Terminal Gravity at the Great Dane Downtown
As the Great Dane family of brewpubs has grown to four Madison locations, three of which have their own brewery operations, company V.P. and brewmaster Rob LoBreglio hasn't been able to be in the brewhaus as much as he likes. While each Dane has its own brewer, LoBreglio oversees the team. So when he does stand over the brew kettle himself, the Madison beer community can expect something special.
In preparation for Madison Craft Beer Week in early May, LoBreglio worked hands-on with his team to develop a brew that seems to go beyond the forces of nature. Their creation, named Terminal Gravity, definitely pushes the envelope into the orbit of extreme brewing.
What is it? Terminal Gravity from the Great Dane.
Style: Terminal Gravity is loosely based on the Belgian Quadruple. This is a full-bodied, bold and flavorful style with deep amber-mahogany to nearly black color. The strength of alcohol is also a big component to the style's overall character. The Quadruple may have caramel and chocolate maltiness alongside dark sugar sweetness that adds depth to its profile. Flavor and aromas can be intense and reflected with a sweet fruitiness of raisins, dates, figs, grapes, and plums. While there may be a hoppy accent that adds to the spicy nature of the beer, the bitterness should not be overbearing or dominant. The style can be quite strong, and commonly exceeds 9% ABV.
Background: LoBreglio only gets into the brewhaus to join his fellow Great Dane brewers about three to four times a year: "When I do, it's driven by the inspiration of coming up with an idea for a beer and wanting to be there during that first attempt to make it," he explains.
With Terminal Gravity, LoBreglio's unique signature is the rich flavor and alcoholic backbone of a big, extreme beer. However, it's also the process that he devised that is reflected in the beer's name. Brewmasters use measurements of specific gravity to determine when a beer has completed fermentation and the sugars in the wort have been converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide by yeast. The difference between original gravity of the unfermented wort and final gravity of the fermented beer also gives an approximation of alcohol content.
Terminal Gravity is LoBregilo's attempt to push the yeast to go to the limits of converting all the available sugars into alcohol. To get the most out of sugars, LoBreglio added enzymes into the fermenter with incremental additions of fresh wort (containing more fermentable sugars). The enzymes convert complex sugars to more simple ones that yeast like, so they have an easier time doing their job, resulting in more alcohol. While it's not completely unheard of in beer making, adding enzymes is a challenge, because when too much alcohol is created by the yeast, other flavors from the malt, hops, and yeast can become unbalanced and even astringent.
The malts in this beer are a combination of three Belgian types. Its recipe also includes about 25 gallons of two types of Belgian candi sugar and German Noble hops that include Saaz and Hallertau. The beer was fermented with two different varieties of yeast: a Belgian strain for initial fermentation that gives the beer its fruity flavors, and an American strain that was used to bring this beer to its final or "terminal" gravity.
The beer aged for four months before it was released. The final alcohol content of this beer is "estimated" at around 12% ABV. Because of the way this beer is made, LoBreglio says specific gravity measured in the brewhaus isn't very accurate, so he's sent a sample to be analyzed in a laboratory to determine its true alcohol content. He expects those test results back by the end of May. If you're curious about just how strong this beer is, you should inquire when you order one.
Terminal Gravity is expected to be around through June. It was made at the downtown Great Dane, but all other Madison locations are currently serving it. LoBreglio says a small amount is being aged for a future release. The Great Dane sells it only by the glass, serving one per person for $7 (tulip glass or snifter).
- Aroma: Bold with a yeasty nose that includes hints of fruit, figs and a light tone of licorice. There is alcoholic warmth even at the beginning that builds toward the end of the flavor profile.
- Appearance: Dark, almost black with mahogany hues. A thin, bubbly off-white head.
- Texture: Full bodied, with a round mouth feel.
- Taste: Lots of robust spicy sweetness. Some caramel maltiness with a background of raisin, plum and licorice.
- Finish/Aftertaste: Spicy raisin sweetness, with lots of alcoholic warmth.
Glassware: Terminal Gravity is a beer for a snifter, because it's best to sip, swirl, and contemplate its complex flavors. The snifter encourages the aromas to gather under the nose.
Pairs well with: The assertive malty tones, sweet hints of raisin and plum, along with its high alcohol content really make this a beer to appreciate as an after dinner course or nightcap. When dining at the Great Dane consider this beer as a dessert on its own, or for a special treat, match it up with the apple crisp that is garnished with a sprig of mint.
Rating: Four Bottle Openers (out of four)
The Verdict: At $7 glass, Terminal Gravity may seem a little pricy. However, one at a sitting is all you need. The first whiff of aroma lets you know you're having a strong beer. Its bouquet is almost like a spirit with the sweetness of raisin, plum, and licorice. It all leaves you with the impression you're drinking fine port wine. That unique warmth and sweetness encourages sipping, which is why I found so much enjoyment in a glass of Terminal Gravity. The only fault I found with this beer is that it is a little too much for this warm season. It really cries out for snowfall and a fireplace. I have to smile at the thought that LoBreglio has put some in a bourbon barrel to age for cooler times ahead.