loud. More fascinating is that their beers, made in Brazil with Brazilian ingredients, beat out classic examples of their respective styles from the country in which they were invented. Belo Sao Francisco, the brewery's gold medal-winning Belgian dubbel, beat out 34 other entries (most of which were from Belgium). Wals Quadrupel won silver in the "Other Belgian-style Ale" category, a group with 55 entrants. This is their custom: remodeling the classic beers of Belgium and the Czech Republic with South American ingredients to obtain surprising flavors.
Take first the silver medalist, Belo Ipê. A Belgian-style quadruple, this brew gets its Brazilian influence from an addition of coriander and extended aging on oak chips infused with cachaça, a funky Brazilian spirit made with sugarcane juice. This special ingredient is apparent upon first whiff of the mahogany liquid, when a puzzling, savory note that reminds of eggplant hits the ol' olfactory nodes. Anyone who's ever had a caipirinha knows cachaça is one of the most pungent liquors known to man, so its presence here isn't unexpected. More welcome are notes of prunes, figs, pumpernickel and dashes of black pepper.
Ipê takes its name from a Brazilian flowering tree that stood in the Carneiro brothers' garden. According to the pair, their tree stubbornly refused to bloom for years and years -- until they first brewed this quadruple. On that day, their Ipê tree exploded with gorgeous yellow flowers.
Sweet and tangy, the beer's flavor is packed with dates and raisin guts, caramel and baked bread. A spicy blend of cinnamon and ginger root is balanced by maple and dark rum. Alcohol hides well behind the flavor, only sneaking up with full 11-percent chest-warming powers after the bottle's gone and it's far too late. A unique and very Brazilian take on the style.
Belo Sao Francisco is another fine example of Wals' approach. A 7.5-percent ABV dubbel, it's brewed with raisins and named for the neighborhood in which Cervejaria Wals is located -- which is itself named for St. Francis of Assisi, to whom Catholics pray when they want their puppies blessed. This was also the first recipe ever brewed within Wals' walls.
Above a liquid the color of sugar caramelizing in a hot pan, saccharine fragrances swirl: bubblegum, strawberry, brandy, raisins, brown sugar, and Honey Smacks. Sweet, smooth and intoxicating. It'll take a while to get past the aroma and bring yourself to drink the beer itself, but when you do you'll find it's more subdued - a mild blend of toasted malt and caramel with a splash of maple. The swallow delivers a bit of raisin, ginger, cinnamon, and more breadiness through the finish. It tastes good, not great, but that aroma is enough to carry it into gold every time.
As with my happiness at the misery of Brazil's soccer fans, it's hard to pinpoint why I found the celebration of Tiago and Jose Felipe Carneiro so joyous. Maybe it's something completely unlike schadenfreude -- mitgefühl, to put it in German terms again, which means compassion. Or perhaps it's the realization that the community created by craft beer, and the dreams of those who make it, is blossoming like the flowers of the Ipê tree, stubbornly and beautifully and all over the place.