Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
Last Wednesday something I thought was really cool happened, the twitterverse got it’s act together and shared simultaneously their first taste of Durham Brewery White Stout to a seemingly unanimous verdict that it was, in fact, the elixir of the very gods themselves. Now me being me I got pretty jealous of all these people gushing about this beer because I didn’t have any in, having already decided that I’d probably spent a little too much money on new beers online in the last couple of weeks plus I was out at the time, honing my forward defensive during some pre season cricket training. As I was making my way home on the underground I flicked through twitter and read what felt like several hundred tweets about #whitestout and was working up quite a green-eyed thirst.
So when I got home I decided that seeing as I’d missed out on this historic event I would treat myself to something extra special and as luck would have it I had shelled out twelve of my pounds on a bottle of Thornbridge Bracia only a couple of weeks beforehand. I’ll be the first to admit that I was loathe to spend this much money on one bottle of beer but I had only read high praise for it and thought that it would be nice to keep for an occasion when I felt like patting myself on the back. As I’d been smacking cricket balls with timing and precision earlier it was definitely time for a backslapping session.
Handily, Bracia has some advice as to what temperature the beer should be served at (around 10 degrees Celsius) so I removed it from the fridge and let it warm up a little prior to cracking the top. Before I poured the beer I took some time to read the label; described as a rich, dark ale Bracia has a seemingly endless list of malts and hops that have gone into the manufacture of this beer. As if that wasn’t enough it’s also been infused with chestnut honey from Italy and aged in port barrels for three months before bottling, I was certainly starting to realise why this beer commands such a high price and yet disappears from bottle shop shelves so quickly. The good folk at Thornbridge see fit to brew this beer four times a year so if you can’t find any you can be quietly confident that it will probably be available again in the not too distant future. Although I usually order my beer online I picked this one up from Jack’s Off License in Finsbury Park, a hidden gem of a booze dealer I plan to blog about in the future.
Selecting my large Chimay branded snifter I carefully poured the beer into the glass, what came out of the bottle was one of the thickest beers I have ever seen. The velveteen liquid oozed out of the bottle filling my glass with a very dark brown syrup and as it slowly settled a thin yet tight mocha brown head formed atop the liqueur like substance. The aroma was incredibly powerful with notes of oak, espresso and sherry wafting around and wrapped up with an incredibly strong hit of alcohol. The beer is incredibly thick and the flavours are some of the most powerful I’ve ever experienced, the first thought the flavour gives is one of molasses followed by a hint of dry tawny port, this is then neatly balanced with a big hit of freshly roasted coffee and upon swallowing I definitely detected hints of bitter lemon zest. Then it hits you, a massive wave of warming booze creeping up your throat almost as if it’s even more alcoholic than it’s 10% ABV would suggest.
I took plenty of time to reflect on Bracia.
Being so strong and thick and as I was keeping all 500 millilitres to myself I took plenty of time devouring this beer and as it warmed some flavours softened but the hop character developed and became a lot stronger. Bracia has one hell of a lot of hops as diverse in variety as Target and Sorachi Ace so it seems only natural that these hops develop as your palate begins to understand and interpret the multitude of flavours this beer offers. The bottle I drank was pretty fresh and although I didn't purchase a second I can imagine that this is one beer that would develop a different character if it was cellared for around 6 months.
Many high strength beers, particularly double or imperial IPA’s seem to try and hide the high ABV with masses of malt and hops and although there is no doubt Bracia contains huge amounts of both the alcohol is kept in plain sight and really dominates this beer. Not that this is a bad thing, in fact it would be a great beer to recommend to wine or spirit drinkers because of it’s almost liqueur like quality plus it has bags more going on than an average bottle of wine that would cost the same amount.
Bracia is quite simply a fantastic and very special beer, I was kept entranced and enthralled while enjoying the whole bottle over about an hour and a half. Is it worth it’s hefty price tag? I would definitely say so, it’s the kind of beer you bring out to impress at a dinner party with some very strong cheeses, in fact it’s so thick I’d probably skip the pudding and pour some of this into a bowl and serve it to my guests with a spoon, scoop of ice cream optional.