Friday, April 08, 2005

Tastings: Terre Haute Gold Label Bock & Lammin Kataja Olut.

As a word, “Bock” derives from a corruption of the German city called Einbeck, which apparently was renowned at some juncture for producing rich, dark beers … or for the inability of Bavarians to correctly pronounce the Einbeck local dialect … or, perhaps, because the “Bock” in question is a billy goat.

Or all these reasons, or none.

In any case, Bock is not the result of annual springtime vat cleaning, as generations of American old-timers confused by beer that wasn’t golden alleged to be true, but isn’t and never was.

Terre Haute Gold Label Bock
A century ago, the brewery in Terre Haute, Indiana, was one of the nation’s largest, and its flagship brand, Champagne Velvet, was known throughout the Midwest.

The present-day Terre Haute Brewing Company has sought to revive the spirit of its long deceased ancestor by remaking its beers for the contemporary craft brew market.

Gold Label Bock weighs in at 7.5%, typical for a Bavarian “Doppelbock,” but without the expansive malt mouth feel expected in the German variety. Because GLB is medium-bodied at best, this makes for a marked imbalance, but recalling that GLB is intended to be an American-style Bock, and also to conjure an historical epoch, it can be readily forgiven.

As a lager, the palate is clean. Caramel and chocolate malts are used, and the chocolate flavor is strongly pronounced, but rather simplistic. My memories of American Bocks brewed circa 1978-82, like Huber and Stroh’s, fall somewhat within the range of THBC’s entry, although I seem to recall a more toffeeish character.

Judging Gold Label Bock for what it is, the beer is a success. When drinking it, you must purge your pre-conceived notions of German-style Bock … or you’ll be disappointed. This is a Pre-Prohibition style of American brewing, and should be regarded accordingly.

Lammin Kataja Olut
“Sahti” is Finnish farmhouse homebrew.

By most accounts, during the middle decades of the twentieth-century, Sahti came to be regarded as archaic and passé, and brewing it became somewhat of a dying art.

The past fifteen years has seen a revival of Sahti, now viewed as natural and hip, with commercial examples being brewed and marketed in Finland following the adjustment of a blue law or three.

Apparently the recipe for Sahti involved taking available fermentables (including barley, rye and wheat), mashing in the handy sauna, sparging through juniper branches, boiling, then adding baker’s yeast.

At its best, the unfiltered yield would be bready, evergreen-accented, and redolent with the sort of aromatic esters one might expect from German-style wheat ales (banana, fruit, cloves).

At worst, there would still be 7% to 10% alcohol, suitable for immediate duty if not aficionado status.

When commercial Sahti became available through the B. United importing company, I was intrigued but frightened by warnings that the product isn’t easily shipped and has a short shelf life. Consequently, I ordered a case of the example said to travel best, Lammin Kataja Olut.

As it turns out, Kataja really isn’t Sahti at all. It is a hybrid variation, substituting ale yeast for baker’s yeast, and “laced” with juniper. In all significant respects, the amber Kataja is pleasant, though light-bodied and a tad under-carbonated. Whatever juniper is present is understated, and balances the ale much as hops normally do.

Interestingly, Kataja packs a 7% abv punch, which isn’t expected owing to the subtlety of the flavors.

Yesterday’s samples of Kataja and Gold Label Bock leaves us with 23 bottles of each to sell at Rich O’s, and they’ll be on the “specials” blackboard today.

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