Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Belgian sour brew from Climax

Okily-dokily, there are some new brews coming out of Roselle Park ...

Wait, that's the wrong Flanders.

Not Ned.

The Flanders coming from Climax Brewing is a brown ale, a tart-but-malty 8% ABV offering that owner Dave Hoffmann is sending out the door in 22-ounce bomber bottles as a new label in its signature series of beers.

The Flanders brown comes on the heels of a Russian imperial stout (Tuxedo)
that hit taps and store shelves in the bomber-22s this spring and will make a return in the fall. Also coming is a rebranding this summer of Climax's hefeweizen, a beer the brewery has produced for practically all of its 16 years in business.

If you know Dave, and especially his beer preferences, then a sour beer may come as a pretty big shocker. His stock in trade has always been balanced beers that hail from more familiar European traditions – ESB, helles, nut brown ale, and an English IPA, to name a few.

But when you hear the name Dave gave the beer, Incompetent Scholar, you may not be surprised that Climax is widening its style reach.

Featuring a braying jackass on the label – created by Toms River illustrator/commercial artist Gregg Hinlicky, the guy who has turned out all of Climax Brewing's label art – the name is joke-riff on beer fetishists, those geeks who like to hump the leg of beer styles (especially the less conventional styles) and prattle on about them, waxing horrific about looks, aroma, Brussels lace, effervescence, and so forth.

But there's no satire to the beer itself (but there is some pride on Dave's part, following the logic that a good brewer can make any kind of beer).  Dosed with German Select hops, the beer's meant to be, and is, an inviting Belgian brew that intentionally understates the pucker factor (read: wild yeast or pedio-infects, no; acidulated malt, yes) and side-steps the use of candi sugar.

"It's got that nice malty taste going on; there's still some caramel malts. I didn't put candi sugar in it because I freakin' hate candi sugar," Dave says. "I don't want people getting hangovers from my beer. This one you won't get a hangover from ... the alcohol comes from the malt.

"It's slightly sour, slightly tart, but it's pleasant, nice and easy to drink," Dave says.

Speaking of the hefeweizen, Dave is honoring his longtime affiliation with Gregg Hinlicky by renaming the brew, Hysterical Hefe Weizen Ale, and giving it a label that features Gregg's visage in a self-portrait caricature.

Gregg's name may be unfamiliar to a lot of folks, but some of his work shouldn't be. He did the murals for Basil T's brewpub in Red Bank and some other shops in that Monmouth County bayshore town, plus Artisan's brewpub in Toms River (which used to be a second Basil's location). He was also among the select commercial artists to illustrate Joe Camel (a mural of Joe once graced Eighth Avenue and 42 Street in Manhattan).

A longtime craft beer enthusiast, Gregg has painted portraits of brewers, including Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and the Trogner brothers (of Tröegs fame), not to mention Dave and several others.

And now Gregg's celebrated in a beer label.