To answer the question I’ve been asked most about this brew – yes, Gargamel is the guy from the Smurfs. Perhaps it’s so named because Gargamel was a sorcerer, and Rob Tod and the folks at Allagash have worked some serious magic with this beer (hiyo!).
Allagash is the little Belgian-style brewery that could, one of the first American breweries that focused on Belgian styles while others were still emulating German and British brewers. Since opening in ’95 and introducing the ever-popular Allagash White, the brewery has grown their quiver of beers to cover all aspects of Belgian brewing. Along with a regular stable of 6 classic styles, the brewery offers three barrel-aged beers, three tribute beers, and some cellared and collaborative brews. While growing their catalog and distribution immensely in the years since they opened, Allagash has maintained their quality and racked up medal after medal at beer festivals and competitions.
As I mentioned, Allagash has treated us to more special edition brews in the last few years. Last fall, Allagash and De Proef teamed up to brew Les Deux Brasseurs ale, a tasty and critically successful collaboration. In April, I wrote about the delicious Fedelta brewed alongside the folks from De Struise. This month Allagash (in a move that is increasingly popular among craft breweries) offered Gargamel, their first in a promised series of limited release beers. On a dreary May morning, a decent-sized crowd of beer lovers joined myself and Luke from BlogAboutBeer.com to get our mitts on a few of the 600 bottles of Gargamel that Allagash produced.
The beer is a Belgian-style sour, a style that is becoming increasingly popular – at least among bloggers who write about beer and books. Here’s the full description of the Allagash offering straight from the brewers;
Our brewers used a blend of American 2-row barley Malt, Raw and Malted wheat and selected caramel malt to brew this 9.20 % ABV beer. After primary fermentation the beer was inoculated with our house Brettanomyces aged in French Oak wine barrels with a generous amount of local raspberries for over 18 months. Gargamel’s aroma is full of un-ripened raspberry, vanilla and citrus notes. This medium bodied beer has hints of biscuit and graham cracker with a clean, fruity and refreshingly tart finish.
I split my 750ml of Allagash with Katy, served in a tulip snifter. We decided to pair the beer some food from Sebago Brewing that went well with a sour – salmon in a lemon sauce for me, BBQ for her.
The Gargamel pours copper with a hint of pink to it, and a slight white head. Honestly, the closest thing I can compare the look to is a Berliner-Weisse with a touch of Himbeersirup syrup in it. It’s not crystal-clear, but pleasatly hazy with a bit of carbonation fizzing to the top. In their description of the brew Allagash hit the nose right on the … nose. Funktastic raspberries are the most assertive aroma, but vanilla and some biting alcohol are there too. Sour apples are in the scent too, along with the familiar Allagash Brett.
A sip of the Gargamel just reinforces that the Allagash brewers are masters of their craft. The beer treads a careful line between sweetly fruity and tartly sour without leaning too heavily in either camp. Raspberries are really present in the taste, with some other citrus tang following soon after. If you let the brew warm up a bit, vinuous alcohol comes through. These flavors are all nicely backed by some bready malts, and everything crescendoes in a tart and slightly roasty finish. The finish is crisp and clean, and dry enough to have you instantly reaching for another sip. Mouthfeel is light and not unlike champagne – a friend described it as effervescent, which totally fits.
I haven’t had many sours, although I’d put Gargamel at the top of the ones I’ve had. That aside, the beer is superb, even considering the already-high standards set by Allagash. The pairing with citrus and with barbacue is inspired, and this is one of those beers I’d put in front of wine-drinkers and those skeptical of beer’s depth to get some converts. Though I’m always a bit skeptical of hype and review inflation, I can understand why the beer is so highly-rated, was so loved at the Extreme Beer Fest, and is so sought-after among beer traders. Hopefully the fact that this was a limited release doesn’t stop Allagash Brewing from brewing it again soon.