With a core history of being unconventional, Deep Ellum Brewing is unconventional even when playing it straight. In a first for the Dallas brewery, they brewed a classic style of beer for their winter release – that classic style being a Belgian quadrupel named Four Swords, something rarely attempted by any current Texas craft brewery.
Belgian quads (formally “Belgian dark strong ale”) are notoriously difficult to brew acceptably. Aside from the technical issues of brewing a strong, heavy beer that can have up to four times the levels of base ingredients of other beers – hence the name – it is a largely yeast-driven style. Many domestic microbreweries produce some nice versions but they all operate from the disadvantage of relatively young yeast strains compared to the distinct characteristics of their European counterparts.
As part of his effort to make sure Deep Ellum makes it to a third (and further) anniversary, head brewer Jeremy Hunt wanted their next new beer to be something more traditional to establish that the brewery could produce a classic style and not just creative new twists. The beer that would become Four Swords was developed from a homebrew recipe from one of the assistant brewers, and a commercial Abbey Ale yeast was selected for fermentation.
Four Swords is a semi-impressive feat for a local brewery still in the toddler phase. It pours a little dark for the style, a deep chestnut brown with ruddy highlights and a thin head. The work of the yeast first greets you in the nose with the familiar dark fruits and mild bubblegum esters that compose the style guidelines. The flavor profile is almost straight out of the textbook description: Rich, dark malts with elements of fresh fig, dried fruit, more esters and just a bare touch of coffee. As it warms the tastes expand slightly with more cola flavors, dry cocoa, more prominent yeast and a tiny hoppy finish. No alcohol heat is encountered despite its hefty 9.5% ABV.
Overall, this would not win a contest against a native Trappist brew (no surprise, the Belgians have been at this for centuries) but it is clean and flawless, and one of the better U.S. versions produced. It should pair well with a simple meal of a cheese board, smoked meats, nuts, and fresh and dried fruits. Perhaps hold on to a bottle for a few months to let it fully mature.
Availability: Four Swords is a limited release now found in select places around the Metroplex. Draft versions were made available this past week and large-format bottles should be available starting this weekend.