Get BJ's Got Beer
Beer: Got Beer
Brewery: BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse
Gotland does. A 90-mile-long island off Sweden's eastern coast, Gotland has a population of about 60,000, several hundred of whom brew beer. And bubbling away in the cellar of nearly every one of these Baltic brewers is a version of the island's native style, Gotlandsdricka.
Literally "the drink of Gotland," Gotlandsdricka is a Swedish farmhouse-style ale closely related to a Finnish beer known as Sahti. Both use juniper as a major flavor component (we'll get to that in a minute), but while Sahti has a large percentage of rye and oats in the malt bill, Gotlandsdricka is made primarily with smoked barley, which lends the beer a rustic, campfire-like flavor. The addition of honey during fermentation also boosts the alcohol content while adding a bit of sweetness.
Juniper bushes cover nearly every square inch of Gotland, so the country's brewers have made great use of the ubiquitous herb. Juniper berries and twigs find their way into nearly every step of the brewing process -- brewers use it to flavor and bitter Gotlandsdricka in lieu of hops, clump it together to act as a filter bed, and even boil it in water to disinfect equipment and to make mash liquid.
A unique style, to be sure, but one that BJ's Restaurant and Brewery has found some success with. Last year, the brewpub chain took home two separate gold medals in the "indigenous beer" categories of the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival -- no small feat. For 2013, BJ's re-brewed the beer on a larger system and made it available to the masses.
In a snifter, the beer shimmers in deep topaz hues with a soft haze -- look through the glass and marvel at a world preserved in amber. A tan pillow sits atop the brew, its froth giving off aromas of bratwurst covered in fig jam. Dark fruits blend with smoked malt in a lovely way, while toasted biscuits, earthy honey, and hints of green apple and orange blossom blend.
The flavor is akin to a smoky amber ale. Peat smoke, biscuits, honey, alcohol and apple meld in a balanced finish. Tongue-numbing alcohol offset the light, silky body, while gentle carbonation tickles the tongue with whipped cream bubbles. Oddly enough, juniper doesn't become readily apparent until the beer warms to near room temperature - let this one heat up to get the full experience.
Got Beer is available now at all the Valley's BJ's locations, but may not be brewed again, so get it soon. Got it?
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, an accredited guide to beer. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.