The Hops: Brother Thelonious

Much like Iowa’s arctic freeze, the season for high gravity beer persists through January. An ideal time to polish off the remaining supply of festive winter warmers, this month is also perfect for sipping jet black imperial stout, barley wine and finely crafted Belgian strong dark ale like Brother Thelonious.

Named in honor of jazz legend Thelonious Monk (a playful way of paying homage to the monks who traditionally brew Belgian abbey ales), Brother Thelonious is best served in a snifter, tulip, or oversized wine glass to trap and concentrate the beer’s aroma. Its color is ruby brown, and one or two fingers of slightly tanned head will develop and dissipate to leave a spotted lacing and ring around the edge.

The smell is of bready Belgian yeast, a little spice (which I thought was reminiscent of clove), dark fruits such as cherry and plum, toasted caramel malts, and just a tiny hint of alcohol. Brother Thelonious is thick and creamy, and the taste is a smooth and pleasant medley of flavors that is both delicious and difficult to deconstruct: Belgian yeast, spice (perhaps clove), maple sugar, cherry, plum, sweet caramel, and apple. Its alcohol content is well hidden but noticeable, and a slightly bitter aftertaste leaves the cheeks tingling after each sip.

Not only does Brother Thelonious warm the body with its high ABV, it also offers the warm fuzzy feeling of philanthropy. For every case of Brother Thelonious sold, its brewers make a contribution to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, a nonprofit organization that provides jazz education programs for public schools and enables young musicians to train with jazz masters.

  • Brewer: North Coast Brewing Company of Fort Bragg, California.
  • Style:Belgian strong dark ale.
  • Alcohol content: 9.4 percent ABV.
  • Food pairings: The North Coast website suggests pairing Brother Thelonious with “[g]rilled marinated flank steak with lime-chipotle sauce.” Other pairings include sharp cheeses such as blue and cheddar, and pungent cheese like gorgonzola and limburger.
  • Where to buy: Waterfront Hy-Vee and John’s Grocery.
  • Price: $12.99 per four-pack, $3.99 per 12-ounce bottle.

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