Tasting: Thomas Hooker’s Liberator Doppelbock

Posted on 01.03.08 5:30PM under Bock, Lager, Tasting

Thomas Hooker LiberatorI had heard the rumors: the best domestic Doppelbock was being made right here in CT, at the Thomas Hooker brewery. I have even been to their brewery earlier this year, and it is nice and clean in there, with plenty of room for expansion. The President, Curt Cameron, is experienced in the industry, having owned a few liquor stores. He’s very business-oriented, with a strong focus on great beer. Today I espouse the virtues of fine Connecticut Doppelbock: Thomas Hooker’s Liberator Doppelbock.

Over the summer, I had a few of their beers, and from memory, they were really well done, distinctive examples of their respective styles. I think at the time I was put off by Liberator for a few reasons. I had a prejudice against the style: at the time, I was heavy into IPA, and hops in general, and perceived Doppelbock as a malty style that would just be plain and brown tasting. What can I say, I was young and foolish. Another problem I probably had was the price. At the time, I was somehow scared to pay $7 for one bottle of beer, even if it was a bigger bottle. Of course, at the time, I happily bought a $8 bottle of Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, but then again, it was called an “IPA”, so I was conditioned to buy.

Well, of course, now I haven’t had an IPA in months (except Sierra Nevada Celebration and my own CornucopIPA) and my palette is a lot broader. It takes more than hops to turn me on now. Although good hops can do the trick sometimes. And now I see $7 a bottle as pretty reasonable. Still no $4 bomber or $10 4-pack, but reasonable nonetheless, especially if the product inside is high quality.

High quality doesn’t even come close to explaining the Liberator. This beer is top-notch from first sip to last. The smell is subtle, including caramel and nutty raisins. It is big and black with a small head, and looks very inviting. The taste… the taste is so smooth! The bitterness from malts and perhaps a dab of hops perfectly spars with the deep malty sweetness and fullness throughout the entire beer drinking experience. When a chocolate note suddenly emerges, the roasty bitterness is right there to back it up, then match it, and eventually dominate for a brief moment. It was like the flavors in this beer were alive and aware of one another, as each acted to come out at the perfect level just at the right time. Like Miles Davis boosting the energy of his whole quintet with his simple notes, this beer plays off itself perfectly. Not only is the beer awesomely balanced, it is also superbly rich. The mouth feel is very full, but not overdone, and clean and smooth at the same time.

I think this is what a lager is really supposed to be like, and sort of typifies the classic difference between a lager and an ale. Were this beer made with ale yeast, it could have come out a bit hotter with more sweet fruity flavors and aromas that I’ve been getting in the big stouts and winter warmer ales this year. This beer inspires me and makes me want to try my hand at making a Doppelbock lager. I don’t expect to make a Liberator on my first shot, but I think it could be done. I enjoyed this beer with a plate of penne pasta covered in sweet red meat sauce, with shaved hard cheese.

Some say it is hardest to make a good, well-balanced small beer, but I’d argue it’s equally as hard to make a good, well-balanced big beer. I’ve had a lot of big beers this winter, and most of them still struggle to find that perfect balance. Perhaps that’s the secret to the Liberator. The alcohol is modest at 8% (according to BeerAdvocate) which might work in its favor. I tasted this beer Tuesday. Wednesday I had the Ayinger Celebrator, the most reviewed Doppelbock on BeerAdvocate, with a letter grade of “A”. It is only 6.7% ABV, and it was really good, but just fell a bit short of the Liberator. Celebrator was somehow not as rich as Liberator.

All of this Doppelbocking is tied into this week’s Session, which is all about Doppelbock. As stated earlier in the week, my week has been dedicated to Doppelbock and lager in general. Though I have changed the tasting schedule. After finding that the Aventinus was not a Doppelbock lager, but rather a Weizen-Doppelbock ale, I stumbled upon Ayinger Celebrator and Samichlaus while picking up a bottle of wine in town to bring to our neighbors when we stopped by for New Year’s eve. I had to get them, Ayinger being the most reviewed Doppelbock on BeerAdvocate (as mentioned already above) and Samichalus being so famous as the strongest lager in the world. So I think tonight I’ll have the Doppel-Hirsch, and then culminate the Session with the Samichlaus tomorrow. We’ll see if either of them can measure up to the Liberator.

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