My first introduction to Karbach was their “tap takeover” at Big Hops Growler Station. Karbach is a Houston brewery, and officially so far is only available in Houston and San Antonio on tap, and in Houston only for packaged beer (though their introduction to the San Antonio market for that is impending soon). They came down to Big Hops and didn’t play: they brought 12 different beers that night… if I remember right, and that could be suspect. I met Blake Robertson that night, one of the co-owners of Karbach, who hooked me up with his card and a promise that next time he was back in San Antonio he’d bring me some beer to review. Jump forward to two months later: still hadn’t been able to hook up with Blake again, but I was on my way out to Houston for some work on my day job, so I worked out some time to meet up with Bennet Goodman, another co-owner, who gave me a really awesome personal tour of the Karbach facilities (holy barrel room, batman!) as well as poured me a few beers to try, and sent me home with beers to review. Today I am going to review three of the seasonal releases, in a while I will have a second Karbach review with three of their staple beers.
About the Brewery (from karbachbrewing.com/about/about-us):
We like beer. A lot. Our background is in the beer biz. Everything from distribution and importing to German training and brewery operations. A few years ago we had an opportunity that would allow us to open up our own brewery. We jumped on it. We’re extremely excited about this project, and we think it shows in everything we do. This is just plain fun for us. The day it starts to feel like a job is the day when lightning shall strike us dead. Cause, hey, at the end of the day we’re making beer. And beer is fun. Join us, it should be a kick ass ride with some cool stops along the way!
About the Beer (from karbachbrewing.com/beers/karbachtoberfest):
Every year in Munich a little party is thrown. If you’ve ever been, there are some things you may or may not remember: Lederhosen envy, oompah music, dirndls, and rolling down the hill. One thing you surely haven’t forgotten is the extremely quaffable beer. While you may not be able to attend Oktoberfest this year, you can experience the world’s biggest beer fest right here with Karbachtoberfest. An authentic, Bavarian-style Marzen, decotion mashed with Vienna and Munich malts, cold fermented and aged for six weeks, this beer pairs well with pretzels and sausage, but it tastes mighty fine on its own. Eins, Zwei, G’suffa!
In general, I’m not a hug fan of Oktoberfest beers. It’s not something I particularly dislike – this isn’t AAL, after all – but it’s not a style I go looking for. This may sound like blasphemy to beer purists out there but… I’m just not a huge fan of German beers. Before you, dear reader, get your panties in a twist, allow me to retort: I actually grew up (well, at least from 9th grade through college) in Germany. I learned to drink in Germany. I used to love German beers and I would put them up tit for tat against anything out there when I first got started in the beer world, and believe me: when I went to college and everyone was drinking Natty Ice or The Beast or some such nonsense and I was pontificating on drinking SCHÖFFERHOFER DUNKALWEIZEN as I used to in High School, I was the shit. But since then, since learning more of the beauty that comes from breaking the Reinheitsgebot, I really find a lot of German beers to be… well.. boring. The average Oktoberfest, and Oktoberfest-style, falls squarely into this category for me. It’s generally a bit bland, a bit middle of the road, a bit… boring.
I was really happy to find that the KARBACHTOBERFEST was not the bland boring beer I bargained for. Pouring KARBACHTOBERFEST I get a bronzed-gold liquid, which is beautifully sparkling clear. I have no problems with cloudy beer, but for some reason the KARBACHTOBERFEST really caught my eye with how crystal clear it was. On top of this halcyon nectar sits a bright alabaster head that fades to nothingness rapidly and leaves behind just a slight trace that it ever existed. Taking a gulp of the perfume emanating from the top of my Karbach can-glass, I get a heavy malty-sweetness, some bread like body, and a slight hint of orange peel in the aroma. There is a clean lager aroma here; I’m not usually a huge fan of the lagered beers but this one smells clean and crisp.
