There are several reasons why beers get blended. For instance, (1) Belgian Lambic producers have been blending beers for centuries in order to create the perfect balance between old and young beer. This helps to keep the various aggressive flavours in check. Similarly, (2) pubs used to blend batches of beer with differing quality in order to make it more palatable and reduce waste when the beer wasn’t at it’s best. (3) Some larger breweries blend batches of the same beer in order to keep their product that much more consistent across every release. (4) When brewers come up with new recipes and ideas, blending different beers can give them a good understanding of how flavours might work before having to actually brew it. (5) Some breweries (like Brasserie Dunham for example) blend various beers as special releases, oak aging and re-fermenting them in the bottle with wild yeast strains. (6) Other breweries oak age a batch of beer and then blend it with a non-oaked version in order to spread the batch out further – balancing out the flavours at the same time. Finally (7), we are all familiar with the “black and tan,” which is when Guinness and something like Harp are poured on top of each other by the bartender at your local pub.
However, these practices aside, something new is afoot. Beer geeks are blending beer at home, and it has kind of become a “thing.” Basically, the idea is that you crack open two or more different beers, blend them in parts, and see what happens. There is even a Facebook group here in Quebec dedicated to the process. When I first started seeing and hearing about it, I thought it was kind of silly, somewhat wasteful, and even maybe a bit insulting to the breweries who crafted the beer. It also seemed that a lot of the time it was just an excuse for beer geeks to “dick-swing” their harder to find bottles (in case you were wondering, there is also a beer dick-swing Facebook group; unrelated to blending). However, you shouldn’t knock something without trying it. So I did, and now I take it all back. The flavour combinations can be surprising, and quite amazing. In many ways it tricks your palate a bit, which makes it an interesting learning experience. When combined, flavour profiles can work with, or against each other, often producing something completely new, and really fucking good. However, at times, it produces a muted version of the dominant beer, resulting in something not so fantastic. As I was mentioning above, blending is something a brewer sometimes does to come up with new ideas, so why not do it yourself! It’s tons of fun to do with buddies at a tasting, and you can just use the ends of the bottle anyways (it’s not like you are wasting the whole beer if it turns out shitty). A few weeks ago I managed to taste three “rarerish” Firestone Walker barrel aged blends with the boys from Beer Related and Malty Tasker. At the end we made a blend of our own using all three bottles. Maybe we were drunk (we were), but we all agreed that the blend was actually superior to any of the individual bottles on their own.
This brings me to the beers that I’m going to talk about today. Yin and Yang were crafted by the gypsy brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso of Evil Twin Brewing. Gypsy brewer? What the hell is that!? Well, a gypsy brewer is basically someone who brews beer, but doesn’t own the facilities to do so. Instead, they rent out space from other breweries in order to produce their beer. This allows them to reduce their overhead, and run a tighter business, while still being able to make commercially available beer. Mikkeller is arguably the most famous gypsy brewer in the craft beer world, and its owner Mikkel Borg Bjergso, just happens to be Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergso’s twin brother – and rival of sorts. Hence why Evil Twin is named “Evil Twin.” There is a pretty interesting story behind these two siblings, however I won’t get into that here. I’ll include a link to a fantastic NY times article at the end of this post, which outlines the interesting relationship of these two brothers.
Back to the beers. Yin & Yang are the only two beers (that I’m aware of) that have been brewed to be enjoyed on their own, but also brewed with the intention of being blended by the drinker. Yin is an Imperial Stout, and Yang is an Imperial IPA, and both beers rest at 10% ABV – big stuff here. When I got my hands on these, I was pretty excited about doing this “experiment.” As I was mentioning above, blending can be a pretty good learning experience for your palate as the final product can be very different – and in many cases better – than the sum if its parts. So, blending beers that are actually meant to be blended is a real treat (Not to mention having the excuse to drink two 10% beers in your yard in the middle of the afternoon).
Before beginning, I need to preface this by saying that these bottles aren’t fresh – this is important when drinking IPA’s, but not so much for Imperial Stouts. Because beers from outside of Quebec are simply not sold here, these beers had to be procured through private import, which has to go through months of red tape before they are allowed to be purchased. I’m hoping Yin is still solid, fingers crossed.
Yin & Yang Blend!
I poured out two thirds of each beer into separate glasses and then did a 50/50 blend of the remaining third of each bottle into its own glass (What?! Basically I just blended the beers in equal parts).
Yin (Imperial Stout) pours out like slick and sexy black oil, carrying a dense moka coloured head. The aroma gives off bundles of coffee and chocolate, mixed with some pretty apparent boosiness. There is a great almond cake, marzipan-like thing happening, mixed with some faint spices. This has a really nice nose. The body is thick and robust. It’s got a strong moka chocolate thing, with just the right amount of sweetness to balance the finish – which is pretty bitter. The flavours are rich and sexy, with toasted almonds, birthday cake, and loads of chocolatey goodness. It’s quite dry as well, with a finish that has a nice lingering bitterness.
Yang (Imperial IPA) pours out a nice bright orange colour, with a steady, one finger of bone white head. The aromas begin with lots of rich malts mixed with some resinous piney hops. It smells quite hot, with an established ethanol burn. It’s also super fruity, alongside lots of honey and some bready, cake-like elements (sadly, it smells past it’s prime). It’s quite boozy up front, with a substantial resinous bitter finish that dries out any residual sweetness really well. The hops have faded a lot, which likely removed some of its complexities, but I really like that it’s not cloyingly sweet in the least, given the 10% ABV and full body. There are tons of fruity flavours here, with strawberries, peaches, citrus fruit, and candied cherries leading the way. It’s all cut down by a solid bitter finish that lingers nicely.
The Blend! It’s colour remains pretty black, and unless you place it right next to Yin, you’d almost presume it was the same beer. There are some lighter brown highlights though, and the head now carries a softer beige color. It’s aroma is basically a mix of the two (who would have thought!), however a bit muted, with each component slightly cancelling the other one out. There is lots of dark roasted coffee, mixed with that aged IPA honey thing. The chocolate elements on the nose work quite nicely against the potent red fruit character of the IPA hops. Two words: Strawberry Espresso.
After the first sip it is apparent that this truly is a blend of the two. The chocolate notes get muted, and is replaced by a more fruity character, while still keeping a dark roasted presence. It’s a bit boozy, and that strawberry coffee chocolate thing is even more potent than on the nose. There is a HUGE resinous bitter hop finish that kills any and all sugars. It’s delicious.
This was certainly the most comprehensive assessment of a blend that I’ve performed. Usually it consists of the the ends of the bottle after having several beers already (slurring my speech while trying to convey my thought). I think Yin and Yang is a great concept, and although it’s a bit “gimmicky” in some capacity, it was a lot of fun to be able to drink something that was actually meant to be blended. I wish I had a fresher bottle of Yang for the experiment, as it would have lent some much needed brightness to the IPA. However, it was still solid, and certainly added some rich fruitiness to heavy chocolate and coffee complexities of Yin. So get out there and start blendin’! It’s easy, all you need is two beers!
If you are interested in learning more about these two brothers, check out the NY Times article here.
An article by Noah Forrest