Tuesday, March 18, 2008

WTF - Jolly Pumpkin's La Roja

A cat, in some sort of a swashbuckler or pirate costume, poses with a cunning, mischievous grin on his face while on board what one could only assume to be the schooner under his command, quite possibly christened La Roja. "Mahalo!" reads the label, Hawaiianly thanking me for giving this unique Jolly Pumpkin concoction a whirl. And oh, what a whirl. An amber, oak-aged (read: sour, not "oaky") bizarro-beer, this Belgian-inspired bit of madness comes from the obvious brewing mecca of Dexter, Michigan. And what's in a name, anyway? It's a joyous conundrum of weirdness that just begs the question of whether the contents of the bottle could possibly be as fun as the packaging and backstory.

Like the good people at Russian River, the Jolly Pumpkin folks post a bottle log containing release notes for each of their beers, giving consumers a hint at what to expect in terms of flavor, aging possibilities, and more, and as far as this batch is concerned: "Sherried barnyard funk" is right. This is a strange and wicked bit of brewing wizardry, this red cat is. Sour and fruity like a Flanders red, but way more dry, vinous and earthy than that, with a blending that's far more representative of the older barrels than the new, as in Rodenbach or Duchesse de Bourgogne, where the sweetness of the younger blends can make you believe there are cherries and currants floating in your glass. No, this is serious stuff, and brilliantly so. It's exactly what a barrel aged beer should taste like: worth cellaring, challenging to the palate, deeply rewarding once confronted, structured to match perfectly with fine cuisine, and richly nuanced enough to warrant 750 mL of tasting enjoyment. So to you, Captain Spooky Ron J (General Mischief Maker, chief squeegee operator), I say this: as weird as the voyage ahead appears, there will be no mutiny on La Roja. Lead the way.

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