After a relatively uneventful day convincing my mother that I would indeed like for her to bring my 10-year old cat, whom I raised from a 6-week old kitten, when she visits for Christmas, I decided a strong brew was in order. Wanting to try a different array of beers and not just your typical ales and lagers, I picked up a Widmer Brothers Brewing Company Brother’s Reserve the other day when I was intrigued by it being packaged in a box and labeled as a very limited release (#2 Spring 2010). I also was attracted to the title: Prickly Pear Braggot. Living in Arizona, there are a multitude of things mixed with and created from prickly pear cactus fruit: salsas, jams and jellies, ice cream, lemonades and juices, marinades, salad dressing, raw or grilled…the possibilities are endless. I like that they are such a versatile fruit, and despite my not really liking them as a stand-alone (aka raw), I do like the subtle sweet flavor when they are used to infuse something, like alcohol.
My only question as I started taking notes for my review was what the heck is a Braggot? Doing the research I so enjoy, I found out that in the simplest terms a Braggot is mead (honey wine) mixed with beer. Add some spices and herbs and you have yourself a unique brew. Apparently, Braggots have been around since the late 1300s, with even earlier references dating back to the 12th century in Ireland. I’m still not clear on whether or not a Braggot is considered an ale or a lager, or whether it’s in a class all its own, but on Beer Advocate, it is labeled under English Ales, so I’ll stick with that.
Using my usual snifter, I poured half of the 22oz bomber into the glass and was quickly taken by the bright goldenrod color that shone like a new penny in the sunlight. The white head built to a finger thick and appeared lightly fluffy, but almost immediately fell into oblivion, leaving very minimal clean lacing that refused to stick. The visible carbonation took a little longer to wear itself out and eventually stopped altogether.
There was a strong sweet smell accompanied by honey and pale malts, though everything was overtaken by a thick, sugary wild berry/tropical fruit and pear aroma. On their own, prickly pears have a sweet cut grass scent, but accompanied by the honey in this beer, it made the overall smell very syrupy even before I put it in my mouth. The other obvious addition to the nose was the extremely noticeable ethanol/alcohol action going on. At 10%ABV, it certainly packed quite a punch. It wasn’t entirely unpleasant, but it was overwhelming to just under the point I would have labeled it sickeningly sweet.
After the smell, I was actually kind of surprised at how the taste differed from my initial opinions. While it was still very sweet and had an odd honey-thickness in my mouth, there were also some very pale bready malts that somehow pushed their way through to my taste buds. I also found the prickly pear to be more discernible as I allowed the beer to warm. Okay fine, as I took my time trying not to get drunk off of 11oz of beer. There were no obvious hops and no bitterness whatsoever, though there was a cinnamon-like peppery bite right after I swallowed and the alcohol was raging right there next to everything I tasted. I did like that it had a rich, juicy, medium mouthfeel with low spicy carbonation, though at times, due to the lack of bubbles, it slightly resembled syrupy candy. The upside to the sweetness was that it helped to balance out the strength of the alcohol through most of the drink.
I’m still debating if I should go to the gym and force everyone to smell the alcohol as it seeps out of my pores from only half the bottle or if I should stay home and polish it off so I don’t go to bed drunk. Seriously, this stuff is wicked strong, but delectably delicious. I’ve never had a Braggot before, and now I can add this to my growing list of craft brews I’ve conquered.