The first sip has my tongue following my nose; there is a sweet (but not cloying) maltiness, followed by that biscuit-y, breadiness. I’m really enjoying the sweetness of KARBACHTOBERFEST. I think that many lagers are a bit too dry, a bit too overly mineral, a bit too… well, to sound a bit broken record: boring for my tastes, and KARBACHTOBERFEST does not have that issue. There is a nice semi-complex but not overly so sweetness with little touches of fruitiness from the hops and tiny suggestions of bitterness without being bitter at all. There’s a little toasted nut taste woven in here, as well as some apple and candy from the yeast or the hop additions (probably a little of both working together). This really takes a style I could care less about and steps it up to a place where I might take a little more notice.
The body on KARBACHTOBERFEST is thin, smooth, and easy going. This is a delicate beer, light and easy to drink though it is heavier in color than your average AAL, it is not harder to put down. This beer would be a great companion to a sausage, or some pizza, or really just about any food as its flavor is really unassuming and not going to overpower much of anything. While Märzen is not my favorite style, and KARBACHTOBERFEST doesn’t really change my opinions on that at all, this is one of the better examples of this style I have had. If I had to sit and drink an Oktoberfest beer, I hope this one would be one of my choices.
Overall 6 / 10
Brewery site: http://karbachbrewing.com
F.U.N. 004: Roll in the Hay
About the Beer (from the label):
Spring has sprung and while the birds and the bees have been busy our brewers have been up to a little hanky panky themselves. After aging Barn Burner Saison in white wine barrels, hints of citrus converge with sublet aromas of oak. A touch of sweetness on the palate is quickly followed by an explosion of effervescence and a firm, yet delicate finish. Like any good Roll in the Hay this fine ale should be consumed with gusto and also be served cold enough to create glistening droplets of condensation on the drinking vessel, preferably one that is curvy or hourglass shaped.
Style: Chardonnay Barrel Aged Saison
I have been on a bit of a saison kick as of late, and I think that ROLL IN THE HAY might have been the beer to get me really into this style. I have had many a saison prior to enjoying this at the Big Hops tap takeover, but saison never really stood out to me. I liked it, I just didn’t love it. When Karbach stormed into the San Antonio market back in July I got a chance to try both the BARN BURNER – which was good – and the RitH – which was awesome. These beers really smacked me in the face and said “wake the hell up to saisons!” and since then this style has been rapidly growing in appreciation on my palate.
RitH pours an opalescent straw color, topped by an effulgent, effervescent head that evaporates slowly leaving behind scant evidence of its existence. The cloudy, ruddy orange is a very appealing hue, and makes me want to dive in to my glass headfirst. The moschate muse that emanates from my glass really excites me. One of my favorite things about saisons is when there is beautiful balance of the barnyard funk, and RitH has that on point. The bouquet that wafts up into my nose is a bit barnyard moschate, a bit earthy sweetness, some oak, some citrus, a very complex scent overall and it really makes me excited to see what’s coming next.
Taking that first taste of the RitH is exactly what I had hoped for; the funk up front, a nice saison earthiness, a touch of orange or lemon citrus, some wood from the oaks, some zest, and a nice but not overdone hop bite at the end. This is an extremely complex, yet balanced beer. RitH is, for me, what a saison should be. It’s got all those characteristics that are expected from the style: “medium to strong fruity/spicy ale with a distinctive yellow-orange color, highly carbonated, well hopped, and dry with a quenching acidity” (from the BJCP Style Guidelines) and it adds to that with a slight – very, very slight – sour hint from the barrels, a bit of earthy funk, a overall heavy dose of complexity that makes this saison heads and shoulders above many others I’ve had before.
The RitH is an easy to drink beer, as it has a light to medium body that has light carbonation that fades quickly. By the end of my bomber, there was little to no bubbles to speak of, and this is really not a bad thing for this beer. The drinkability of the RitH is kind of middle ground; this is not a beer that I would chug, but on the other hand I had no problem drinking a bomber (and previously, a growler… a small one!) by myself. This is not a beer to be rushed, this is not a beer to be chugged, this is a beer to be savored. It needs time to open up its complexities to your palate, it needs time to really introduce its layers of flavors to your brain, and you would do yourself a disservice if you were to down it in a mere gulp or two. I truly love the RitH, and consider it one of the finest examples of the style I have ever had, and am saddened by the fact that this is not a year-round release from Karbach. Please, please, PLEASE guys: get more wine barrels. Fill them up. I need more of this beer in my life. Now.
