Tasting the Birrifico Le Baladin Xyauyu; Reserva Teo Musso

There is a great deal of intrigue and excitement floating around this beer. First of all its shape, unique label dated 2005, unpronounceable name,  and its corrugated cardboard box are totally unfamiliar to me. There is no cap, but rather a cork. It is 13% abv. And it was also $40 for the small, but beautiful bottle. What is this Italian work of art? It is exactly that, and Italian work of art. Birrifico Baladin, an Italian Craft Brewery lead by Teo Musso had originally thought of creating an oxidized beer to resemble a Madeira in 1996, but finally made the dream come true in 2003.

This is one of my favorite types of beer, and I don’t mean the beer style. But rather this beer can show the world how wide and far the boundaries of beer can really stretch. There is no limit to your creative ability, just your imagination. Musso Named this beer Xyauyu after his daughter’s imaginary friend; he also describes the beer a an “Italian-style barlywine.” I would put it squarely in that category where it should remain the front runner and definition of the style. This beer is remarkable.

This beer was brewed in 2003, but the vintage date on the bottle lists 2005. Heres why. Musso boils his wort (water and sugar extracted from malted barley) for a very long period of time to create a very sweet and dense liquid. It is then inoculated with a yeast from an Islay Distillery and laid to rest for a long, and difficult 40 days primary fermentation (primary would normally be 4 to 7 days). From there the temperature is lowered to 0C (32F) and kept there for a further 3 months. The beer is then filtered and left in an open tank in a sterilized room for 18 months – then finally it will be bottled where it rests for another 6 before it is sent away.

So the entire brewing process takes 28 months… More than 2 years! This is why this beer is so expensive, and it is also why the next batch was just completed, or is expected to be completed this year. A beer like this takes up a huge amount of resources, time, effort, and patience. But it is worth it. Oh man is it worth it! I enjoyed this 2005 vintage mid summer, 5 years after it was bottled – and if there are more of these around I would be buying everything I can afford. This is a gem.

While I greatly enjoyed this beer, the rich, robust, uncarbonated and port-like style of beer is not for everyone. But what you have to do is rid yourself of any silly preconceptions of what beer is. I think we should all know by now that beer doesn’t exist merely as a weak fizzy yellow drink – it can be so much more, and a beer like this proves that. So before you open it, clear your mind, and prepare for flavor, and nothing else.

I opened the Xyauyu up around cellar temperature around 14C (57F), just slightly chilled, but far from cold. I poured it into a stemmed tulip glass gently and a thick, silky, oil-like amber brown beer slid out and crashed heavily into the bottom of the glass. Instantly you could tell that this beer was richly viscous, very oily, and in that Madeira realm. The beer rested in the glass with absolutely no head, and only a couple bubbles along the sides of the glass that should not be confused for carbonation; so few I can count them (24…). Totally calm and peaceful, the Xyauyu chilled in my glass glowing a muted burgundy brown with deep shades of golden mahogany, copper, dark purples and shades of black. It was very pretty, and unsuspecting – especially if you still think beer should be yellow and fizzy.

The nose is tawny and sweet with thick malt sensations, sugary fruits, and an earthy must. Getting my nose right into the glass opened me up to raisins, dates, figs, prunes, syrup, brown sugar, caramelized malts, brandy, strawberry jam, and sweet molasses. It is big and malty rich right away but shows traces of balance by way of sweet leather, earth and tobacco. This beer pours flavor out to you right from the get go.

A gentle tilt of the glass to bring some of this richly golden brown beer onto my palate lit up my face and warmed my soul. The beer so gently glides over your tongue and falls heavily onto your cheeks with a sublimely silky and oily texture that wraps your mouth in a velvety blanket of flavor. All the sweetness of the malts, the ageing, and the hard work burst out at you in a smooth and refined manner.

A honey like stew of dried fruits and fresh jam caress my tongue first and open up to figs, dates, caramel and stewed pears. A syrup like malty sweetness is built into the center of this beer and brings hints of brandy and Orloso sherry. It is smooth and warming and goes down with a silky, boozy touch. Take sips, not gulps. This beer was meant to be savored.

As your palate warms to the sweet malts, ranges of herbs and leather begin to show added complexity, and I swear that I taste tobacco. Its a sweet and gooey earthiness that I can recognize from some of my favorite ripe cigars. Touches of warm nut and back to figs and dates remain powerful in the beer’s body, and I am amazed at its construction and overall presence. This really should be considered an Italian-Style Barleywine.

No carbonation, intensely malty sweet, hints of jam, orange zest, berries, stewed figs, port and brandy all come together to form a remarkable beer which should be enjoyed on its own with friends. You would have a tough time drinking an entire bottle to yourself in less than 8 hours. I sipped on my 5 or 6 ounces for probably 40 minutes, and enjoyed every second of it. The refined, but malty sweet flavor and silky and warming finish crate a masterpiece. I can’t wait to try the 2010 vintage. This is a beer for the ages.

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