Saturday, March 11, 2006

Picking raspberries.

Two days ago, it was the turn of Founders Blushing Monk Belgian Razz (9.5% abv) to take its place in the Gravity Head line.

Before we go any further, be aware that fruit beers generally do not rank in the upper echelons of the Curmudgeon’s pantheon of preferred beer styles. All too often, these are “dumb” beers that aim for the starter denominator, and are ridiculously sweet.

Of course, there are exceptions.

A real, traditional Belgian lambic from a brewery like Drie Fonteinen and Cantillon can be counted on to exhibit unalloyed fruit character when using raspberries or cherries and marrying the tartness of the genuine article with the funk and horsehair blanket so beloved of the world’s most elemental beer style.

And what of the Founders entry? The beer pours an unmistakable purplish-red, with a nice white collar. The raspberry flavor is sweet in front, then yields to a tartness (not sourness!) reminiscent of lambic but without the horsehair blanket element. Several drinkers have suggested that the tartness produces flavors not unlike cranberry.

Not bad for hangover ale, one to be sipped as the bacon and eggs are cooked and your eyes focus unsteadily on the morning newspaper. Even with the bolstering effect of the higher alcohol content, it’s hard to imagine drinking more than one … but Founders scores again, and I’ve yet to have a bad beer from the pride of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

If Blushing Monk represents a larger, less sweet version of the familiar Lindemans Framboise (5% abv), which leaves its Rich O’s tap slot to the tune of 20 liters every 10 or so days, year-round, then the ultimate in the super-sizing of raspberry-infused ale certainly must be Dogfish Head Fort (18% abv).

That’s not a misprint. Leave it to Dogfish Head to fashion an inventive, powerhouse raspberry ale that redefines the genre at an alcohol content of fruit schnapps, and to make so little of it (and at such a high price) that I hesitated to take a 750 ml bottle home.

Instead, I shared it with the Friday afternoon bar crowd. Fort pours a natural, amber hue with raspberry in the nose and far to the front in the mouth, but it is very quickly submerged in alcohol, finishing pleasingly dry and not unlike a brandy or complex liqueur.

It’s easy to imagine Fort being deployed as an aperitif, with ample fruit to tingle the taste buds, yet without stupid sweetness or an artificial taste in any way. It also strikes me as a good candidate for cellaring -- if you can find it.

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