December 23, 2018

Two beers "for the record" -- Gagarin and Freedom IPA

A few months ago I tasted two exciting beers, really quite extraordinary, which by now, alas, might be hard to find in stores.  The brewers say that these were one-off beers and will not be made again.  However, a few bottles are still around. 

Blasting off!
Gagarin Imperial Stout
from the Basha-Flom Brewery.

(Photo: Tom Lahav)
The first is Gagarin, a Russian-style Imperial Stout named after (who else?) Yuri Gagarin, the first Soviet cosmonaut.  It was made by the brewing team of Basha-Flom (Omer Basha and Dvir Flom) and contract brewed at the Sheeta Brewery in Arad.  About 400 bottles were made.

Gagarin is one of the most impressive Israeli beers ever brewed.  A true Imperial Stout such as was brewed in England for the Russian nobility back in the 18th century.  Apparently those Russians liked their beer powerful (high in alcohol), flavorful and nourishing.  

Before I tell you what I think of the beer now, let me add that Omer Basha recommends that Gagarin is "intended for aging and will probably reach its peak in about a year or two."  Since I have an extra bottle, I will try to do that -- if I can resist drinking it sooner!      

Without aging, Gagarin pours out an ultra-dark brown color with very little carbonation and a small halo of foam.  The alcohol by volume is a hefty 9.5%, and you sense this immediately in the aroma, along with toasted bread, coffee, chocolate, licorice and some carob.   
Omer Basha with a new bottle
of Gagarin.
The first thing you feel on your tongue is the pleasurable creaminess and moderate sweetness of this beer, which fades into a very bitter finish.  The taste of alcohol is also very strong, with malt, dried fruit, licorice, caramel and dark chocolate.  It seems that every mouthful brings on different flavors.  I can see where aging will mellow the strong alcohol taste and the bitter finish.  

This full-bodied beer should be poured and sipped like a fine wine.  By no means should you drink it ice cold.  Very few foods have the intensity to pair with Gagarin.  However, desserts with rich chocolate flavor, cheesecake, and oozy or smelly cheeses would be scrumptious with any Imperial Stout.

The second disappearing beer is Freedom IPA from Oak & Ash, brewed at the Dancing Camel Brewery in Tel Aviv.

Freedom IPA from the
Oak & Ash Brewery.
As much as Gagarin stands out among Israeli stouts, Freedom is a remarkable IPA.  Hopped with Citra and Simcoe, which impart fruity and piney esters (and some citrus), Freedom is also fortified with real mango and pineapple.  In fact, you can see the flecks of fruit floating in the beer.

A lovely cloudy and golden copper color, Freedom is blessed with rich aromas of fruit and a hint of citrus.  Since you know there's mango and pineapple inside, that's what your nose is looking for, and that's what you find.

The taste is an inspired combination of malt sweetness and piercing hop bitterness (100 International Bitterness Units), with flavors of fruit salad (mango, banana and other tropical fruits).  The huge 10% alcohol is not at all aggressive, and the finish is bitter and fruity.  You could describe Freedom as a Belgian strong ale with IPA hops.  Not too shabby a combination.     

1 comment:

Thanks for your comment. L'chayim!