Tasting the Rock Art Vermonster

The Rock Art Brewery was recently the subject of a U.S. Corporate David vs. Goliath story. On September 14th 2009, Monster Energy Drinks decided to sue the small Vermont Brewery requesting that they “cease and desist” brewing, selling and marketing their Barleywine The Vermonster, brewed to celebrate Rock Art’s 10th anniversary brewing. Matt Nadeau, the founder of Rock Art took on corporate America’s battle of the fat wallets, even after being urged that it is near impossible to win these battles, and even if he had won, it would probably sink the brewery into debt and bankruptcy.

Matt is a whole hearted American entrepreneur, and stood behind his principles stating that it is liberty, principle and justice that is at stake here, and he cannot simply bow down to billion dollar corporate law firms. Support poured in from around the country; within the first 30 hours over 3,000 tweets where poured out in favor of Rock Art, along with letters and emails from fans and craft beer lovers.

So thankfully Rock Art persevered though this ridiculous hardship, and today I was able to enjoy a bottle of this now famed Vermontster Barleywine, thanks to Matt’s passion and steadfast morals. Well done Matt!

I have actually had the Vermonster many times before; two of my best friends and I go to the Vermont Brewers Festival every year where we soak up the beautiful state and all the amazing beer it has to offer.

The Vermonster comes in 650ml bottles at 10% abv, it is also listed at 100 IBU; so be ready for a powerfully flavorful and bitter beer. It is fitting though of a barleywine. The pour is powerful and aggressive yielding a hazy mahogany brown beer with deep red brick ambers and lots of carbonation present. Touches of black streak through the completely opaque beer up to a short off white almost tan head which is gone by the time you are done admiring it.

The nose is rich and big; very directly it comes at you with caramel malts, dried fruits like apricot, figs and papaya. Hops are immediately noticeable showing signs of west coast IPA – pine, citrus spice, orange zest, apricots and fresh crisp bitter are all there. Lots of fruit sits easily on your nose and the rich sense of dough, brown sugar, deep malt and soft leather also stretch across the beer.

Being a big barleywine, technically it should be served warm around 14C (54F). Now, this isn’t room temperature, that is around 21C, but it is significantly warmer than many people are used to. This being said, starting a barleywine cool around 8C can allow you to enjoy the flavor characteristics at both 8 and 14C. It is unlikely that you are going to pound this big beer, so I would recommend pouring it closer to 8C, and then examine how the beer changes in character as it warms. Most likely you will experience sensations ranging from crisp and quenching all the way to warm and soothing.

Open your palate to this beer and let it flow across you – thick caramel malts move their way in with a huge party of tropical fruits, dried fruits, pine, zesty hops, tangy but bitter malts and hops, then warming alcohol. If you started this warmer you are getting a bigger rush of dried fruit and roasted caramel malt and probably also a mixture of severely bitter hops with burnt brown sugar. If cool, then the beer is powerful and dry but very refreshing. Its bitter quenches but leave you thirsty for more because the malt sweetness is so perfectly satisfying.

The mouthfeel is cloying and slightly thick but carbonation helps lift the flavors through your palate easily. And by easily, I mean powerfully. There is a lot going on in this big barleywine, very fitting of Rock Art’s 10th anniversary. The finish is dry and very delicious with a hint of black cherries or raspberry. Enjoy this on its own after dinner or as a night cap with friends. And please pour into a snifter, tulip, or red wine glass, NOT a pint glass. Thank you! Your efforts will reward you.

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