Rating → 68 points
Stats: Belgian Ale. 6.5% ABV. Marlborough, New Zealand.
Size: 500mL bottle
Colour: Muddy brown amber
Mouth Feel: High carbonation obliterates the mouthfeel
Pairing Notes: Mincemeat Tarts
A new and a new beer review. I can’t believe I haven’t produced a review for you this year. Will have rectify that for my readers who want the scoop on more beer options. Sorry for the ignominious quotation of the notorious if not controversial Jean-Paul Sartre, but Renaissance Brewing sort of demanded it when they punned their beer after what is also the title of his famous novel. In the novel, we’re left to debate whether our ultimate aim should be “freedom” through statements like “The individual’s duty is to do what he wants to do, to think whatever he likes, to be accountable to no one but himself, to challenge every idea and every person.” Still, the quote has much to say about the beer it is playing on … is this nothing at all or an impersonation of itself? Does it honestly care what we think?
How does this play itself out in terms of this particular beer? Well, if I were to telegraph the conclusion, I’d say Renaissance continues to be too ‘free’ with their bubbles and not nearly accountable enough to the necessity for balance nor respecting the ‘citizen’ or consumer.
So back to the beer. Raisins, huh? If you’ve ever soaked raisins in water to plump them up for baking and if you’ve looked at the colour of the residual water, you have the colour of this beer nailed. Pour it hard and you’ll swear you see the sur lies as flecks of raisins.
This is my fourth attempt at wanting to love a brewer that so many seem to esteem; this is my third time of coming to the same conclusion: a great tasting beer thwarted by imbalanced carbonation.
If you’re not like me, you might be asking what is it with this guy and his focus on bubbles? Well, they’re the darnedest thing when it comes to carbonated drinks. If you’ve had cheap ‘man-made’ sparkling wine and also had the real thing from Champagne (or made with the Champagne method), well, you have your answer. If you don’t like champagne or still don’t get it, it’s like this. The bubbles should be a tease in the mouth; they should play on the taste buds, but they shouldn’t rob the ability for you to taste. If you don’t get the champagne analogy but nevertheless have a disdain for, say, Coca-Cola because it “burns,” well, you have the answer again. It’s not the acidity or the sugar in Coke that burns your mouth if you take a big swig — if it were, a glass of flat pop would do the same thing. It’s the carbonation. Stay with the Coke example a bit longer — what tastes sweeter, flat Coke left in an opened bottle in the fridge for too long, or a freshly cracked can? Carbonation, and too much of it, is like swatting your tongue with a ping pong paddle, like sticking it on slice of steaming hot cheese pizza, like licking an electric outlet … none of which I recommend you try. And that, even in the midst of the review, is pretty much my conclusion with Enlightenment.
If you still don’t get what I’m talking about, then let’s try the pictorial route. Take a look: this is a picture taken of the head of my beer 20 minutes after I poured it (see left). Yes, you can see there is good residual lacing that just gets to this level quickly and stays, and stays, and stays. Now look at all those blemishes in the head that look like I’ve taken the netting of my screen door or robbed a tiny bee colony of their honeycomb (and, yes, I also see the head of the playboy bunny in the head, but let’s stay focused). That is testament of the eruption of bubbles that just continues and continues and continues. These bubbles as photographically proven are ‘big’ — much bigger than normal — and they’re surrounded with a plethora of tiny bubbles. (Click on the picture to enlarge for yourself). That is a LOT of carbonation and with the exception of their “Perfection” brew which skirted this issue, my mouth continually feels on fire with the beers of Renaissance. Indeed, I opened 2014 with a review of their American Pale Ale, Discovery, and I gave it the lowest marks of any beer. I was in a bad mood and have been kinder this time, but what I hated about that beer is what I honestly hate about this one.
So even though my experience with Renaissance has been uneven, to put it mildly, I was intrigued to try this new product from them for an obvious reason … or should I say, an obvious raisin. Yes, as the label says, it’s an ale brewed with raisins, so, really, how could I resist the adventure?
Taking away the failure of the mouthfeel, however, this beer does have some interesting facets and when paired with my homemade mincemeat tarts actually makes for a pretty cool tasting event. Truly — a perfect match if ever there was a beer for this pastry. The high malts, spices and spiciness of the beer are a good counter point and complement to the sweetness of the mincemeat. The raisins are subtle and really blend into the malts adding a caramel’ness to the beer which you’d be forgiven if you just chalked up the roasted malts. The ending is all Belgian-style ale with a very crisp, clean and slightly acerbic ending which has that minerality and tinniness that comes with some Belgian beers.
All in all, not a bad beer, especially if paired with the right food. Definitely not a sipping beer because of the carbonation. And, as the label suggests, it will improve as it comes to temperature. But instead of serving at 8 degrees, just open it about half hour before drinking, let it warm and let the carbonation boil off before sipping.
Having said all that, this is the Renaissance’s third strike in my books and given the cost and mediocrity of some of their beers, so next time I see their wares on the shelf, I will choose nothing at all rather than this impersonation.