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Welcome back to Beer of the Week -- this edition, we'll take a beer from Oregon-based Rogue Brewery: Morimoto Signature Hazelnut Brown Ale. In 2003, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto partnered with Rogue to create a series of Signature Ales, including Imperial Pilsner, Black Obi, and Soba Ale, which I talked about to some extent when I reviewed the Chef's Boca Raton restaurant a few months back. Those three are unique additions to Rogue's expansive catalog, the later two being brewed with roasted soba (not the noodle but the buckwheat from which it is made). But the Hazelnut Brown Ale is a slightly different story. It's widely believed that the beer is basically a repackaging of Rogue's Hazelnut Brown Nectar (in fact, there is no listing on Rogue's site for the Morimoto version of this beer). But does that mean Rogue slipped us a mickey on this one? Read on to find out.
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Morimoto Hazelnut is a deep, rich brown ale, sitting somewhere between a pale ale and a porter in terms of darkness (this particular beer edges closer to the sweet, smooth nature of a porter). It's made with a blend of European malts, including chocolate malt, giving it that nutty, coffee-like flavor and a distinct sweetness. It pours thick and slightly syrupy, with light carbonation and a thin head that dissipates quickly. Hazelnuts completely dominate the aroma -- it's almost as strong as popping open a bag of hazelnut coffee beans and taking a big whiff. You also get a lot of caramel in each sip, and there's a slight bitterness to the aftertaste that isn't necessarily hoppy -- in fact, this beer has very little hop flavor.
I enjoyed a glass of Hazelnut Brown with some quick vegetable stir fry the lady and I made. I wouldn't say it was the best combination, since it overwhelmed the food a bit (something heartier would've been better, perhaps some pork.) The stir fry also brought out something vegetal in the beer -- coupled with the broccoli we had, that slightly bitter aftertaste started reminding me of broccoli rabe. I had an idea while drinking it that Morimoto Hazelnut would be good to cook with -- maybe lending some oomph to braised short ribs. This is, after all, one of the few beers I'd say could cut that amount of fat and actually stand up to such a strong, beefy flavor.
Of all the Morimoto Signature Beers I've tried, this one left me the most disappointed. It's not a bad brown ale at all. It's just sort of average. The hazelnut flavor is nice if that's what you're looking for, but if I were going to drink something this sweet, I'd probably opt for a Baltic porter, which has the ABV kick to match. And Morimoto's other brews -- specifically the Soba ones -- are so unique in flavor, this sort of standard brown ale (which clearly was at least based off the Hazelnut Nectar) is a bit underwhelming. Still, if you're a big fan of brown ale and you're tired of Newcastle, or if you're not quite ready to take that leap to a more tar-colored beer, give Morimoto's version a go.
Morimoto Hazelnut (33 IBU, 6.8% ABV) is available in 750ml bottles at Case and Keg Beer World in Boca Raton.