It looks like I’ve just been stung. The exaggerated crinkling on the bridge of my nose and the tensed levator and zygomaticus muscles above my lip and astride my schnoz indicate an intense reaction, in this case to an aroma. My eyes are closed, which boosts olfactory perception. You may wonder: what’s in the whiskey glass?
The answer: Spigot Licker. Flat Tail Brewing in Corvallis, headed up by jack-of-all-everything Dave Marliave, produced this beer (yes, it’s still a beer and I’ll tell you why later) for the coming of age of Corvallis Brewing Supply – its 21st birthday. Spigot Licker is 18% alcohol by volume. It is a single malt beer, yet it is deep brown in color due to the fact that the wort was boiled for six DAYS. It was fermented in neutral oak, and dosed with four yeast strains in order to achieve enough attenuation to be drinkable.
Marliave is one of the few brewers I’d trust to do a damn fool thing like that and get it right. He isn’t all willy-nilly about it. He lone-wolfs it in the brewery, and takes long trips on his motorcycle; plenty of time to spend in one’s head, poring over the minutiae of making beer.
In a world where best-of beer lists are topped by IPAs and pastry stouts to the near exclusion of subtle flavors and simple recipes with a focus on process, Spigot Licker’s complexity is derived from a simple recipe with intensive processes. A record-setting six day boil reduced the volume of wort by over 60%, thickening and caramelizing the originally pale, bready Golden Promise malt liquor into a syrup that no brewer’s hydrometer could read. Kettle caramelization (or in this case, pre-fermentation distillation?) produces deeper flavors than using caramel malts, and is a hallmark of the Wee Heavy profile (but a strong Scotch ale this isn’t). A wisp of burnt sugar adds complexity and satisfying roundness, the difference between cooking meat on a stovetop or on a grill; you taste the fire.
I can imagine the kettle cleaning process after this: using a pastry knife to scrape the honey-like wort off the walls and drizzle it onto a waffle. You did do that, right Dave?
Actually, my expression is exaggerated; it should have shown a thousand-mile stare, and then I could have added an animated whirlpool emanating from my pupils and a plume of leather-colored smoke sneaking over the rim of the glass. There is nothing sharp about Spigot Licker. Think Helen Mirren dressed in ruddy satin, sipping a glass of Madeira while a cigar smolders at the other end of the bar.
Like so many obtusely flavored beers that get their cocktailitude from an abundance of standard cocktail ingredients, Spigot Licker is self-contained and elevating, the way a proper Manhattan is more than the sum of its parts. It conjures memories; it tells a story or weaves a dream. Yep, it’s romantic.
On a more tangible note, I think it’s available at Flat Tail primarily. It’s served in 6oz pours for $10; that is basically three beers for the price of two. It is just barely carbonated; it doesn’t need the bubble, as its richness is balanced by tannins. But it IS a beer; it is 100% barley malt and fermented with yeast to its final alcohol content, rather than freeze-distilled like some extremely strong beers on the market. Though I doubt it will be as popular as, say, Pulp Action IPA (which came in 2nd at a blind IPA tasting in Portland), Spigot Licker is worth spending 30 minutes with your nose in the glass, imagining your life as a slice of mahogany baked into tiramisu.