BREWTAL TRUTH: Drink This Now!

Given the opportunity to write about craft beer every month in Decibel has been eye-opening. The idea that our “Brewtal Truth” column would have lasted more than four years (and counting) and even spawn a book—The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers, out in November—is pretty amazing. Now it’s time to bring a little “Brewtal Truth” to the Deciblog. Each week we’re featuring a different craft beer that you should drink now. These aren’t so much reviews as recommendations. We won’t post anything here that we haven’t happily poured down our own gullet. There’ll be a new one every week at noon Eastern time, a little something to get you thinking about your imbibing options for the weekend.
Since my upcoming Brewtal Truth column in Decibel deals with well-hopped beers and why you should drink them as soon as possible (and not try to age them), I figured I’d dedicate my next few blog posts to the topic of hops. Brooklyn’s Sorachi Ace is actually named after the hop variety used in the brewing process. Sorachi Ace was developed in Japan in the late ’80s (along with some really bad hair metal, see below). It’s a cross between English Brewer’s Gold and Czech Saaz hops and it produces curiously piquant lemon flavor and aromas in beer. Since craft beer hadn’t quite taken off yet, there was no market for this unique variety when it was first developed. Fast forward 25 years and brewers are scrambling to get their hands on new and interesting varieties to satisfy hopheads. Sorachi Ace (the hop) still isn’t grown in large quantities, but this beer is a perfect way to experience its unique characteristics.

Brooklyn, NY
7.6% ABV

This is our second Deciblog post about a beer from Brooklyn (see the first here), but we swear, we’re not just sucking up to the biggest metropolis in the U.S., or trying to get in good with the dudes in Tombs. But everything we wrote about the borough of Brooklyn and its brewing history and excellent water apply to Brooklyn Brewery. Not everything the brewery makes is brewed in Brooklyn, but their specialty releases like Sorachi Ace are. They are probably the highest profile craft brewery in NYC and their brewmaster, Garrett Oliver (editor of the excellent Oxford Companion to Beer), is a rock star in the craft beer world.

Onto the beer, starting with a word of warning. This is packaged in a Champagne bottle with a cork and cage. With some beers this is for show, but not with Sorachi Ace. Be careful when uncaging and dislodging the cork, because it will fire off like a bullet. I nearly put a serious divot in my ceiling when carelessly opening my bottle; it has put-out-an-eye kind of power. This brew was bottle conditioned with a Champagne yeast, which basically means that the yeast and a little bit of sugar were added when it was bottled to kick start a secondary fermentation to give it excellent carbonation. Mission accomplished. It pours into the glass with a massive foamy white head. And the smell is amazingly exotic. I get citronella, grass, gooseberries, pineapple, vanilla, a bit of funk and that somewhat indefinable Belgian yeast spice. It’s crazy. All the notes are super bright and crisp. The beer equivalent to trebly. And most of it is thanks to the Sorachi Ace hops.

The lemon notes of the hops really show up when you taste it. The carbonation is big and creamy and washes layers of bitter lemon across your palate. You get a little bit of tropical fruit in there as well, but it’s hard to get a lot beyond the lemon. It’s not sour at all, it just has a lemon flavor. For the most part it’s also quite dry which keeps it from tasting like lemon candy. The finish is pleasantly bitter, but not much bitter is needed for such a dry beer. The remarkable thing about Sorachi Ace is how quaffable it is for a 7.6% beer. It’s light bodied and refreshing, just like a saison should be. Saisons were traditionally given to farmhands to quench their thirst in the summer months, but it’s doubtful they would have drunk something this strong, and definitely not with Sorachi Ace hops in it.

More and more beers are brewed using a single variety of hops, so you can really get a sense of the characteristics they bring to them. This achieves that goal perfectly. No other hop tastes like Sorachi Ace, and this is a showcase for everything it has to offer. We usually like to end things with something musical and the obvious move would be to put something contemporary and extreme from Brooklyn, since it seems to have no shortage of impressive bands. But there was a band that arrived on the scene about the same time Sorachi Ace was developed that referenced Motörhead, rhymed “false metal” with “boiling kettle” and had Kerry King in its video long before there was an extreme music scene in Brooklyn. So, we’re going with that.