Sam Fitz is a Certified Cicerone® and the Beer Director at Meridian Pint and soon to open Smoke & Barrel. Read Sam’s take on Ranger IPA here.
Craft beer is much more than quality suds, it’s also good people with good stories. There’s no better evidence of this than the growing number of collaborative brews that hit the market every month. A decade ago, craft brewers were small islands operating in the shadows of giant conglomerated breweries. It was a survivalist era and the notion of collaboration was nonexistent. Now, with craft beer eating away every day at the market share of the American macro-lager, there is a swagger to small brewing and a growing sense of community – an us against them mentality. Small breweries that compete for sales are teaming up to produce beers that aren’t profit driven; these collaborations help to build the community that has blossomed into a sanctuary for real, tasty beer.
In 2009, Sierra Nevada, one of the forefathers of the American craft beer movement, teamed up with Dogfish Head, a more recent entrant but craft powerhouse nonetheless, for their first ever collaboration. Two beers, “Limb & Life,” and “Life & Limb,” were produced. Made from the same ingredients, the first was a “small” beer at 4.2% while the second, a “big” beer, came in at 10.2%. Immensely popular and quickly sold-out nationwide, these two brews are named in tribute to the spirit of craft brewing; “our two breweries were among many fine breweries that breathed LIFE into the colorful, diverse, and beautiful LIMBS of the American craft-brewing family tree” (Sam Calagione, President and Founder, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery). A reward for the brewers, and more importantly their followers that helped make the craft revolution possible, collaborations are about celebrating the journey of good beer.
After much anticipation, Life & Limb returns on its own. This time they brewed a substantially bigger batch and will reward a great many more craft beer drinkers for their years of support to the good beer movement. Available in 750mL bottles and some draft, Life & Limb has already started popping up here in DC.
Life & Limb explodes from the bottle with a loud pop. Two fingers of creamy, tan head pile up on the beer in the form of tiny bubbles that persevere for quite some time. Birch syrup from Alaska is used to condition this beer in the bottle and feed the living yeast (a blend of Sierra and Dogfish’s house yeast), giving the beer “Life.”
The color of Life & Limb is almost black but with enough light, a rich, chestnut brown is revealed. The malt is entirely grown by Sierra and a portion of it is heavily roasted into Chocolate malt which gives the beer its magnificent color. Maple syrup from the Calagione family farm is added to the brew and contributes, along with the Birch syrup used for carbonating, to the “Limb,” in the name.
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One whiff of this beer puts the maple syrup front and center. Not overly sweet to the nose but there is a hearty earthy-ness that conjures thoughts of molasses, perhaps root beer. A second inspection reveals the presence of the roasted malt – chocolate and a hint of espresso. Fairly complex but without much of a hop presence.
A hearty gulp continues the theme. The roasted malt and maple syrup form the first taste impression. Then, the hops assert themselves. Bravo, a varietal known for its bittering capacity, and Perle, known for its minty earthiness, balance the initial sweetness and add great complexity. Lingering sweetness and perhaps a hint of dark cherry reemerge before the hops take over one last time, lending an almost woody character that neatly fits the theme of the brew.
Life & Limb is not as heavy on the palate as one might think. It has a creaminess that makes it quite drinkable for a beer of its fortitude. Overall it is a surprisingly balanced beer and notably complex. Its quality, along with the spirit behind it, make it a must try this time around. If you’re lucky enough to get two bottles, put one away for a year or ten, it will age with the best of them!