Bring on the Figgy Beers
By Alastair Bland
Summer has arrived and fresh figs are back. We never doubted they'd return, of course. In early summer, the first crop of this uniquely twice-per-year fruit arrives, black, brown, yellow or green, and all as sweet as jam.
But never would we have expected that two craft breweries this year would release an oddity fig beer. Yet with the onset of the summer of 2008, we find on retail shelves Avery Brewing Company's Fifteen and Schmaltz Brewing Company's Rejewvenator ("the Chosen Beer"), each brewed this spring with dried California Mission figs. Commercial fig beers are about as rare as beer styles come. Adam Avery, namesake founder of the family brewery in Boulder, Colo., believes that figs are overlooked as beer recipe elements due to their profoundly subdued flavors; they are subtly complex, much less tart than berries, cherries or apricots and almost entirely void of aroma.
Yet Avery notes that dried fig nuances regularly appear in strong, dark ales. "People often say that a beer is 'figgy' or has a 'fig complexity,' and I just decided, why not throw them right in?"
Avery's Fifteen was brewed with spices, herbs and Brettanomyces yeast, known for leaving a sour barnyard pungency. The beer comes as a celebration of the brewery's 15th anniversary and was meant to be a particularly "weird beer," Avery says. Brewed to 7.7 percent ABV, Fifteen appears a light pink amber, care of the hibiscus flour petals in the recipe, and smells as bright and fresh as an herb garden—with a vibrant livestock aroma and just a teasing trace of horse. The fig flavor hides very furtively beneath and invites the most attuned palates to give this ripe, tangy brew a try. Pair it with a fresh barley salad.
Schmaltz's Rejewvenator features the fig as a quasi-serious ecclesiastical symbol of new life and spirituality, with the 22-ounce bottle riddled with Holy Book quotes and historical references to the fig. A Belgian Dubbel-Doppelbock hybrid, Rejewvenator is a robust, big-boned animal of 7.8 percent ABV, which could stand proudly on a table spread with the Old World's richest cheeses. Brewed with 400 gallons of fig purée in the kettle, the beer is heavy, woody, dark and sticky with fudge. Its creamy, candy body is underlaid with a rich complexities of many shades, like caramel, dried apricots, prunes, vanilla, hazelnut, raisins and dates. Far back on the finish, distantly, perhaps, there may even be some fig.
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