Sud Savant: Mikkeller Ris a la M’ale – Simply Does Not Cut the Mustard

Let me begin by stating that I know absolutely nothing about this beer other than the following: 1.) It is brewed with almonds and cherries. 2.)It required me to undress it before consuming.

Sure it kind of looks fancy (as does the cork & cage) and I like opening presents as much as the next guy, but I appreciate it more knowing that it inevitably helped keep sunlight from reaching the beer. Much like the wrapping, the bottle size is also unusual, ringing in at 12.7 oz. Go figure. Mikkeller has never had a reputation for doing this according to convention, after all. This is something I really like about them, so it only adds to my excitement to try this beer. Let’s pour!

Aroma 10/12: It begins rather vinously, but soon lets in floral notes which are quickly usurped by a sharper citrus aroma. The sour cherries come behind that citrus, but blend very well with it. A warmth becomes apparent from time to time but is well hidden.

Appearance 3/3: Generally fruit beers have little head, but this proved to be the exception in its size but not its duration. It provided about a finger of fizzy head that didn’t linger long, yet still managed to leave some lacing – definitely not something I expected in a fruit beer. It pours the color of a blush wine, but once in the glass it becomes a cloudy sunset red at the bottom with some cider-like brown hues toward the top. Very interesting color palette.

Flavor 15/20: What a unique brew. This is not overly sweet or tart like most cherry beers, but instead appears to be using the almonds as a balancing agent instead of combining them both into some sort of “amaretto beer.” It begins with a very light, barely tart, cherry flavor and when held in the mouth the sweetness dulls a bit more. Holding in the mouth also brings that citrus sharpness on the sides of the tongue and a slight bitter not unlike the rind of a fruit. As the beer warms the cherry’s and almond’s sweetness come forward nicely, but make sure not to create an overly sweet beer. Balance was definitely considered when making this beer and it was not in vain. This is especially evident in the finish. Immediately after swallowing a sweet gulp of cherry/almond/tart goodness, the finish provides a perfect amount of light bitter to balance the sweetness as well as aid to a cleaner finish. This is not a beer that will leave your mouth slimy with sugars! In fact, even though it’s a cherry beer the bitter wins out in the finish and carries on into the aftertaste. Not a particularly strong beer, but if the fruit flavors were more intense, I don’t see how it could maintain this balance.

Mouthfeel 4/5: It started out very much like one would expect a fruit beer to start: high levels of champagne-like carbonation that prick the tongue. Even though this is only a 12.7 fl oz bottle, those levels died down pretty quickly and the bottom half of the bottle was much easier to drink. The body isn’t heavy, but it’s larger than one expects a fruit beer to be, and the 8.0% ABV must have been contributed by ninjas because it is completely invisible.

Overall Impression 5/10: I think that the more I drank of this beer the less I was impressed. Yes, there was a good, less than authentic, cherry sweetness and it wasn’t overdone. It also managed to provide a great balance and a nice finish for we would all assume to be a sweeter style of beer. However, while the flavor was balanced, it wasn’t all that present to begin with. As mentioned earlier, a more intense fruit beer will be harder to balance (any and all brewmasters, please read that as a challenge). However, dulling down the fruit (a.k.a. flavor) for the sake of balance is… well… cheating. Don’t rob me of flavor, just try to balance it out some other way. Some could call this beer nuanced, but I feel like it’s just a weaker version of a cherry ale.

Total 37/50: Had only this beer turned out like its promising aroma! Heck, I might’ve even been pleased with a sweeter brew, whether that be like a lambic or like an amaretto. The aroma was quite nice, but the flavor seemed thin and bland in comparison. For those that dig a more mellow, less sweet, fruit beer, this could be right up your alley. However, for those of us who have easy access to New Glarus’ Wisconsin Belgian Red (and enjoy a fruit beer from time to time), this brew simply does not cut the mustard. I appreciate their attempt at balance, I really do. Balance is seldom a bad thing, but in this case it comes at the expense of flavor. Bummer for Mikkeller since I really admire the brewery and what they do. However, this beer does not live up to their high standard.

Joel R. Kolander is the Cheif Blogger for Sud Savant, a beer-savoring blog for the rest of us. We’re not here to get plowed. We’re not here because we are world-famous beer critics. We’re here because we enjoy savoring a great beer with even better friends. Sharing great beer is just as amazing as finding it in the first place. Lets share!