Before the last dying breaths of 2016 are forgotten. Before the dying days of jaw-clenchingly miserable January are over. Before we can begin again our rebirth into the year, Nick, our bearded Nick reimagined, has a few words to say:
“I’m sat in the middle of France, on a quaint little farm, sipping tea (not close to the real thing) tapping away on my phone and dreaming of beer. Yes, I know it’s breakfast time but still. A big beautiful mixed fermentation barrel aged sour. That’s what I want.
Garrett Oliver is a legend in the industry. One of the early pioneers. A man who has probably made more great beers than I’ve drunk. He is the head brewer at Brooklyn Brewery and last year he teamed up with Rob Lovatt from Thornbridge to dream up a beer ageing experiment. One that had never been done before. They called it Project Serpent.
The beer was originally intended to be a strong Belgian Golden ale (think Derilium Tremens or Duvel). A style that uses noble hops. A style, that’s easy to drink, even with a high ABV.
Serpent initially tasted floral, fruity, with slight peppery notes, plus a solid alcohol backbone. The beer was then blended with cider lees (the leftover yeasts, skins, and other byproducts from cider fermentation) from Oliver’s Cider and Perry. This gave the beer a uniquely funky, fruity element. Then they chucked the whole lot into Four Roses bourbon barrels.
Modern ‘aged’ beers have often been left in barrels for 3 months, some 6 months and some a whole year. Serpent sat quietly, undisturbed in those barrels for 2 years.
If you do the math, this beer was brewed at the end of 2013. To have conceived of a beer so on trend, so current three years before release, blows my mind. Truly phenomenal.
This beer challenged everything I know and understand about beer. An ever-changing chameleon.
The week it was released, it was fresh and vibrant with a strange funky acidity. Oude Geuze? Cider? I’m not sure, but it was delicious.
A couple of months later, and I was cracking into my third bottle. Much more funk, apple and spice. Was it morphing into cider? I wasn’t sure. Again, it was absolutely delicious.
Finally, as last year was dragging its feet into this, I enjoyed my last bottle, at a Saison tasting event I hosted in The Beer Boutique’s Wandsworth store. I brought along a beer that I’d brewed myself, inspired by Serpent and indeed created by Serpent. (As an aside, my beer won the blind taste test – thanks!). But the highlight was celebrating with the bottle that started it all.
Maybe it was my mood, or maybe it just was that much better, but it was so much more zingy. So bright. So complex, with just the perfect amount of tartness.
The beauty of this beer lies not just in its crazy concept or in its flawless creation, but in its ability to change with age.
This beer challenges everything you expect a beer to be. It’s a great drink every time, but it also offers something different. A truly artisanal product. A unique beer. To stand out in a crowd of indistinguishable craft beers, that takes something truly special.”