Tag Archives: Unplugged

Sour Grains: New Glarus Unplugged Enigma VS. New Belgium La Folie

19 May

Ahh, the power of persuasion.  With a bomber of one in my fridge and a stack of 4-packs of the other staring me in the face at work, all it took was some timely inspiration from Mr. Glazer over at Madison Beer Review to push me to crack a bottle each of New Glarus Unplugged Enigma and New Belgium La Folie and subject my GI tract to 34 ounces of vinegary goodness.

The second consecutive Unplugged beer that happens to be a reborn fan-favorite (after Cherry Stout), Enigma continues to add to Dan Carey’s legendary ability to coax sublime greatness out of the humble Door County cherry.  Wild-fermentation and oak-aging keep this gem firmly within Mr. Carey’s considerable wheelhouse.  Last brewed in 2006, Enigma has developed a devoted following among local beer folk and it was no surprise that New Glarus fans so strongly backed its return.

New Belgium’s La Folie has garnered considerable accolades of its own and risen to the pantheon of American-brewed Belgian-style sour ales.  Whereas New Glarus’ offering skirts the boundaries between fruit and sour ale styles, La Folie is presented as a traditionally-styled sour brown/red ale in the oud bruin or Flanders red vein.  The brewers’ notes on the respective bottles illustrate the divergent goals of these two soured suds:

Enigma – “Our Master Brewer has forged a smooth garnet tapestry that defies description.”

La Folie – “Seriously sour, this Flanders-style reddish brown ale was fermented for 1 to 3 years in French oak barrels for mouth puckering perfection.”

New Glarus Unplugged Enigma

Style: Oud Bruin/Sour Brown Ale/Fruit Beer

Vitals: ~5.5% abv; Brewed with wild yeast and Door County cherries; aged in unlined oak for 4 months

Company Line:

A complex and intriguing original. The mystery began with wild yeast spontaneously fermenting a rich treasure of malted barley and cherries. Unlined Oak casks breathe deep vanilla hues and chords of smoke into this sour brown ale. Our Master Brewer has forged a smooth garnet tapestry that defies description. Wander off the beaten path.

My take: pours a strawberry-tinged amber under a fizzy off-white head that vanishes quickly.  Soft aromas of silky vanilla and and fresh oak are bolstered by husky malt and cherry juice.  Buttery-smooth vanilla and tart cherry envelop the palate over a lightly-toasted, slightly smoky malt backbone.  Finish is pleasantly sour with a quick metallic note and slight lingering fruitiness.  Class in a glass.  Elusive, yet immediately accessible.  Whenever cherries meet oak under Dan Carrey’s tutelage, good things happen.

New Belgium La Folie

Style: Flanders Red/Sour Ale

Vitals: 6.0% abv; aged 1-3 years in French oak; wild fermented

Company Line:

La Folie Wood-Aged Biere, is our original wood-conditioned beer, resting in French Oak barrels between one and three years before being bottled. Peter Bouckaert, came to us from Rodenbach – home of the fabled sour red. Our La Folie emulates the spontaneous fermentation beers of Peter’s beloved Flanders with sour apple notes, a dry effervescence, and earthy undertones. New in 2010, we’ll do a single bottling of La Folie for the year. Collect the 22oz unique to 2010 designed bottle and start a yearly wood-aged collection of goodness.

My take: pours a dark, deep garnet-brown with a light, quickly-dissipating white crown.  Nose sparks with zingy raspberry vinaigrette, smooth oak and light malts.  Hints of zippy Greek yogurt arise with aeration. Notes of ripe berries are quickly zapped by the formidable crabapple acidity which lays down a slight metallic sheen on the palate before a pleasant roasted malt base breaks through.

La Folie proves to be a much more challenging experience for the palate as compared to the Enigma.  Where the Enigma has the benefit of fresh cherries to lend a soothing sweetness and choses a shorter and more subtle application of the wild fermentation; La Folie takes a more traditional path toward a Belgian-style oud bruin/Flanders red with a blend of oak-aged sour vintages with a noble lineage (brewer Peter Bouckaert came to New Belgium from Rodenbach, founding fathers of the Flanders Red tradition) and really electrifies the palate with its supremely sour character.

For lovers of face-wrenching sours (a hat I do indeed wear on occasion) La Folie knocks it out of the park with intense acidity and a bright, dry body.  Enigma takes the road less-traveled, enveloping the senses with layers of cherry, vanilla, oak and smoke in a smooth package that seduces the palate with alternating sweet and sour notes and makes for an ultimately more enjoyable (and accessible) experience.  After 34 full ounces of tongue-curling, cheek-biting, stomach-pickling goodness (a full bomber of La Folie was admittedly challenging to finish by myself in addition to the single Enigma), this drinker’s sour beer tooth has been satiated.  I see a handful of Tums and a whole lot of easy- drinking  Furthermore Oscura in my future.


Guess Who’s Back: New Glarus Unplugged Cherry Stout

19 Feb

Dan Carey, local overlord of fruit and beer, never met a cherry he didn’t want to throw in an oak barrel.  From his venerable Wisconsin Belgian Red to the appropriately named Enigma, Mr. Carey has found a way to coax out the rich essence of the fruit and imbue it with the subtle nuances of his wooden vessels (not bad, eh?).  Cherry Stout was an Unplugged release from February of 2006 and initially threw me for a loop.  Expecting something in the ballpark of Bell’s Cherry Stout – a rich, chewy dessert of a beer – I was flummoxed by the translucent mahogany color and light body of New Glarus’ version.  I shouldn’t be able to see through a stout, I thought.  And while I enjoyed the beer then, I saw it as more of a Wisconsin Belgian Red DARK. Much like his recent Old English Porter, Dan has shown that he isn’t a slave to style guideline when crafting an Unplugged-series beer.  He’s also not afraid of bringing favorites back from the dead.

