These two bottles have been sitting on the shelf since March 2015, throbbing with sinister energy like the crate containing the Ark in the first Indiana Jones film. Last night, we decided to vanquish them.
They are non-identical twins – the same base beer (a 12% ABV historic homage) with two treatments, one aged in bourbon barrels, the other given a dose of Brettanomyces lambicus.
We didn’t buy these but we weren’t sent them by the brewery, either: when he worked at Beer Merchants, Phil Lowry snuck them into one of our orders as a bonus. His advice at the time was (a) to be careful with the Brettanomyces-spiked version and (b) to try blending them.
Even without any chilling Brett, as we’ll call him, was no trouble at all. He hissed but didn’t gush, and gave us a thick, steady caramel-coloured foam. It smelled exactly like Harvey’s Russian Imperial Stout, which is perhaps not that surprising, and in our book a high compliment.
‘We should put the other one in a different glass so we don’t get them mixed up. Use the St Bernardus one. Because Bernard. Bernard Matthews. Turkey. Wild Turkey.’
So the other one is Bernard and, unlike his brother, had almost no head – a few loose bubbles on a surface that looked like warmed black treacle.
The taste of Brett is very like Harvey’s. In fact, we probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference sampling blind although we think this one is a bit lighter in body. It is nonetheless a heavy, heavy monster beer, tasting not like something brewed this decade but as if it had been discovered by workmen in a deep cellar underneath the old brewery at Chiswell Street. As we get more used to Brettanomyces we find it easier to taste other things through it and here, we got a mix of sourness, Marmite, liquorice and dark chocolate, with the funk suggesting that it was somehow extra-fermented. Alive. Pickled.
Bernard was entirely different, proving that those post-brewing tweaks have a big influence on the finished product. It made us want sticky, smoky barbecued meat, perhaps because it was sticky and smoky. Bernard likes American things, HONK HONK! It coated the tongue like espresso and had a pleasant little burn – alcoholic, we think, but brains aren’t good at understanding heat and ours kept insisting there was some chilli present. Of the two, this was the best – a real eye-opener.
We blended a little of each, as per Phil’s instructions, and it made something more like drinking chocolate but oddly less complex than either of its components. Phase cancellation.
These were two fantastic beers that we’re glad we finally got round to drinking, but wish we hadn’t drunk. It looks as if Brett is still available here at £6.67 per 330ml bottle if you want to try it yourself, along with some other interesting experiments.