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Sneak Peaks: IndyFilmFest, Sun King, Ball & Biscuit

Last night the official beer of the Indianapolis Film Festival, Sun King, hosted a sneak peak party of the festival lineup in their brewery tasting room.

By any indication this year’s festival is going to be better than last year’s, and last year’s was pretty darned great. I have a minor (although not monetary) interest in hoping that each of you considers going to this year’s festival. Like last year, I’ll be volunteering when I can and I’d like to see as many people filing through the doors as the IMA’s theaters can stand. I’ll just go ahead right now and assure you, that if you like good cinema, you will not be disappointed regardless which day(s) you decide to attend.

So check out the schedule and start making plans. The festival is a monster 11 days long (July 14-24) but they’ll slip right past you if you don’t make plans. Make plans!

In addition to watching trailers and mingling with festival staff and supporters, I also talked with Sun King brewer/owner Dave Colt. Mostly we talked about our mutual fondness of 80s rock band The Cars and (my obsession with) Bell Biv Devoe. But he did offer, and I accepted, a tiny sample of Norwegian Blue while we were admiring Sun King’s selection of beers aging to perfection in their cask cellar.

Norwegian Blue is exceptional. The spruce notes are powerful in the aroma with an earthy, muskiness that I initially mistook for sage mixed with a traditional piney hop aroma. Even after the first sip, Dave being silent on what the beer was, I was convinced that the soft herbiness of the beer was the result of sage or something similar. But the aftertaste made it perfectly clear that the flavor was, indeed, pine–a flavor evocative of high summer if you, like me, spent most of your youth climbing trees and playing near dangerous waterways.

Jeff Alworth at Beervana recently commenting on BridgePort’s Summer Squeeze, a beer made with lemongrass and Yuzu fruit, said:

When you’re an old man like me, the pace of change sometimes takes you by surprise. Last night, I had BridgePort’s latest, Summer Squeeze. It has come to the place where if a brewery doesn’t throw something exotic into the kettle or conditioning tank, drinkers will wonder: what’s the point?

But I do wonder, at what point will we have transgressed beyond the essential beeriness of a thing and into a different category altogether?

I can’t speak to the beeriness of Summer Squeeze or what Yuzu fruit is likely to do to a pilsner base, but I can tell you there’s nothing unbeery about Norwegian Blue. It is a shocking flavor and very different than what most people would expect from a beer. But pine needles are, after all, a historically accurate bittering agent. In some cases hops were not available for seasonal or geographic regions. In some cases pine needles were just preferred. Beer has not always been bittered with hops, and in fact the standardization of hops as the bittering agent is a fairly recent phenomena, historically speaking.

But more than that, as hop varieties have been refined over the years, one of the essential characteristics that has been bred for has been a dominant pininess (pine-ness?). Which, if you think about it, is kind of weird. After all, we already have pine needles. Why breed hops to be piney if you can just harvest a few Christmas trees?

The end result here is something exciting and rare, but unmistakably beer. And imminently enjoyable.

Norwegian Blue will be tapped at the Tomlinson Tap Room at 6pm next Thursday and I highly encourage you to give this a shot.

The Special Lady Friend and I concluded the evening with a couple of small plates and the Ball and Biscuit. I had a Sazerac and SLF had a Ruby Bloom, Bloomington Brewing Company’s amber. Online review of Ruby Bloom are all over the board on just about every category one can evaluate a beer. Ours was a dark mahogany with a good sized off-white head that slowly faded, but left substantial lacing. The aroma was sweet malty caramel, which was also the dominant flavor. The body was on the heavy side of medium, that is to say not too syrupy. Nice long, sweet caramel leave. A very different beer than the ones I’d had at Sun King, A Few More Hops More, Popcorn Pilsner, and Bitter Druid ESB (For Bloomsday, fool!) but very good. It went better the Roquefort cheese dip better than my Sazerac.

The only thing I can offer by way of “sneak peak” for Ball and Biscuit are the three barrels sitting on the left side of the bar. Each is filled with a different cocktail, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, and Negroni. Zach hopes to be serving them come September. Sneak Peak!

I have every anticipation that the Sazerac and Old Fashioned will turn out awesome. Both are already made with whiskies, so they know what to do while waiting inside a barrel. The Negroni, however, is the one that intrigues me the most. The Negroni is typically a floral, bitter, highly aromatic cocktail. It could be that the oak barrels will tone down a lot of the Negroni’s more dominant characteristics while imparting a more robust body. That would be good. However, it could also get more acidic, more bitter, and more dry in the barrel. And the volatile aromatics could break down entirely. Given how syrupy a Negroni is naturally, I can only imagine the drink will become more so as it ages and the water escapes the cask.  If the aging process does go this way, why not use the aged Negroni as a base for a new cocktail?

In any case I’m looking forward to what people think about Zach’s experiment. I expect, given what I know about his sense of taste, only good things. And, since I won’t be in Indiana in September, if he wants to give me a sneak peak in August I will not turn it down (hint, hint).

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Posted in A Few Hops More, Beer Styles, Bitter Druid ESB, Cocktails, Dave Colt, ESB, Indianapolis Film Festival, Negroni, Old Fashioned, Pale Ale, Pilsener, Popcorn Pilsner, Sazerac, Sun King Brewing, The Ball and Biscuit.

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