Big Rock Erratic Stone Fired Ale

Reviewed by on December 3, 2013 in Local Heroes Guide

The Details

  • Brewery: Big Rock Brewery

  • Origin: Calgary, AB

  • Rated On: August 28, 2013

  • Best Before: N/A

  • ABV: 5.8%

  • Ideal Temperature: cool to cellar temperature

  • Style: Steinbier

  • Rating: GOOD !

The Review

Erratic is another departure for this brewer of late, experimentation-wise. Purportedly a steinbier (‘stone beer’ in German), an archaic style not currently recognized outside of historical contexts, wherein the boiling of the wort is enabled or aided by the addition of already baked chunks of stone.  This was done, back in the day, when the vats were made of wood, and firing from below to heat the nascent beer would not be a good idea.  Nice how this choice of bringing back the past plays so well with Big Rock’s taken name – that of the large glacial erratic sitting in a farmer’s field just south of Calgary (I’m guessing they couldn’t get any stone brewing ‘samples’ from there), and but a few country miles from where I grew up – Okotoks, whose name is derived from the native Blackfoot peoples’ word for rock.

This 750ml, Bailey’s-esque, squat flared bottle (no. 469 in a limited series of 3,300 in the latest Alchemist edition) pours a hazy, muddled dark bronzed amber hue, with one finger of bubbly, loosely foamy light beige head, which leaves a few sparse lumps of seaward landmass lace around the glass as it quickly sinks away.

It smells of bready, biscuity cereal grain, soft caramel flourishes, a flinty hard-water minerality, some mild stone fruit, a tame, but out there smokiness, and very subtle earthy, herbal hops. The taste is grainy, unsweetened breakfast cereal malt, a hard to miss stoney, rock-licking goodness, more tame, sort of afterthought-ish caramel notes, a hint of generic nuttiness, with maybe some coffee twinges in all of that overwrought earthiness, and almost ethereal herbal, leafy hops.  The carbonation is a tad frothy, and generally supportive, the body a decent medium weight, with a flinty (a coincidence, I duly proffer) edge that subtly mars an otherwise straight-up smoothness. It finishes off-dry, the pale cereal malt, rather toasted caramel, and orchard fruit pit ‘sweetness’ kind of bleeding off the heretofore steeped minerality.

A fairly tasty introduction to a method of beer production that dates back far enough to not really register anew in the craft beer mainstream, not just yet. I tried to remain impartial from the get-go, but those stoney mineral notes are just too on the nose to dismiss, creating a simple English-style brown ale, one with a heavy debt to the hard-water emboldened Burton pale ales of veritable brewing lore. As for drinkability, maybe it was the novelty, but this 750ml bottle just seemed surprisingly a little too small, for what it’s worth – which is indeed a little dear, but hey, limited runs, rarity, and all that, eh?

Brady White

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