Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Anchorage Brewing - Bitter Monk Review

Brewery: Anchorage Brewing (AK)
Style: Imperial Belgian IPA / Sour
ABV: 9%
Grade: A

Holy shit there is a lot going on here. Even after a few sips, it's hard to react to this intense and complex concoction. This may be one of the most complex beers I've ever had — and I don't necessarily mean that as lazy reviewer shorthand for "one of the best." This beer is just, objectively speaking, complex as ****.

First, I just want to make it clear how weird this beer is, style-wise. Sour beers — having often moved away from traditional lambic and Flemish Red variations in America — are sort of a frontier-land of anything-goes experimentation. But if there are any rules, one concrete, commonly-held bit of wisdom is that sour and bitter don't mesh. Bitterness, especially hop bitterness, is bound to compete with sourness for attention. And it does, here. Oh. I don't think I mentioned that this is aged in oak chardonnay barrels. So there's that, also competing for attention. Also, in general, it's a Belgian IPA, and an Imperial IPA — two styles that are not exactly mild or subtle on their own, much less combined. So there are a whole bunch of things here that are all big and huge and bold already. Weirdly, you discover, they all have enough overlap to work together, hitting each other's strengths while obliterating the few maybe downsides through sheer potency.

First, I should note that this beer isn't actually particularly sour. If you're some kind of weirdo and you haven't had a funky beer that you like, you should still like this one for its sheer mind-melting intensity. Brett seems to just enhance whatever else is here, not dominate it, which makes this very unique and interesting for Brett beer. Oaky, woody, earthy flavors are at the forefront of Bitter Monk all the way through. Makes sense — it's aged in oak barrels, it's got a rich, warm booziness, and both the earthy, tart Brett character and also-earthy, super flowery hops contribute. The hops do hit a few other big flavors — a lot of the expected grapefruit citrus, especially in the nose, and a strong, harsh bitterness that took me by surprise. I expected a much smoother bitterness with everything else going on, but it's actually quite aggressive. This beer manages to assault every one of your taste receptors at the same time, something very few other beverages have ever done to me.

Bitter Monk certainly certainly stands on its own as just an Imperial IPA, if that's all you're after. It's incredibly hard to look at it as just that, because it's so much more complex than, as far as I can remember, any other Imperial IPA I've had. But the flavors, and the body, and the warm juicy boozy hit of hops and earth and slightly-sweet malt are all there. The Bretty-ness becomes more pronounced as the beer warms — which, obviously, I appreciate — but it's never the focus. Actually, it's never easy to pinpoint what the focus of Bitter Monk is. Which seems like it should hurt it, but I found myself loving this beer more and more the deeper into it I went (and the more it opened up.) This beer demands to be tried. There's nothing else like it out there.

Next on the itinerary: get another bottle of this and age it for 2 years. Then drink it. There's no way that won't be delicious.


  1. It'll be an entirely different beer in 2 years. I notice big differences between getting the Wit from somewhere stored cold with good turnover and warm with slower turnover. The Brett takes their wit for a ride after 3 or 4 months at room temp.

    Their Galaxy IPA is a lot of fun too. Honestly though, for beers with Galaxy hops or a DIPA (theirs I have not tried) I'm finding I want to get them before they're too kissed by Brett.

    Although in general I just enjoy getting a different experience from the same bottle.

    Just drunken food for thought sir!

  2. Thanks for the comments. I agree, this beer will be very, very different with age, but probably equally delicious in different ways. I still have to try his Galaxy IPA, I'm hoping to do so soon.


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