Beer Sherpa Ponders: Old Town Brewing's 1-Up Mushroom Ale
For the past 18 months or so, I've been doing this "beer sherpa" thing and pointing you to beers I especially enjoyed. Today we do something slightly different. Right now, on the strip of dust formerly known as Waterfront Park (this hot summer has not been kind to the grass), Old Town Brewing is pouring a beer called 1-Up Mushroom Ale at the Oregon Brewers Festival. I am sherpa-ing you toward it, and I definitely recommend
it--but whether you like it or not is a separate matter entirely.
Old Town used Candy Cap mushrooms, a variety with which I was formerly unfamiliar. They don't have the usual forest-floor, umami quality I expected. Indeed, they are known for their odd taste. Let's
The chemical responsible for the distinct odor of the candy cap was isolated in 2012 by chemical ecologist and natural product chemist William Wood of Humboldt State University, from collections of Lactarius rubidus. The odoriferous compound found in the fresh tissue and latex of the mushroom was found to be quabalactone III, an aromatic lactone. When the tissue and latex is dried, quabalactone III is hydrolyzed into sotolon, an even more powerfully aromatic compound, and one of the main compounds responsible for the aroma of maple syrup, as well as that of curry.
Whoo-boy, does that maple syrup ever come through in the beer. The brewery says they "give this unique beer a sweet, wood-aged character." I don't know about that. What they give it is a unique maple-syrup-with-soupçon-of-mildew character. It's a powerful flavor, too, and not
like maple syrup; there's a hint of caramel and something undefinable in it as well. The beer is an amber-to-brown ale that has a nice maltiness to harmonize with the flavors. But whether you like this beer will depend entirely on how you react to those mushrooms--and people had reactions all over the board.
I was personally repulsed by it. Sometimes strikingly strong flavors like that attract me in ways I can't understand. (Hanssen's Oudbeitje, which smells of decomposing vegetables, is irresistible.) And indeed, others seemed drawn to this beer in ways they couldn't justify. You really have to try it to know.
One of the reasons I wanted to highlight this beer is because it suggests a brave new, post-style world just out there in the near future. For decades, we have gotten used to the notion that we could hoist a beer to our lips and render judgment based on known parameters of style and method. Subjective judgments were tethered to national tradition, allowing us some measure of objectivity. As styles collapse and what we formerly called adjuncts begin to flavor our beers like cocktails, we will become untethered, forced to float in a world where subjectivity is the whole game. If you like mint, try a mojito. If you like sotolon, give 1-Up a shot. And if, you poor, deprived soul, you've never encountered sotolon, you're just going to have to step up to pitcher and have the man pour you three ounces to find out.
"Beer Sherpa Recommends" is an irregular feature. In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer. Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand. In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn't it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out? A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop. I don't profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I'll pass it along to you.