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Monday, November 11, 2013

Russian River Brewery's Damnation

  • Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale
  • ABV: 7.75%
  • Season: Year Round
  • Ease to locate:  Depends.  Do you live in California?  Do you know some one who lives in California?  Do you feel lucky?  Russian River only distributes their extremely limited quantities to parts of California and a few select places in Oregon, Colorado and Philadelphia. Here's their list of distributors
  • Color: A hazy, golden lemon color.  Gorgeous.
  • Head: One & a half finger pure white head that settled after a few minutes.  Lovely lacing coating the sides of the glass.
  • Aroma: Amazing scents of Belgian yeast, pear, a bit of citrus, some sweetness from caramel malts.  There was a bit of peppery spice there too.
  • Mouthfeel: Dry with enough effervesce to keep the overall swallow easy.
  • Finish: Medium with a hoppy, peppery tail.
  • Food friendly?: Yes.  Since it's a strong pale ale, keep the flavors simple and fresh.  Try a roasted pork dish or get adventurous with some game, like a roasted rabbit.  I'm having a difficult time thinking of a good cheese to pair it with though.  If anyone has suggestions, feel free to add them in the comments below.

My out of state beers often depend on the kindness of strangers.  OK, not completely strangers.  More often I rely on friends, family and co-workers who are silly enough to tell me when and where they are going on vacations.  Both my brother and a co-worker took trips to sunny California this Autumn (separate trips. Because otherwise that would be both weird and strangely envious).  Normally I'd just wish them well, maybe reminisce about my good old collage days a bit and pretty much forget that they're gone until they return with a tan and a snow globe.  But this year I had just two words for  both of them.  Two simple words that I may have repeated obsessively until they heard them in their sleep.   Russian River.

Apple user link: Vinnie Cilurzo, the godfather of DIPAS
                                                  I'm strangely happy that RRB & Lagunitas swapped beer handles back and forth at some point.  In my head, Vinnie & Sam have a standing lunch/man spa day every third Tursday. 

Russian River Brewing Co. is a surprisingly small, cult (not the kind that makes you wear coveralls and white sneakers while drinking Kool Aid.  I'm talking the kind of cult that might, say, gather for an evening's entertainment consisting of marathon viewings of all four seasons of BSG.  Of course those in that cult would know what BSG stood for too)  brewery located in Santa Rosa, California.  The area is better known for their vineyards and wineries than hop fields and brew pubs.  Russian River is the exception to that rule.  The brewery itself was originally owned by Korbel Champagne Cellars, but sold the brewery off to the current owners (one who was the brewmaster under Korbel's ownership) in 2003.  A few small moves later, Vinnie & Natalie Cilurzo found themselves brewing some of the most famous and exclusive beers in the United States.   Way before it was the trendy thing to do, Vinnie Cilurzo took advantage of the Northern California wine culture.  He began to experiment with fermenting his beers by utilizing the rich excess of wine barrels at his disposal (thankfully for beer lovers everywhere he didn't work at the pickle capital of the world.)    Their first beer, Pliny the Elder, resulted from one of these experimentations while he was still working for Korbel and later became Russian River's flagship beer.  It's also considered to be one of the first DIPA's on the market.  The man is a hero.

Damnation is a Belgian inspired strong pale ale that is refermented in the bottle.  This bottle conditioning fermentation results in a gorgeously hazy cloud of golden lemon liquid when poured into a glass.  As you can tell from the photo above, this is one of those beers that I just had to share (As soon as I popped the cork, the family entourage started milling about.)  A fluffy, very solid pure white head formed that reminded me of whipped egg whites.  Even in my tasting glass, the lacing produced was amazing.  Splotches of delicate foam clung tightly, coating all sides of the glass.  There was no mistaking this ale as being Belgian inspired.  Strong scents of banana ester layered with fruit notes, such as pear and apple, mixed with slightly sweet caramel malt.  There was a clean citrus hit on the nose as well.  Under it all., a spicy pepper aroma lingered in the background, like some exotic wallflower.  Between the prettiness in the glass and the head swimming scents wafting up from the ale, I was already in love.  And I only fell deeper after tasting this liquid gold.    I could taste the fruitiness of the yeast easily, lots of controlled banana, apple and pear notes.  The citrus from the nose emerged as a brightness, counteracting the sweet malty flavors.  The spicy pepper note of Nobel Hops gave the finish a bit of a kick.  Over all, this was just an amazingly delicious beer.  The mouthfeel was well carbonated with a medium feel on the tongue and a dry, refreshing crispness.  As I mentioned before, the finish was moderate and extraordinary well balanced, with the spicy Nobel Hop note trailing as I swallowed. 

I would serve this strong pale ale with a roasted pork dish, rich with fruit flavors.  Try it with Pork Tenderloin with Sauteed Apples for dinner one night.  Or if you're feeling a little adventurous, Strong pale Ales pair wonderfully with many game dishes.  If you live somewhere with access to fresh rabbit, prepare a Baked Rabbit with Apples  some chilly Autumn night. The caramelized fruitiness and savory herb forward flavors of either recipe will compliment Damnation perfectly.  And remember to make enough food for two if you do.  Because when you have a beer, a CULT beer, that is this fraking good, you are pretty much required to share.  I usually get off of work around five.