Thursday, December 06, 2007
Brigand: robbed of its flavor
I came across a beer today that I haven't seen in awhile. A Belgian beer from Van Honsebrouck that I've enjoyed on and off through the years called Brigand. I picked up a single 33-cl bottle which I enjoyed this evening at home. This particular bottle had plenty of carbonation that formed a dense bright, white head that slowly fell living a thin layer of bubbles and thick collar. The aroma was sweet and accented by grain, much simpler than I remember. Faint bits of floral hops mixed with sweet malt and a fairly sugary sweetness. The hotness of alcohol was present in the finish with was dry and fairly short, leaving the heat of alcohol and a slick sensation. The mouthfeel was very smooth and accented the somewhat clean flavor for a Belgian ale.
A decent beer, but not the same complex ale that I enjoyed in the early 1990s. I discovered this beer many years ago in Mokena, Illinois, at a store on U.S. 45 called Miska's Country Food & Wine (if I remember correctly). The place had a ton of craft and imported beer with a lot of it in coolers. They seemed to always have something new and interesting. One of these new and interesting beers was Brigand. It came in a 750-ml corked bottle with cool artwork of a Brigand (a historical term for an unsavory type of mercenary or outlaw), but what really got our attention was the price: $3.99 a bottle. We were quite happy to pay this for a Belgian, but also suspicious of the contents of said bottle. Aside from the price, the other quality of this bottle that piqued our interest was a streak of yeast that was stretched down the sides.
My first impression of Brigand (back in 1993) was that it had a rustic, fruity character. The hop character was somewhat spicy, but muted, and the strength of the beer was rather evident. The beer's rusticity was represented by a profound earthy, yeasty character. Overall, we were very impressed with the beer's complexity and the yeasty character suggested to us that Brigand would be a good ale to cellar. I decided to keep some bottles of the beer in my basement (not quite a cellar), but most of these beers would be consumed within a few months time. However, one particular bottle was set aside and I managed to keep this bottle for about six or seven years. We learned these $3.99 bottles were marked down because they were considered old. How did we know this? Well, the brewer printed the bottling date on the cork of each bottle. Most of the bottles I remember enjoying back in the early 1990s were bottled in 1989 and 1990.
Now, fast forward to New Year's Eve 1999. Remember that single bottle of Brigand that I stashed? We popped the cork on NYE 1999 with the assumption that bottle was filled in 1989 or 1990, so it would be about 10 years old. I was worried the beer would be flat or undrinkable. It was neither: it had plenty of carbonation, it's rusticity had significantly mellowed, yet the complexity remained. The date printed on the cork was April 1989 (if memory serves). It was a sublime beer that was worth the wait.