Gigantic Brewing has one of the more interesting approaches to beer in America. Their regular line of year-round beer consists of exactly one brand: IPA. Everything else they make appears just once (almost all of them) or annually (Massive! is the only example I can recall of a recurring beer.) They number each new release and contract with a well-known artist to create the label. Sometimes they even have an associated musical tie-in. This would seem to violate all the rules of branding and brand-building I know: there’s no consistency across either beers or labels, and each bottle is a crapshoot for their customers. If one of these beers becomes a treasured fan favorite, too bad: you’ll never get to taste it again. And yet as far as I can tell the brewery is flourishing. Brewers/owners Van Havig and Ben Love are doing so well that half the time they seem to be in Tokyo or Turin promoting their latest project.
I have loved three or four of the 39 editions of this experiment and probably disliked twice that number. (The rest I enjoyed in varying degrees.) This means Gigantic is the perfect brewery for the Beer Sherpa: when a good one comes along, it’s almost mandatory that I point it out.
Kiss the Goat is to this point my favorite of all the Gigantic beers. It tickles my fancy on absolutely every level. The beer itself is a titan of flavor and balance. I am often accused of favoring low-abv beers, but this is not entirely correct. I often dislike bigger beers because breweries sometimes feel that lots of booze demands florid flavors and creative indiscipline. What I really like are strong beers that keep it together and manage to lure me in for an ill-advised session with their big, bad selves. Kiss the Goat is a perfect example. Havig, who knows I have a thing for Czech beers, says it reminds him of a cerne (a Czech black lager). The brewery called it a “black doppelbock,” which is a pretty good description, too. It has a spine of roastiness, but lobes of sultry malting and a gentle layer of alcohol. Because of its strength, there’s a lot of all of this, but the brewers have exercised restraint, so it tastes full rather than intense and encourages you to drink the entire 22-ounce bottle. (It’s 8%, just borderline strong, which means you accept the encouragement.)
But a new Gigantic beer is a multimedia release, too, and the label earns this special Sherpa attention as one of the most entertaining in recent memory. The artwork is by Portlander Jon MacNair and features a TTB-defying scene of dark happenings. It recalls the 1980s basements of my teenage youth. The soundtrack to those years was often the kind of silly metal that scared Tipper Gore–and which sounded a lot like the accompanying 7″ single Sons of Huns created specially for this beer. (You might think Clyfford Still, who is quoted on the label praising the color black, is connected somehow to Aleister Crowley, but in fact he’s an American abstract expressionist.) Pure sensory pleasure, from eye to ear to tongue, this fine beer supplies in spades.
You definitely want to track down a Kiss the Goat or three. This is one of the Gigantic beers we’ll miss when it’s gone.
“Beer Sherpa Recommends” is an irregular feature. In this fallen world, when the number of beers outnumber your woeful stomach capacity by several orders of magnitude, you risk exposing yourself to substandard beer. Worse, you risk selecting substandard beer when there are tasty alternatives at hand. In this terrible jungle of overabundance, wouldn’t it be nice to have a neon sign pointing to the few beers among the crowd that really stand out? A beer sherpa, if you will, to guide you to the beery mountaintop. I don’t profess to drink all the beers out there, but from time to time I stumble across a winner and when I do, I’ll pass it along to you.