So this marks the first in a series I’m calling “Ales Bells,” seven ales in seven days. Seven different ales from seven different producers, each from a different providence, with different twists. With so many choices of where to start, I elected to start with a recent purchase from the LCBO from a brewery you already know that I adore: Beau’s. And what better place to start a series on ales than with an “old ale.”
If you’re like me, you ask a lot of questions in life and, so, when handed “old ale” from the Ottawa Valley from Beau’s brewery, a brewery I’ve already written much about (see my post on the Best of Beau’s here) named “Gilgamesh,” one of the oldest pieces of literature in the Indo-European culture, you’re liable to ask what the hell does this have to do with beer? While peeling back the various layers of the label, returns information about the beer — and I do love the packaging and label of this series of beer — you’re still asking what does Gilgamesh have to do with what’s in the bottle….
Well, not a lot – except if you connect a couple of important dots. Firstly, the Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from Mesopotamia. To put this in context, Homer ‘wrote’ arguably the most famous epic poem the Iliad around 850BC – i.e. that’s the 8th century BC. The Epic of Gilgamesh? It’s written in the 18th century BC! If you ever needed an example of our Euro-ethnocentrism, that’s as good an example as any. Why is that relevant? Mesopotamia, and Sumaria (modern day Iraq) also gave us Beer …! And what kind of beer did this give us? Yes, you guessed it, ale … and I think a beer created three millennial ago would indeed be an “old ale.” Want further evidence? Read the Epic of Gilgamesh and, in some versions, you’ll find reference to Gilgamesh quaffing some beer along with some bread.
There has been some debate among anthropologists whether beer (and bread) originated in Egypt or Mesopotamia, but the difference is really the Red Sea and a 1000km on the back of an undulating land mammal. But if you remember your elementary social studies classes, you’ll remember that the fertile Mesopotamian valley, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, was also the origin of modern day agriculture. With agriculture came farmed wheat. With wheat came bread (originally flat bread). With wheat and bread came beer …. It’s quite likely that beer, which grew from a bowl of naturally fermented wheat in water into a consumable beverage. I know, gross! Having a hard time imagining this? Well, imagine drinking (or eating) a sourdough starter. Yes, that was the first beer by all accounts … and from that beer, well, the first leavened breads likely emerged. What defines an ale (vs. say, a lager) is that it is “top fermented” vs “bottom fermented” – and layman’s terms, this means that they’re using different yeasts that sit on the top of the ale to ferment the beverage. An ale, as this bit of history would suggest, uses the same ‘warm’ temperature induced yeasts as used to make bread. I’m no historian or anthropologist, but all you people out there that like fluffy bread but detest beer … well, thank your beer-making ancestors for the bread you’re eating. (I’m just saying ….)
So, onto Gilgamesh … the beer.
Honestly, I love anything that helps me grow and learn … and I love it more when it tastes good too. Gilgamesh is definitely an example of this. Out of the bottle it pours a beautiful ruddy brown. Hold it up the light and it’s what I would imagine dragon blood to look like (yes, I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones). If you want a head to form on your glass, you’re going to have to pour hard, so save your breath, because it won’t last regardless. Off the nose, two things are clear: alcohol (no surprise at 8.9%) and yeast … breathe a little harder, and sugars will come as well: caramel. All three are telltale signs of an old ale which is to say, Beau’s is on-message. What is unusual in the nose is what’s also on the label, so it shouldn’t surprise: dark rum. Yes, this an ale that has spent a bit of time aging in rum barrels and while it might not walk on a pegged leg, it does lapse into periodic pirate talk (that’s technical beer terminology).
Take a sip and the mouthfeel grabs immediately. This is creamy smooth, even at the beginning, with a tight carbonation that isn’t overly abundant. Even with the high alcohol and the clear sweetness of this brew, it isn’t overly so … which surprises me. The result is that this drinks easy … perhaps too easy, but that’s how you end up with epic drinking stories — but I digress. The flavours start with a creamy caramel, even some salty toffee (very pirate-like, right?) … and quickly moves into dark, dried fruit like raisins and dates. The ending is happy indeed with a remarkably refreshing finish consistent with the very respectable 30 IBUs.
I have to say that even for a lack of structural complexity, this is a beer I really really like. Fundamentally, it is easy drinking with a tonne of flavour. It might not surprise but I think in it’s class, this is an exceptional beer worthy of some attention. A great winter beer, yes – but it will be equally great with a whole host of springtime bbq creations … and an awesome addition to a bbq sauce to be created (just saying). Enjoy this epic beer and a great season to you all.
Stats: Old Ale. 8.9% ABV. 30 IBUs. Vankleek Hill, Ontario.
Size: 600mL bottle
Colour: Dark, ruddy brown
Mouth Feel: Medium-low but tight carbonation, that fades quickly. Refreshing and creamy finish.
Pairings: Slow barbecue