BREWERY: Goose Island
BEER: Pepe Nero
STYLE: Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale
Malts: Black malt, crystal rye, pilsner, rye.
Hops: Pilgrim, Saaz
FROM THE BREWERY:
“With an aroma of roasted chestnuts and a mysteriously dark, mahogany hue, Pepe Nero is a farmhouse ale brewed with black peppercorns. His roasty sweetness melds into a lingering, earthy, black pepper finish that is ideal for pairing with grilled meats and roasted vegetables.”
I can’t say it happens very often that I stumble upon a beer that I never had heard of – let alone one that had been already aged for over 5 years. Yes – 5 years. Initially, I feared this 4 pack might have been through hell and back over the course of those years, with no way of knowing how gently it was cared for. I was comforted by the sentence on the back of each bottle – “Develops in the bottle for up to 5 years. Contains Live Yeast.” That was reassurance enough for me, and I jumped at the chance to get this 2011 vintage.
Currently, this beer is still available each year in Goose Island’s Brewmaster Reserve’s Variety Pack, which I have actually never come across in person. The beer is described as a belgian style farmhouse ale with added black peppercorns in the brew. From this description, I expected a bright blonde estery brew with a touch of peppered heat. With that in mind, I poured Pepe Nero into my super awesome Belly Love brewing glass and awaited the estery goodness.
Upon the beer splashing about, I first immediately feared the beer had gone horrifically bad due to the remarkably dark color compared to what I expected. I finished the pour and gave a good whiff of the hyper-bubbly brew to be pleasantly surprised by a crisp Belgian scent. It felt quite contradictory to see a beer so dark that smelled as such – if you were to close your eyes and smell, then open them, you would swear that they are different beers responsible for each.
The first taste did nothing but further compound my confusion with this beer – it was an absolute perfect blend of crisp refreshment, cleanly fermented, and dry finish. Yet it didn’t taste Belgian at all – the estery smell that was so obviously present somehow managed to hide behind a malt backbone and crisp carbonation – it was magic. This beer drank almost like a very mild stout or dark brown ale, yet left hints of its Belgian yeast all around you. It was a beautiful contradiction, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a beer quite like this.
CLOSING THOUGHTS and WHERE TO BUY
Pepe Nero was a pleasant surprise for me – a beer that I had never heard of, I happened to find a 5 year vintage that had been maintained in (implied) responsible conditions. The result was an incredible beer experience that I personally think was brought about by the significant aging of this beer. The mellowing and melding of the sometimes intense Belgian and pepper flavor had harmonized perfectly. I look forward to hunting down additional years of this beer and comparing them to the few I’ve got remaining in the cellar. Keep an eye out for a Cellar Talk piece on this beer, as well as other Goose Island gems like the Bourbon County Stout.