The Rambam – Gluten-free Belgian Quad – Snowman Brewing

You know what I love?  Good beer.  I think that goes without saying, but I said it anyways.  I love weissebeirs and dunkels and pilsners and stouts and imperial lite lagers.  I like it all.  Incidentally (and seemingly non-related) I also love bread and pasta.  See where I’m going?  I’m a bit of a gluten freak.  My wife somewhat recently went gluten-free.  This means I make two pizzas, two pastas, and toast out of two breads.  I suppose I could just bite the bullet and eat the gluten-free stuff, but I don’t.  I just really love gluten. I wonder, what would happen if I couldn’t have gluten.  My grandfather was a pretty severe celiac, so I’ve got a long history with gluten-free diets.  I also already have a pretty “alternative” diet anyways, and to be fair, for more money you can get some pretty reasonable substitutes.  Except beer.  If you live in Ontario, like me, you’re limited to three gluten-free beers (One from New York, one from Quebec and one from Ontario).  I’m not going to name them individually and grade them, but I will say, I don’t really like any of them.  It’s not that they’re not wet and cold, which is what many beer drinkers look for; they are.  But they really don’t live up to my expectations of “beer”.  So, a year ago, when a young man told me he made the best gluten free beer in Ontario, I assumed that he was just a passionate salesman, and nothing else.  When the brown ale that Kevin Snow gave me turned out to actually be pretty good, I was surprised.  Kevin and Hirsch (the minds and hands behind Snowman Brewing) and I have been in regular contact since, and from what they tell me, they keep getting better and better.  They’ve built a larger-scale malting unit, and also a temperature-controlled fermenting area (to make lagers).  They’ve been playing with different styles and recipes, and have been showing very well in competitions.  And note, they are showing well, not in “specialty” categories (which is where gluten-free beers are generally entered), but in the normal category, against beers that have malted barley in them.  This, in of itself, is high praise indeed.

The Rambam - Gluten-free Quad - Snowman Brewing

The Rambam - Gluten-free Quad - Snowman Brewing

I normally jump right in to the review here, but I wanted to share a conversation I had with Hirsch a few weeks ago (when he gave me this bottle).  We had just finished doing a beer and cheese pairing event at Castro’s.  He had come out, among other things, to get to try Westvleteren 12, a highly sought-after Trappist ale.  We were talking about Snowman Brewing and their direction, and Hirsch said something interesting.  Most gluten-free beers are made with the intention of providing an alternative for people who can’t drink the usual Rocky Mountain Cold, smooth and wet stuff.  But Hirsch said, he and Kevin want people who are unable to consume gluten, to be able to experience the width and breadth of what brewing is, like we had just had at the tasting.  From robust smoky porters, to crisp dry pils, to sweet boozy Russian Imperial Stouts.  And they’re trying to do all this, having to malt their own grain (ask your local brewery if they malt their own malts; they’ll laugh at you).  This is not an exercise in empire-building, or fame-seeking.  It’s been over a year since I first tasted their product and told them to get an investor and some bigger premises (they still work out of a garage).  But they are working on their product and their production.  They are moving slowly, to do it right.  This is not the way most business people tell you to go, but for Kevin and Hirsch, it’s the only way; ensuring their product isn’t just another mediocre (at best) gluten-free beer.  They want their products to stand alone as a beer, regardless of how much (or in their case, little) gluten there is in them.  As such, you still can’t buy their beers.  But soon you will, if things keep going as well as they seem to be.  Okay, enough type, let’s do this!

From a 341ml bottle with no freshness date (but this is still basically homebrew), the beer pours an opaque caramel-brown with hints of yellow at the edges.  The 1″ dense head dropped to a film with a bit of a ring that left a small amount of lace on the glass.  Wow!  Aroma is lovely, dark dried fruits, currants and dates; Belgian yeasty spiciness, a bit of cinnamon and ginger; caramelly malts, sweet and maybe just a hint of burnt sugar.  There are also hints of apples and pears and a touch of leather.  Taste is also great, sweet and spicy and a little hot.  Jammy dark fruits are still there, with the apples a little more prevalent.  Yeast is bright and spicy, again, cinnamon and ginger, and maybe a hint of clove.  There is some bitterness, which I’m not sure is a product of hop.  It could be a product of dark roast millet.  Either way, it’s a bit more pronounced than in most typical Belgian strong dark ales (which is the proper name for Quads, and if I don’t point this out, Stephen Beaumont might throw a letter-opener at me), but certainly isn’t unpleasant.  There is also a clear warming alcohol presence going across the palate, which is expected from a 10% beer.  As the beer warms a bit, the sweetness is maybe a tad heavy-handed, not out of the range of the style, but I would still like it a little less.  The alcohol heat also becomes more notable.  Mouthfeel is interesting.  Quite smooth and medium-heavy bodied.  Less cloying than the sweetness and boozy heat would imply.  All-in-all a great example of the style, especially considering the specialty grain bill.

Great work Snowman!  Cheers!  Now move into for-profit production already!

About the Brewery

Snowman Brewing is the garage-brewing team consisting of Kevin Snow and Hirsch Goodman. We are the only Ontario brewers who brew exclusivley Gluten Free.

We use the freshest 100% celiac friendly ingredients including: hand-malted gluten free grains, fresh hops, and yeast grown on pure gluten free cultures.

We are only brewing 5 gallon batches at the present time, but If you are interested in tasting a sample or watching the brewing process, find us on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Snowman-Brewing/

One Comment

  1. Posted October 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the awesome review, Chris!

    The link to our facebook page doesn’t seem to be working, so I’ve provided the link below: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Snowman-Brewing/166759536670650

    We’re also on Twitter @SnowmanBrewing.

    Cheers!

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