Beer Review 0220: North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale
For this beer, North Coast Brewing Company (Fort Bragg, California) partnered with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, located in Washington, DC. The brewery makes a contribution to the Institute for each bottle sold.
Thelonious Monk was an American jazz pianist, known for his improvisational style; he is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, a remarkable feat considering Monk only wrote about 70 songs, while Ellington penned over 1,000.
You might remember my review of another beer inspired by a jazz legend: Dogfish Head Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, which I recently redux reviewed and gave a perfect 100 points to. Since both Davis and Monk have beers made in their honor, I decided to research and see if they ever crossed paths; indeed, they did: In 1954, Monk participated in a recording session that would become the album Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Giants. But Davis, a master of improvisation himself, found Monk’s idiosyncratic style too be difficult to play to, and asked him to not accompany him. Reportedly, the two almost came to blows, but more recent accounts suggest that there were no hard feelings, and any argument that occurred was just a rumor.
I digress. This is a beer review. Brother Thelonious is a Belgian-style Abbey Ale, brewed to 9.4% ABV (alcohol by volume) and 32 IBUs (International Bitterness Units). This is a year-round release from North Coast, and comes in a variety of bottle sizes: 12 ounces, 375, or 750 ml. Both of the larger-sized bottles are corked and caged. And the cork is really put in there: I had a hard time getting it out, having to use a jar opener gripper to get a good handle. I was beginning to think that I might not be able to review this beer because of my wimpy cork-pulling ability.
The pour produced a large head that quickly diminished, but while it was there, it was frothy and light tan in color. It provided a nice contrast atop a reddish-brown, tawny beer that was hazy in body but free of particles and sediment. As I sampled, there was no lacing, but there were plenty of alcohol legs when agitating the drink.
On the nose, I picked up the 9.4% ABV straight away, but it wasn’t overpowering. Actually, it was nice, when coupled with the dark fruits this drink provides to the aroma. With the raisins in the scent, this one takes on a rum-soaked raisin-like smell, and when coupled with the sweetness of caramel and toffee, that aroma intensifies. I picked up notes of plums and figs, along with a leathery, musty yeast. There was a solid note of bread, and a hint of peppery spice.
The taste was classic Belgian Strong; flavors of caramel and dark fruits up front, followed by a sweet bread middle and a medium mouthfeel that was fairly frothy. There’s that musty yeast component, too, and the finish hits the boozy rum soaked raisins and a hint of spice, with general malt sweetness. This beer has nice flavors but is very basic in complexity. As the finish unwinds, there’s a gentle alcohol warmth.
I found Brother Thelonious to be a great beer that was just a touch too hot in alcohol. I think this brew tries really hard to be a Trappist Ale, but doesn’t quite get there. I would love to sample this with a couple years of age; I imagine it would be even better with the alcohol tamed. Brother Thelonious is a nice beer with solid core flavors, but nothing too extreme or overly outstanding. The value here is great, though.
North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale, 92 points. Price: $8.99 for one 750 ml bottle.