Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Okay it isn't that huge I guess, but this is my assumed reaction. Last night, on an unexpected beer journey that was made for no reason to a place I always forget about, I found a VERY reasonably priced bottle of Life and Limb, the collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. Actually, I found three very reasonably priced bottles: one for the night, one for some sort of future celebration, and one to age (hang tight in my cabinet, broseph). Avid readers will recall that I blogged about this beer a few weeks back. Non-avid readers . . . um . . . what are you doing?
You probably at least vaguely know Sierra out of California, but you might not know Dogfish. They rock in Delaware, which makes them the most interesting thing in Delaware. Their beers are consistently some of the most complex, daring, and inventive flavors on the market, and as such they (and their owner Sam Calagione) are some of the big hitters in the craft industry. I also reviewed their fantastic Midas Touch way back, if you recall.
The beer is a bit of a love letter to the craft industry and its fans, so some context is definitely needed to enjoy it. Be warned: it is NOT an easy beer. Don't go looking for flavor notes or "hints of citrus", though I'm sure there are some subtleties to be had. This beer is designed to be big, bold, and for people who like difficult drinks. It has all the qualities that help diverge craft beer from the mainstream: massive alcohol content, yeast at the bottom, a release so limited I thought I would have to murder a snitch for some south Brooklyn "garbage men" to get my hands on one. In that way, it is almost meant to be a moment where everyone who loves craft beer can crack one open, sit back, and reflect on our progress.
That being said, this is a MASSIVE beer. I opened it thinking I was going to pour it and chill during the football game. Nope. Nu-uh. I had to mute the TV to really deal with this flavor. It is naturally carbonated, meaning carbonation is created from the fermentation process and without gas being added. It also has both birch and maple syrups in the mix. It pours a very deep, dark red with a head that has a light red or caramel hint. The head pours huge and dies out substantially, but it maintains pretty well (the marbling is awesome). The aroma packs hints of cola, syrup, brown sugar, and . . . gulp . . . alcohol. Yup, straight booze.
The alcohol is really, really evident in both aroma and taste. Clocking in at 10.2%, Sierra and Dogfish made no effort to mask the alcohol (remember, it is a celebration). Oddly enough, a Cadbury chocolate toffee bar took a lot of that out and created some room to enjoy the maple syrup flavor, as well as the rich, hearty malt, and the late-entering hops. The beer also has a fantastic toast/roast balance. Some sips skew to a strong dark roast, while others present a gentle toastiness right up front. The other major player is the yeast. As I said, the yeast is physically present at the bottom of the bottle, and its bready flavor is all over this beer. It is most certainly an after-dinner drink, as it pairs well with sweets, but would probably decimate virtually anything else except maybe a steak or a cigar.
Upon our first sip, my girlfriend said it "tastes important". "I feel like I need permission to sit around and drink this in a circle of old men." Uh . . . yeah, that too. Odd as it is, that statement is pretty right on. Life and Limb is of kindred soul with scotch. It just feels special, and what it lacks in traditional drinkability, it makes up for in rebelliousness, and its "fuck it, we're respected already" carelessness. But it isn't a negligent carelessness, or an abandonment of craft. To the contrary, it appears they've taken amazing pains to get to this huge, jubilant experience in a bottle. It is a celebratory, victory-lap carelessness. To be honest, they've earned it. This beer is a blast to drink, even though it is tough to polish off the TWENTY-FRIGGING-FOUR OUNCE bomber. A thank you, a party, a grand and limited item to share with those close to you. They are sharing it with us, so we better share it as well. Catch me in the right mood and that second bottle might be for you . . . .