Even though he states on each Unplugged bottle that each iteration is “a very limited edition and we make no promises to ever make this style again”, the precedent for resurrection was set with a second bottling of his phenomenal Apple Ale several years after its initial bottling.  Apparently his many fans made their love for Cherry Stout known to the degree that he relented and rebrewed this gem.  Many hundreds of beers wiser, I’m happy to revisit a beer that certainly got my attention as an up-and-coming appreciator of craft beer.

Beer: New Glarus Unplugged Cherry Stout

Style: Cherry Stout

Vitals: 6.6% abv, Eight Wisconsin malted barleys combined with Wisconsin Montmorency Cherries

Company line: “(Originally seventh in our series.) Due to popular demand we brought back Dan’s Gold Medal winning “Unplugged Cherry Stout.” This ale is aged in Oak barrels to promote the spontaneous fermentation. Eight Wisconsin malted barleys combined with Wisconsin Montmorency Cherries make for a complex and sublime taste experience that you may never find again. Discover why Dan is repeatedly recognized as the Best Brewmaster in America.”

My take (2): First off, my original review from February 23, 2006 (ahh, memories)

Pours a dark brownish-garnet, exceptionally translucent for a “Stout” with a short film of bubbles that fades with a hiss almost instantly. Nose is tart, tart cherries predominantly with some milk chocolate and a hint of maltiness. Tastes like their Belgian Red, a hint of oakiness, with some dark malt added for a bit of choco/caramel sweetness. Mouthfeel is rich and mouth-puckering. This is delicious as a fruit beer, but I really question its classification as a stout, it’s dark, but completely translucent and the roasted malts play a very small part in the overall taste profile of the beer. A more fitting name would be Wisconsin Belgian Red Dark. Overall, another unique creation which makes me so glad to live near such a solid and creative brewery like New Glarus.

This time around, the attractive caramel/khaki head has some staying power, leaving some spotty lacing in the glass.  Nose bursts, first with sweet cherry juice, then with a more tart wild twang and an underlying cocoa powder base.  Development on the palate closely follows that of the nose – sweet juicy cherry up front , twangy tartness that pinches the cheeks, and a smooth chocolate and roasted malt finish that reminds you this is a dark beer.  Body is velvety and obviously much lighter than your standard stout.  This is an impressively put-together beer from start to finish that hits all of Dan’s strengths as a brewer – fruit, oak, wild fermentation and above all else, impeccable balance.  Glad to have another shot at enjoying this one with a better-developed palate.  A real treat.

New Brew: New Glarus Unplugged Cran-bic Ale

13 Nov


New Glarus Unplugged Cran-bic Ale

Cuz who doesn't love a pun?

The middle of November brings a timely new addition to the venerable New Glarus Unplugged line of experimental beers.  Dan Carey has always had a way with fruit, his Raspberry Tart, Wisconsin Belgian Red, Apple Ale, Cherry Stout, and Enigma all standout offerings showing a deft hand at masterfully blending fruit into solid beer bases that serve as a stage for showcasing the fresh seasonal fruits.  The newest addition to Dan’s fruity family is the Unplugged Cran-bic Ale.  Sounds like a perfect addition to finer Thanksgiving menus across the great state of Wisconsin.

Beer: New Glarus Unplugged Cran-bic Ale

Style: Fruit lambic

Vitals: 6.0% abv, “Sparkling and bright this is a Wisconsin original created for you in the traditional method employed by the Lambic Brewers of Belgium including five months of outdoor resting in oak barrels. Indigenous yeast and cranberries from the “wilds” of Wisconsin flawlessly pair to dance on your palette. You have discovered a rare and delightful treasure to be served cold in a fluted glass.”

My take: Pours a crystal clear shade of burnt amber (perhaps you were expecting cranberry red?) under a short-lived and loosely packed foamy white head.  Nose is dominated by the fruit, with a brown sugar and spice malty depth.  Primarily sweet on the palate, this is certainly not a super-dry lambic in the Belgian tradition.  The balanced tartness and crisp malt backbone falls somewhere between the Belgian Red and Apple Ale for me.  Often, Dan’s barrel-aged beers are very oak-forward, but the wood takes a backseat here.  What he has created is an immanently-drinkable ale that balances the sweet, sour and tart profiles of the fruit masterfully.  It also served as a perfect “dessert” for a light dinner salad of mixed greens from my CSA bonus box, dried cranberries, walnuts, feta, and a quick balsamic vinaigrette I whipped up on the spot.

"House" salad

Bonus Recipe!: Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredient Rollcall:

  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Dijon mustard
  • dash of salt, sugar, cracked pepper, herbes de Provence

How I do it:

  1. Pour vinegar (~2 tablespoons for 1-2 portions), mustard (~1 teaspoon), and seasoning in small mixing bowl.
  2. Begin whisking and slowly drizzle an equal amount of olive oil into vinegar mixture until well-blended and emulsified.
  3. That’s it.  Make your own dressing.  It’s so freaking easy.
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