While Mikkeller officially hails from Copenhagen, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, Mikkeller’s brewmaster, manager, et al., brews beer in a variety of locations throughout Europe and the United States. Mikkeller’s 2011 Festival Special Edition, AKA Stella 2, is brewed at De Proefbrouwerij, which lies in a small rural village just a few kilometers northeast of Ghent. The 2011 version of Festival is a sour, or wild ale, where Mikkeller deliberately introduces a Brettanomyces yeast to impart a rather funky, sour taste, which in most ales would be seen as an undesirable quality produced by an undesirable and pesky (and potentially costly) contaminant. For those of you familiar with different beer brands and styles, but less familiar with yeast strains, Brettanomyces, or “Brett” as it is sometimes called, is commonly found in Lambics, and features in other tasty treats like Orval, Liefmans Brown Ale, and Rodenbach Grand Cru. Aside from the rather unique qualities imparted by Brett, Mikkeller brews their 2011 Festival Special Edition by using cranberries and conditioning it in white-wine casks, all of which make the ale a very well-balanced and complex treat.
My particular encounter with the 2011 Festival Special Edition was shared among a group well-versed beer connoisseurs who convened at Henrik in Bergen, Norway. Indeed, going solo with Festival is probably not a rational option for most folks: At 600 Norwegian crowns (about 100 USD) per bottle, Festival 2011 is a lot of money for a peasant like myself to spend on a bottle of beer regardless of the beer’s quality and scarcity. And at 1.75 liters a bottle, Festival just the right volume for sharing among a group of six or so friends. Okay, enough with the context; what about the sample?
Let me start with a brief caveat: While I did not find Festival to be particularly appealing, largely because of my slight aversion to many white wines, the 2011 Festival Special Edition is a wild ale with outstanding qualities. The body appears as a hazy copper color with a medium-sized and resilient creamy white head. The lacing is a bit thin and runny, which seems to be the case with most wild ales I’ve tried. The aroma is very potent, but well-balanced and relatively complex: It’s largely a barnyard funk that’s reminiscent of, although strikingly different from, notes commonly found in lambics. The funk is accompanied by a distinct white-wine nose, and a subtle berry note lingers in the background – undoubtedly from the cranberries.
Festival’s aroma accurately predicts the “festival” of tastes to come. It starts out with a sweet berry complex, but quickly moves on to other business. Brett makes its appearance about halfway through the show by bringing in the signature sourness and barnyard funkiness that one would expect to find in any worthy wild ale. The climax, in my view, comes with the dry and potent white-wine taste that characterizes the finish. Again, the white wine was a bit too much for me, but that by no means undermines Festival’s superior qualities. The mouthfeel is medium and comes with a low to average amount of carbonation.
Overall, this is a complex and well-balanced wild ale. The various flavors cooperate with a reasonable amount of harmony, although a slightly weaker white wine reference would perhaps make it more palatable for some. Mikkeller’s 2011 Festival Special Edition certainly reflects Mikkel’s ceaseless capacity to make some of the most interesting, innovative, and complex brews around.
Mikkeller's Festival Special Edition 2011 on Ratebeer.com
Mikkeller's Festival Special Edition 2011 on Beer Advocate