Yin and Yang – When Opposites Attract
The concept of a gypsy-brewer is relatively young in the world of beer. Gypsy breweries aren’t tangible structures, but rather that intangible knowledge, experience and creativity that money can’t buy. Much like the traveller peoples whose nickname they share, gypsy brewers have a nomadic brewing habitat, using excess capacity at brewers and engaging in collaborative brewing in order to get their products out there. Without the security of investors or assets, gypsy brewers don’t have the luxury of creating mundane run of the mill beers. The be success they need to go above and beyond.
In Ontario, many of us are familiar with Anders Kissmeyer, who of course brought us Beau’s Kissmeyer Nordic Pale Ale. But Kissmeyer wasn’t the only gypsy-brewer making great beer in our neck of the woods.
Denmark is the birthplace of gypsy brewers, who have paid little attention to national borders when producing great beer. Mikkeller is the “brewery” that has become the most synonymous with the movement, but the brother of founder Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, is also a gypsy brewer. He founded Evil Twin Brewing and has produced a couple great beers with Bellwoods Brewery in Toronto; Fruit Helmet and No Sleep Till Brooklyn Sour Stout. The latter was my first taste of Evil Twin, and to this day is one of my favourite beers.
When I was in Calgary recently, I had the opportunity to visit an amazing beer store called Kensington Wine Market. There I came across two Evil Twin beers: Yin and Yang. Considering you don’t see Evil Twin in the LCBO too often (ever?), I jumped at the opportunity to try them. Brewed out of Two Roads Brewing in Connecticut, Yin is billed as an Imperial ‘Taiji’ (pronounced Tai Chi) Stout and Yang as an Imperial Taiji India Pale Ale. Upon doing some research, I learned that these beers were created with the concept of mixing them to create an Imperial (Taiji?) Black IPA in mind. I found this to be particularly special, given the meaning of ‘Yin & Yang’, opposite forces working in complement with one another. Stylistically, these are two beers that are very much on different sides of the spectrum, from colour, to aroma and flavour, and I was very eager to see if the opposite forces in these beers would indeed come together harmoniously. But, first I had to try each on their own. I started out with the Imperial India Pale Ale.
For me, Yang doesn’t really hit the Imperial IPA style out of the park. The colour of the beer itself is an alluring, deep, blood orange – but it poured virtually without head. It’s grain forward, with caramel and amber malts dominating the flavour. The malts are a bit harsh; if I were to have sampled this blindly I would have had a hard time not calling it an imperial red. Quite biscuity with a bit of brown sugar, the sweetness shies away from the bold hops, somewhat. Almost one-dimensional grapefruit flavours if not for a bit of a resinous, pine towards the end, there is quite a bit of bitterness in this one. Furthermore, I could taste some peculiar flavours like licorice and even some dark fruit, that would lend better to a stout than an IPA any day of the week. As an overall impression, I liked it, but I wouldn’t go too far out of my way for it.
Yin on the other hand is really quite special. It pours beautifully, with a thick tan head that signals good things to come. The nose presents an unmistakable chorizo aroma that joins with cocoa and vanilla bean. These are also flavours at the forefront, along with bitter coffee, molasses and some dark fruit. There is a lingering licorice and leather smoke that dissipates into a soft citrus and slight alcohol burn. The mouthfeel is buttery, but in a good way. To call it a rich and roasty Imperial Stout wouldn’t be doing it justice. Yin is one of the more palate-demanding beers that I’ve had for some time… and I loved it.
Having tried both separately, it was finally time to see if opposites do truly attract.
I did my best to mix portions as evenly as possible before diving in. Much of the smokiness from the Imperial Stout disappears in the aroma, instead showing a little roast, a fair amount of malt sweetness, nice citrusy hop notes and cherry. It drinks a little medicinal, with a bit less roast than expected, but still has some nice caramel, espresso and chocolate to balance out the bright hops. Grapefruit is abundant. Some hazelnut and marzipan emerge, flirting with woodsy, earthy notes. It drinks quite sweet and quite boozy. Once the sweetness starts to fade, I’m left with a breadiness and a bit of a charred flavour. It works. Though not my favourite of the three versions I sampled today, I would drink it again.
However, I do have one critique… For me, I would have preferred one of the beers in this ‘Black and Tan’ to have not been Imperial strength. For all of the great qualities of this ‘Black IIPA’ there is a real heaviness and bite to it. Though I might appreciate that more in colder months than I do today, sitting out on my balcony this gorgeous May evening, I find myself, in this moment, wishing it were toned down.
Nevertheless, Evil Twin has yet again created a craft beer experience thought up outside the box. As creative as they were tasty, these are beers that I won’t soon forget and, especially the Yin Imperial Stout, certainly hope to have a chance to drink again.