Nate Warnke and his boldest beer yet.
“I’ve always loved the Belgian styles of beer and their flavor profiles,” says Rockhound brewpub owner Nate Warnke. “The Belgians treat beer like the French treat wine.” Rockhound celebrates its first anniversary on April 5, and Warnke is marking the occasion with a big, bold Belgian dark strong ale called Thunder Lizard.
What is it? Thunder Lizard, a Belgian quadruple from Rockhound Brewing Company of Madison.
Style: The quadruple is the strongest of the Belgian Trappist styles. They often come in at around 10 percent ABV or higher. Quadruples, or quads, are dark black to deep red-garnet in color. Their flavors commonly include a rich maltiness that combines with yeasty hints of raisin, dates, figs, grapes and plums. The quad is not hoppy. These beers are known for complex sweetness and alcoholic warmth.
Background: Thunder Lizard is mostly composed of a Belgian malt called Special B, which lends reddish-brown color and lots of sweet flavor. In addition to all that malt, Warnke adds two types of Belgian candi sugar, which boosts alcohol strength and keeps the body from being overly cloying or heavy. The beer is aged with two types of toasted American oak spires that give it wood accent in both aroma and flavor.
The beer gets its name from Warnke’s homebrewing days. Before opening his brewpub, he called his initial forays into wood-aged beers a “petrified series” and named them after dinosaurs. Thunder Lizard is a reference to the Brontosaurus. (I should note here there’s considerable argument among paleontologists over the actual existence of the Brontosaurus versus the Apatosaurus — which is a debate for another time, possibly over a beer. Regardless, Thunder Lizard is fun to say when ordering.) Thunder Lizard is Warnke’s most expensive concoction to date, and also the strongest beer he’s made commercially. It finishes around 10 percent ABV, and is sold over the bar in a 10-ounce glass for $7. Thunder Lizard’s release is scheduled for April 5 at 3 p.m.
Aroma: Malty, spicy sweetness. As the beer warms, the presence of woody oak and plum emerges.
Appearance: Dark brownish-bronze, almost black. A modest, soft tan head.
Texture: Full-bodied, soft and warm throughout.
Taste: Smooth sweetness includes earthy yeastiness and hints of plum and raisin.
Finish/Aftertaste: Warm, sweet, smooth stone fruitiness.
Glassware: Rockhound serves Thunder Lizard in a short-stemmed tulip glass. It’s a great vessel for supporting the beer’s soft head and allowing the aromas to expand under the nose.
Pairs well with: a slice of Rockhound’s cheesecake. However, this is a dessert beer, best enjoyed all on its own after a meal, or as a nightcap.
The Verdict: Thunder Lizard is a nice take on the Belgian quad. It’s flavorful, rich in body and alcoholic warmth. Drinkers will find the characteristics that quad lovers look for, like smooth stone fruit sweetness reminiscent of the well-known St. Bernardus Abt 12. There’s solid caramel and biscuit maltiness that intermingles with hints of raisin and fig. All that intensifies as the beer warms, as do the woody notes of toasted oak. This is a strong beer with many layers of flavor. To truly appreciate them, take your time and sip slowly while allowing the beer to warm. It’s at its best in the mid-50 degrees.