Kelsmas | 1840 Brewing
I love when breweries take chances and do weird things. Not necessarily putting weird or an excessive amount of things into the mash tun, but trying different things with traditional styles. My eyes light up and it makes me want to try it. Breweries like Off Color do this exceedingly well. 1840 Brewing in Milwaukee does this on occasion and one such beer is Kelsmas.
Brewed in honor of 1840 Brewing’s owner Kyle Vetter’s sister Kelsey who was born on Christmas, Kelsmas features a Berliner Weisse base with grape must. Specifically 2019 Lodi Old Vine grape must. OK, cool, a Berliner with wine-like characteristics. I can handle that. 1840 Brewing then conditioned it on cacao nibs and vanilla beans. Now that’s something that’ll catch my eye. Also, it’s 9% ABV, so this one’s an Imperial Berliner Weisse!
Kelsmas pours a light red or pink color. It kind of looks like watermelon juice to me or possibly a darker rosé. A copious three fingers of head forms that slowly reduces to a thin layer. Given my perception of Kelsmas, of course the first thing I smell is watermelon. Digging deeper and telling my brain to shut up reveals a hint of lemon tartness coming off the base Berliner Weisse. Grape juice or a wine becomes the dominant aroma after repeated sniffs. A booze or alcohol note complements everything.
Notice what I didn’t list. Despite being listed on the bottle, I perceived none of either the cacao nibs or vanilla. Possibly due to label pressure, there may have been some vanilla notes present, but nothing overpoweringly so. (Note: As I was researching the beer, I found out it was released in late December around Christmas. I received it from a friend in June and drank it shortly thereafter.)
Enough sniffing! Kelsmas hits dry and tart – actually very dry and very tart. It reminds me of a SweetTart. The most surprising thing comes in the boozy nature of the beer. The grape must (I’m assuming) adds some booze to the proceedings. It also adds a fair amount of wine-like characteristics, most notably the bone-dry finish. This is a beer that really blurs the line between wine and beer. It actually veers more towards wine.
The high carbonation is similar to wine, with only the grapes staying behind and coating the tongue. But still no sign of the cacao nibs or vanilla. So what’s left are some contradictions. The beer is light, but due to the grape must it drinks really heavy. Nothing wrong with the beer at all; it’s just heavy.
Kelsmas definitely goes down as a one pour only beer for me. It’s too boozy and heavy on the stomach to warrant anything more. We can table the label all we want, but if someone serves me a Berliner Weisse and it comes out this boozy and heavy, I wouldn’t be happy (although the 9% ABV should be a tip-off).
The SweetTart notes and the dry finish really pop, however. I really wish some of the cacao nibs or vanilla showed up in either the aroma or taste because it really could’ve made a difference in this beer. As it stands, this is definitely a winter beer that I’d be fine having one pour of. Huh – maybe a new style, the Winter Berliner?