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The Oak Bolleville

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Picobrouwerij Alvinne is a relatively new and tiny (apparently several orders of magnitude smaller than a typical micro-brewery, which is pretty small by itself) brewery in Belgium. They make the typical Belgian styles (blonde, bruin, tripel, saison), but they seem to have garnered international attention by hitting up less common Belgian styles, like imperial stouts, and by experimenting with barrel aging and blending.

My initial experience with Alvinne was with The Oak Melchior, and it was a pleasant enough experience that I picked up another bottle from their oak series. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't quite live up to the promise of that first beer, even when it comes to the abstract stuff. It's named after an obscure commune in France (rather than after Biblical fan-fiction) and "The Oak Bolleville" just doesn't roll off the tongue as well as "The Oak Melchior" (no Robert Loggia impressions needed here). Unfortunately, what's in the bottle hasn't fared so well either.

On paper, it seems like it would be great. The base beer is a Russian Imperial Stout called Mano Negra which is aged in barrels formerly used to age Cognac for 10 years and Calvados (apple brandy) for 8 years. This is the same treatment that Melchior got, and I enjoyed the results of that one fair enough. The nose had a sour twang to it, but the taste took on some interesting oak character (without any real sourness). This was unusual, but I remember wondering what the same treatment would do to a bigger, darker beer. Alas, things did not quite turn out so well:

Alvinne The Oak Bolleville

Picobrouwerij Alvinne The Oak Bolleville - Pours a very dark brown color with beautiful ruby red highlights and minimal head. Smells a little on the funky side, that prickling sensation I associate with sours comes through clearly, maybe a little oak and booze along for the ride too. Taste is sweet, with the small amount of sourness peeking through. Unfortunately, that sourness cancels out most of the other flavor that I'd expect in a beer like this. It feels like all those constituent flavors are waging a war against one another and what's left in the end is mellow and a little vinegary. Mouthfeel is distressingly thin, only slightly carbonated, a little acidic, not at all what you want out of an oak aged stout, even a sour one. Overall, it's not the worst semi-sour barrel aged beer I've had, but it's not particularly accomplished either. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 10/13/12.

Alvinne still seems to be producing some interesting stuff, I'd particularly like to try their Beer Geek Wedding, though who knows if any bottles of that stuff will make it over here. So I'll give them a mulligan on this one and hope the next fares better.

The Oak Melchior

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Just what is a Melchior? Every time I see that name, I have to pronounce it like I assume Robert Loggia would. The Oak Melcheoooorrrrrrr!

As it turns out, Melchior is not a reference to a beloved character actor, but rather one of the Three Wise Men. Melchior, Caspar (aka Gaspar), and Balthazar were the three kings bearing gifts to the newly born Jesus. While not explicitly named by Mathew in his gospel, as near as I can tell, most of the details come from various Greek transcripts dating to the latter half of the first millennium. Basically, Biblical fan fiction.

Well, the relatively new brewers over at the Picobrouwerij Alvinne decided to make a series of beers celebrating our favorite Magi, then age them in a variety of barrels. This particular beer was brewed with mustard seeds and aged for 6 months in Calvados brandy barrels. Actually, the barrels apparently contained Cognac for 10 years and Calvados for 8 years. The label says that "We found these barrels at a local farmer in the French Contentin." I get the impression that the Belgian brewers just got drunk, crossed the border and mounted an attack on France, who promptly surrendered, yielding old brandy barrels as spoils of war.

Beer Advocate lists this as a Belgian Strong Pale Ale, which makes sense, because my exhaustive research has revealed that Melchior was likely the king carrying Gold:

Alvinne Oak Melchior

Picobrouwerij Alvinne The Oak Melchior - Pours a cloudy golden orange color with minimal head, actually quite a pretty looking beer. The smell has a twang to it that I associate with sour beers, and that seems to overwhelm any other aromas (upon further pours into the glass, I do get a sorta bready aroma too). I was naturally expecting the sourness to appear in the taste, but there's not much there. Instead, I get typical rich oak flavors and maybe a bit of booze (presumably from the cognac and brandy) with a thick but smooth malt backbone. Maybe just a hint of a sour twang there, but you really have to look for it (and possibly imagine it). I'm not detecting the mustard seeds at all, but that's as it should be. The flavors are complex enough that I'm sure the mustard played a role somewhere. The mouthfeel is chewy and heavy with just enough light carbonation to make the rich flavors palatable. The booze contributes a big warming feeling as well. An extremely unusual beer, but one I'm glad I got to try. If it weren't for the disconnect with the aroma, this would be in the A range, but I'll still give it a solid B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 2/4/12. Cap sez: Melchior Calv342, Jan 2013 Lot 469.

Has anyone ever made myrrh beer? How about frankincense beer? I smell a homebrew batch coming on. Or something.

I'd be really curious to see how this Calvados barrel treatment would work on a darker beer style... and apparently Picobrouwerij Alvinne has done just that. For a "pico" brewery (i.e. a really small brewery), they sure do seem to put out a huge variety of beers, from typical Belgian styles to Imperial Stouts. Beer Advocate lists 54 different beers. And they've seemingly barrel aged all of their normal beers at some point. In several different types of barrels, no less. The Melchior itself has 5 different barrel-aged versions.

I bought this bottle on a whim because it sounded interesting and it was from Belgium (let's call this another successful round of Belgian Beer Roulette). Now I'm going to have to head back to State Line Liquors and stock up on some more Alvinne treats.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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