When my wife and I were planning a weekend getaway for our anniversary two years ago, my desired destinations just happened to coincide with the list of New England's best beer towns. By pure coincidence, and in no way related to a glut of breweries in the city and rave reviews from my friends on local beer bars, Portland, Maine was high on the list. Bless her heart, my wife and I were off to Vacationland.
I'd gone to college some 45 minutes from Portland, so the first stop was obvious. A short trek from the Old Port to an industrial park brought us to Allagash Brewing. Their Allagash White is my wife's favorite beer (bonus points for me -- or maybe her), a smooth, spicy wheat beer that gives similar beers brewed near Brussels a run for their money. We donned safety goggles, took the tour, and brought home some samples.
I've been saving a bottle of one of those samples for two years in my makeshift beer cellar (read: lower kitchen drawer). It took all the willpower I don't have not to pop the cork on this one sooner.
Odyssey is a limited-release Allagash offering that, despite my storied Maine beer experience, I had not tried. It's a dark wheat beer aged for 10 months in oak barrels. In theory, two years of further bottle conditioning would smooth this beer out and reveal even more complexity.
Odyssey pours Maine-winter black with very little head. The beer is thin. You can peer down from the top and see the bottom of the glass through the murk. I smell coffee, chocolate, toffee, and musty oak. Patience is good.
The first sip is unspeakably smooth. Aspects of a traditional Belgian quad play tug-of-rope with those of a barrel-aged beer: figs, dark fruits and chocolate are balanced by vanilla and charred oak. Nothing is too harsh, nor does any flavor underwhelm. The mouthfeel is light enough and the flavors smooth enough that it's easy to get this beer down despite the 10.4 percent ABV.
I drink this beer with a sense of desperation. It is, quite simply, one of the best beers I've ever had. Young and punch-drunk on love, I'm not sure the exact price we paid for a bottle of Odyssey, but my best memory suggests a price between $15 and $20. That's not inexpensive, but this beer still provides an excellent value. If you're willing to wait -- and goodness, it's difficult -- picking up rare bottles along your beer journey really can be prudent in the end.