Two Beers. What I Thought.

I received a couple of interesting beers to sample over the last two weeks and, despite knowing that revealing this shows that I am nothing but a whore who is in the pocket of all the brewers in the country–dare I mention that I also received two bottles of Hoegaarden from the Evil Empire but that I’m saving those to match with some of our local witbiers when they become available?–and that I’m not a serious “critic” unless I find at least one of these beers “bad” (if I’m to follow this guy’s standards), I thought I’d tell you about them. Call it a profile in courage.

Reunion ’08 Organic Red Rye Ale (6.5% abv) was first poured at the Celebrator Beer News 20th Anniversary Party in San Francisco on February 17 and is a collaborative effort done at Bison Brewing by their head brewer, Dan Del Grande; Pete Slosberg of Pete’s Wicked Ale fame, and Alan Shapiro of SBS Imports. The beer is based on Pete’s Wicked Red and brewed with Organic Barley, Flaked Rye and Caraway Seeds.

The Reunion Beer concept was developed by Shapiro, Slosberg and Virginia MacLean, their long time friend and colleague (they all met during the early days of Pete’s Brewing), as a way to raise awareness of and donations for the Institute of Myeloma and Bone Cancer Research and all proceeds go to that organization. Virginia succumbed to that disease last June, four months after the release of the first Reunion beer, an Organic Imperial Brown Ale also based on one of Slosberg’s beers.

Reunion is a decent beer, very drinkable but nothing to blow your socks off. It does have as pleasant a rye character as I’ve found in any variation of the style, at once subtle (it waits a bit to make its presence known) and forceful (when it does, it is really rye in every flavor characteristic, not just caraway, which is often the case). I had it with a small, garlicky chicken breast and baked potato with olive oil and basil thought it a good match. Certainly worth a try if you come across it, if only to help IMBCR (you can also donate directly at the link above).

Palo Santo Marron (12% abv) from Dogfish Head is, as they say, a whole ‘nother smoke. Then again, isn’t everything from DFH? The brewery describes it as “an unfiltered, unfettered, unprecedented brown ale aged in handmade wooden brewing vessels. The caramel and vanilla complexity unique to this beer comes from the exotic Paraguayan Palo Santo wood from which these tanks were crafted. Palo Santo means “holy tree” and it’s wood has been used in South American wine-making communities.”

A lot of that is further explicated on the DVD which came with my two bottles of beer (there is one every case, I believe), but said DVD (and I had two of them) would not play in my system. Instead, I watched online and so can you. It’s a fun story, especially if you’re one of those sorts who always thought that bullets only bounced off of Superman or that frankincense was something they totally made up in The Bible.. Plus, you know, seeing them put together the largest wooden brewing tanks built in this country in eight decades.

The beer itself was delicious, very smooth and full-bodied, with notes of vanilla and all those unique flavors (“very unique,” Sam?) imparted by the wood. The alcohol is very strong in the nose early on, but soon fades a bit, and not nearly so noticeable on the palate, which is probably dangerous. I drank the first bottle solo during a basketball game as an after-dinner treat and the second with some cheeses I had handy, including an Australian Cheddar, British semi-hard cheese made with hops and Dubliner, an aged Irish cheese which is sorta sweet. Worked for me.

Sam and the gang surely suspected that I, and most reviewers, would be unable to resist quoting the clever slogan created for Palo Santo’s release. they were correct: We’ve got wood. Now you do too.

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