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Monday, March 11, 2013

North Coast Brewing's Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbyey Ale

  • Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale/ Belgian Style Abbey Ale
  • ABV: 9.4%
  • Season: Year round
  • Ease to locate: Well distributed in grocery and liquor stores through out the US. Here's their beer finder.
  • Color: Mahogany reddish tint
  • Head: 1 & 1/2 fingers with bits of lacing
  •  Aroma: Fruity with a good hit of caramel and bready yeasts.  A bit of fig and biscuit as well.
  • Mouthfeel: Medium
  • Finish: Medium with a pleasant mild hop note on the tail
  • Food friendly:Yes.  Like many Belgian style ales, this is a great food beer.  Try it with marinated grilled or roasted meat & chicken.  Serve it with sharp cheese such as Cheddar or pungent cheese such as Gorgonzola

There are two types of people in the world.  Those that love jazz and those that are tone deaf.

                                                                                     Brother Theo and his quartet.  Admit it.  You sort of want his hat, don't you?

    I love jazz. Not that smooth, "hey baby, want to come up to my pad and see my etchings" sort of music. If it's something that you might hear in your dentist's office during a root canal, it's not what I'm talking about here. But the soulful moans of Charlie Parker's alto sax? The playful tinkling of Oscar Peterson on the ivories? The mellow California casualness of Dave Brubek and his trio? Yes, yes and more, please. I love how a bunch of jazz musicians must stay in the moment and really listen to what the others are playing in order to break free of the sheet music and put their own spin on the tune. To me, it's more than just a style of music. It's an American style, unique and malleable within our own history. If you know jazz, even marginally, you can tell the difference between what Wynton Marsalis or Kermit Russell have done down in New Orleans from what Stan Getz or Charlie Parker did in New York. And Chicago' s contribution to the great jazz scene? I could go on all day (and as many before you can attest, have been know to) about the late great Von Freeman.  And Gene Krupa.  And King Flemming.  Jazz musicians understand that by working together as a group, they each will get their chance to solo, their chance at their one moment in the sun.

    Honestly?  It's too pretty to be snarky

    A good beer is like a great piece of jazz. All the elements have to work together in order to let each individual piece shine when the time is right. North Coast Brewery must understand this dynamic. When they set out to brew a Belgian influenced ale, they named it after one of it's greatest ambassadors, Thelonious Monk. Monk was a pianist who recorded on iconic labels such as Blue Note and Columbia. He jammed with other greats, like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The man was a legend. He was known for using his piano as almost a percussion instrument, banging on the keys as if he was attacking the music. Yet he also knew how to play to the silence. In many ways, a good beer does the same thing. Hit me with a flavor and then with another, but give me a bit of rest to appreciate not only the notes I've tasted, but to anticipate the ones yet to come.

    Belgian lacing is like a soul patch for your pint
     My Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale poured a gorgeous mahogany color, layered with a warm tints of shades of red. A one and a half finger head formed. Off white, almost ivory, bubbles foamed and sat on the top of the beer for most of the drink. Moderate Belgian lacing was present, nothing extraordinary, but just enough to make a swirl or two worthwhile. I could smell Belgian yeast and a bit of caramel sweetness on the nose. Then came the dry scent of biscuit and and earthiness of fig, each taking their own time in making a contribution to the overall aroma in front of me. The taste was well reflected in the nose. I could first sense the the sweet caramel harmonizing with the dryness of the yeast and toastiness of the malts. The fruit was reminiscence of the earth, tasting of grapes, raisins and, of course, the figs. I think that there was a bit of cherry flavor under it all as well. Each flavor note worked in conjunction with the others, yet still took it's own brief moment to riff a bit on their own place in the grand scheme of abbey ales. The mouthfeel was medium, with a nice bit of carbonation to make it easily drinkable. Just as Monk new it to be true, Brother Thelonious showed that playing to the silence could create a great amount of drama in a short amount of time. The finish started out normal enough, the caramel and fruit notes lingered shortly on my tongue. But then, just as I felt slightly disappointed that the finish was somewhat short and sweet, it took a brief pause to collect itself in the absence of flavor and burst back into existence with a mild hop note at the very end. The first few times, it was an unexpected pleasure and just made me smile at the mere fact that it was there.

    Monk's middle name was Sphere.  Coincidence?  Yeah.  Probably. 

    Since Belgian ales are one of the more food friendly types of beer, Brother Thelonious is a great beer to keep in your cellar for a casual, impromptu dinner party.  Marinate some steaks using a slightly spicy and earthy set of notes,  such as pan grilled flank steak with soy mustard sauce .  Or roast some chicken pieces with a savory set of elements, such as roasted chicken with dried plums and shallots.    If you're planning on serving a mixed cheese plate, go heavier on the sharp and smelly set of cheese varieties and let the sweet, fruity and dry qualities of this beer shine.  North Coast Brewing donates a small portion of their profits from each bottle sold of Brother Thelonious to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a non for profit program that assists in promoting jazz education.  I like that I can enjoy a tasty, food friendly ale and help promote a music style that I adore at the same time.  Brother Thelonoius may not be the most complex or exciting representation of an Abbey Ale, but it's a solid, easy to find beer that does the job for a Saturday night.  So crack open a bottle, throw something that once mooed or clucked on the grill and relax to the musical styling of our Brother Theo.