One gets the sense that since Lift Bridge has settled in to their new digs in Stillwater, they’re starting to flex their brewing muscles a bit. This year marked the debuts of a pair of hop-forward winners in Hop Prop IPA and Harvestör Ale. Their new winter beers are showing signs of promise as well (if you’ve encountered their Top Side Oyster Stout on tap, you already know.)
Here are sips from their two most recent winter releases. The quantities are limited, so give your favorite beer store a call first for availability.
Lift Bridge Biscotti
Style: Belgian Ale
Biscotti has become Lift Bridge’s truest seasonal beer, with limited runs for the last three winters under its belt. They term it a “unique” Belgian Ale and it’s brewed to evoke its namesake cookie, with additions of honey, vanilla bean, star anise, and grains of paradise working to create a comforting winter ale. Yesterday 750-ml bottles of Biscotti hit stores in small quantities yesterday — we found ours at The Ale Jail.
The Belgian part of Biscotti is evident right away with the cloudy and pale-looking auburn hue and the nose full of Belgian yeast aromas. The honey also works its way into the smell, and the same sweetness greets the beginning of the sip. The core flavors of the brew are mellow and pleasant: rich malt and vanilla, with a soft carbonation keeping it quite sessionable.
The classic winter-spice notes, which seem to sink many winter ales by taking over the whole of the flavor, show up most noticeably on the very clean finish. It’s nuanced enough to be memorable, yet very much in the vein of a classic craft Belgian. Fans of Brewery Ommegang, for example, will be right at home with Biscotti.
The bottle specifically directs the drinker to warm the beer to 50 degrees. It seems curious, but after tasting Biscotti at fridge temperature it makes sense. When the beer is served colder, the body is more sharply focused to the carbonated and spice components, robbing you of the breadth of flavor that makes it compelling.
Oh yes, and it doesn’t really taste like Biscotti, but that doesn’t matter. It’s a successful brew nonetheless.
2011 Lift Bridge Commander
Style: Barley Wine
Commander is Lift Bridge’s first iteration of a bourbon barrel-aged, English-style Barley Wine. Bottles are currently for sale at their brewery and several stores around town, as well as at a few of their tap accounts.
Commander has a burnt sienna and mahogany-tinged body, which swirls to slightly lighter rims. Beads of carbonation form in wisps on the surface. A Port-like character bursts on the nose — you get vanilla from the oak and a healthy dose of alcohol behind it. The sip starts out with a peppery character, full of tannin, followed by a dense core of hazelnut and caramel. The finish tends further towards alcohol with some more nutty flavors lingering after the sip.
Commander carries an assertive and boozy profile. It’s hard to imagine drinking much more than one big snifter at any sitting. The flavors even seem a bit uncoordinated right after opening the bottle. However, after we vacuum-packed a half bottle in the fridge overnight, we noticed the flavors were much more cohesive and the sip was thus decidedly more pleasing.
If you’re drinking it now, you might want to consider decanting it first. Though a better strategy would be cellaring the bottle for at least a few months to give this behemoth a bit more time to come together. Lift Bridge seems to agree, suggesting on their website that Commander’s shelf life is even longer. They’ve noted to drink it “between now and 2020.”