Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cambridge Brewing Company - Banryu Ichi

On the second day of my Boston trip, I woke up ready to visit one of Boston's largest and most famous breweries, Harpoon. So we woke up, spent a few hours walking around the Boston Commons, and then took the T down towards Harpoon. But as soon as we got off the train, we realized something was amiss. While the brewery should have opened an hour before we arrived, the gates were still closed. Looking around a bit more, we noticed a sign that said the brewery was closed for the day because they were preparing for a festival later in the day called Harpoonfest. Damn... Undeterred, we decided to check out a brewery across town that I had heard nothing but good things about, Cambridge Brewing Company.

Cambridge Brewing Company is located, surprisingly, in Cambridge. It's just a few blocks away from MIT, and in one of the nicer areas I've ever found a brewery. There's a beautiful outdoor patio surrounded by gardens and old brick walls. While that's probably not too popular in the winter, the weather was perfect, so we grabbed a seat outside and checked out the menu. After trying the fantastic You Enjoy My Stout, I started searching the menu for something different. And it didn't take long to find the winner- Banryu Ichi, a sake-beer hybrid. Whaaaaaat?

I've had beer aged in sake casks, but I've never seen the combination of beer and sake together quite like this. You can find the full description at CBC's website here, but here's the short version. Banryu Ichi was made by first getting together with a local sake brewer and making 100 gallons of sake. Then, they made a beer using pale barley malt, flaked rice and brown rice syrup and added the fermenting sake to the beer. No brewer's yeast was added, so the sake was actually used to ferment the beer. Pretty crazy stuff. The beer is served in a traditional wooden Masu (sake cup) and comes in 5oz pours, which is probably a good thing because this monster clocks in at 14%.

Banryu Ichi pours a deep copper color with no trace of a head whatsoever. At an ABV this high, that's not really too surprising.  I had no idea what to expect from the smell of this one, and I was met with an almost mead-like sweetness with a big smack of grape jelly. Bubblegum and a faint trace of brown rice could be found in there as well as well as just a hint of something that smelled like sake.

The taste was pretty similar to the smell with a lot of rich, honey-like sweetness throughout. Juicy red grapes hit first along with some honey and grape nuts and the finish brought a touch of brown rice. This beer finishes dry (almost sake-like), which was actually really nice. It kept the beer from becoming syrupy and made me totally forget about the high ABV. All in all, I would call this very different experiment a success. It can't be easy to craft a beer like this, but Cambridge Breing Company made it work somehow. Hats off! Maybe I'm not so sorry we missed Harpoon after all.

Final Grade: A-

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 118

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