I had the good fortune of spending my Columbus Day weekend at a craft beer festival in New Hampshire, which primarily means I got to spend the long weekend swilling beer and indulging my proclivity for strange and exotic brews.
After dropping about half my paycheck on bottles to beef up my craft stash with, I hit the road home to Massachusetts with a slew of microbrews nestled in my back seat. While shopping around at the festival I specifically had this column in mind, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t agonize for about an hour over which beer I wanted to write about this week. After a long and arduous decision process (and by that I mean I flipped a coin), I decided to dedicate this week’s beer review to the Brother Thelonious Belgian-style ale from the North Coast Brewing Company. And while it pains me to have to limit myself to just this one, Brother Thelonious is deserving of a review that recognizes its distinctive greatness.
I first came in contact with the North Coast Brewing Company through its Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, which I stumbled upon on a happenstance last spring. This brew was instrumental in catalyzing my relatively new love for imperial-style stouts, and I have followed releases from the brewery ever since.
I was initially drawn to Brother Thelonious as a result of my slight weakness for jazz musician Thelonious Monk (to whom this beer is dedicated), and because of my recently developed weakness for Belgian-style beers. I snagged a bottle of Brother Thelonious thinking “Oh, what the hell, I’ll give it a shot,” not anticipating the bombshell I was in for. At 9.4 percent alcohol with a staggering malt composition, Brother Thelonious packs a serious punch that is betrayed by its serene labeling.
The satisfaction of popping the cork out of my bottle of Brother Thelonious is rivaled only by the tantalizing aroma that followed. Once the cork was ceremoniously removed, the distinct scent of malt permeated the room on an aromatic wave of sweet dark fruitiness, specifically figs and cherries. This beer seems to have an almost rum-like aroma, and the high alcohol content of this beer is easily indicated by its tangible scent. There is also a lingering sensation of smokiness, but its subtlety is overpowered by heavy malt aromas, which comprise the majority of this brew’s fragrance.
Brother Thelonious pours out a rich reddish brown with a bubbly tan head that dissipates rapidly but leaves a considerable amount of lacing. Swirled around in a pint glass, the carbonation in this beer is easily identified from the effervescent quality of the liquid, evident in the release of small bubbles from the sides and base of the glass. The look of this beer is similar to many English-style ales in terms of color, but the deep red tones of Brother Thelonious suggest a much more complex style of brewing not readily available in many average ales.
In terms of taste, Brother Thelonious is a veritable knockout – falling somewhere in between the territory of porters and lambics, this beer packs a serious wallop in terms of taste. Primarily, malt is noted – Brother Thelonious has a quite heady malt composition, which comes across clearly even from the first sip. This malty head is well-complimented by a fruity under layer that quickly becomes reminiscent of caramel in the aftertaste.
The veritable wave of malt that this beer rides in on all but cancels out the dynamic of the distinctive ale flavor, but regardless of flavor inclination, Brother Thelonious is definitely a must-buy for any fan of strong ales. Aside from the powerful combination of malt and hops, Brother Thelonious demands a certain respect from drinkers due in part to its jazz legend namesake, but also due to the fact that North Coast Brewing Company heeds the traditional style of Belgian beer brewing and has transmuted it into a surprisingly palatable craft beer.
Whether or not you are a fan of Thelonious Monk the jazz musician, Brother Thelonious the beer is a necessary addition to the collection of any serious connoisseur. Aside from the fact that it combines equal parts deliciousness with originality, Brother Thelonious ale preserves a brewing tradition that has been at play for decades and will likely continue to do so even in the face of more modern, advanced techniques.
And even disregarding its uniqueness, the North Coast Brewing Company has agreed to make a donation to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz for every bottle of the beer that is sold. So while it may put you out a pretty penny to snag a bottle, the investment is totally worth it in the long run because at least your beer money will be going to a good cause instead of just into your gut.
But fair warning, Brother Thelonious smells like a strong stout and drinks like a glass of fine wine, so be sure not to abuse the privilege. If you want to be especially hip, throw on an old Thelonious Monk record (yes, I said “record”) and groove out while you sip away on some Brother Thelonious ale. Jazz music may not always have a significant place in culture, but in terms of beer, Brother Thelonious will certainly always have a place in this beer geek’s heart (if not just for the delicious ale named after him).
Emily A. Brightman can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.