Overall 9 / 10
Brewery site: http://karbachbrewing.com
F.U.N. 005: Bourbon Barrel Aged Hellfighter
About the Beer (from the label):
If you like darker, more robust ales and you also have a penchant for whiskey, you may have just reached the promised land. We took our Hellfighter Imperial Porter and aged it in bourbon barrels for several months. Alluring aromas of vanilla, chocolate, and coffee give way to rich, malty sweetness that slowly transitions to a silky, oaky finish. Bourbon Barrel Aged Hellfighter is a special brew that is best enjoyed with hearty foods, decadent desserts, o the finest cigars. Ready to drink now in a snifter-style glass at 45-50° F, this fine ale will also benefit from years of cellaring under proper conditions.
Style: Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Porter
Bourbon barrel aged just-about-anything is good. I mean, seriously: you could probably throw some Budweiser in a bourbon barrel and it would be goo-… ok, well, maybe it wouldn’t be so much GOOD per se, as it would be not the horrible beer-flavored-swill that it started as… maybe it would be drinkable. Ok, forget that. Waste of time. My point is that beer tastes good when you let it sit in bourbon barrels. Fact. I’ve yet to have a bourbon barrel aged beer that I didn’t enjoy. Some are better than others, but the addendum of beer and bourbon is a beautiful thing. BOURBON BARREL HELLFIGHTER proves my theory.
Pouring BBH you get a black, super-black, none-more-black oil that is topped by khaki foam that dissipates rather quickly and leaves behind just an implication of lacing. Seriously, if you hold the BBH to the light, none comes through; this beer is as black as your top-of-the-heap Norwegian metal singer’s soul. Looking at it I could swear that this is a stout not a porter. Porters usually show their true colors – deep crimson reds, dark browns – when held to the light, but BBH isn’t giving up any of that. Black is all you get. Bringing this oil to my nose, I am assaulted by whiskey; it is strong bourbon that dominates the bouquet. This is followed by hangers-on of vanilla and toffee, and then a little brother that won’t leave the big kids alone named alcohol. There’s a lot going on in the perfume, but it’s really hard to pick it all out with how truly strong the bourbon is. Not that this is a problem… I like bourbon.
BBH brings the bourbon foremost when it finally touches my taste buds, and this is really no surprise at all. The vanilla and toffee are also there, and a bit more present than the aroma made them out to be. According to my nose, this should be a glass of bourbon with a touch of beer, but my tongue is telling my brain to chill with that bull. This is truly beer, not nearly as bourbon soaked as my nose made it out to be. The vanilla is much stronger on my palate, as is the roasty malt flavors. If someone gave this to me and asked me what type of beer it was, I would say with no hesitation “bourbon barrel aged stout” any day of the week, over and over again. It’s just too strong, too powerful, and too present to be a porter in any way that I’ve come to know them. Truthfully, if you do any research between the styles, they are very close cousins to each other, but I’ve come to know a porter as a much more watered down, much wimpier beer than the BBH is, and this is a much stronger, stouter beer than I would ever expect from that label.
This confusion continues in the mouthfeel for me, as the BBH is much thicker, rounder, more velvety than any porter I’ve had before. Unfortunately for me, the regular HELLFIGHTER was the one beer I didn’t get to try during the Big Hops tap takeover – it was tapped before I got to it – so I really have no frame of reference to know how that “regular” version of the BBH feels in comparison to this. But I find this beer to be much heavier, much chewier, much smoother and more rounded than what I would expect from a porter, which is usually much thinner, and lighter in body and feel. This is definitely a beer that is to be savored and not to be rushed through. This bomber I am enjoying will take me all night, not just because of it’s 11% ABV, but because of the amazing depth of flavor and heaviness of body. This is not a beer to take lightly. BBH is a strong, powerful brew that exemplifies what is really right about aging a beer in a bourbon barrel. This is not the best bourbon barrel aged beer I’ve ever had… but it’s up there.
Overall 8 / 10
Brewery site: http://karbachbrewing.com