Summer session time: New Belgium's Rolle Bolle

Posted by Philip Montoro on Mon, Jul 8, 2013 at 2:00 PM

These bottles of Rolle Bolle are almost as sweaty as I am.
  • These bottles of Rolle Bolle are almost as sweaty as I am.
New Belgium Brewing's new summer seasonal, Rolle Bolle, has been around since April (and will continue shipping through September), but this past weekend was the first time it got hot enough for me to think, "You know, I could really use an unassertive, sessionable beer that doesn't taste like somebody wrung it out of a stale hamburger bun." I gave Rolle Bolle a shot, because it's 5.2 percent alcohol and costs ten bucks a six-pack.

Rolle Bolle is named after a yard game of Belgian origin—a form of lawn bowling—that peaked in popularity in Chicago during the two decades after World War II. Delightfully, it rhymes not with "roll bowl" but with "roly-poly."

"Brewed with monk fruit and soursop," says the brewery, "this beer pours a brilliant blonde, with a fluffy, white head. Earthy and tropical tones carry the aroma and the taste follows accordingly. Rolle Bolle’s hint of tartness is backed with the citrus bite of Cascade and Centennial hops. Oats add some creaminess to the mouthfeel, and it finishes dry and clean."

I've seen Rolle Bolle categorized as a Belgian pale or a Belgian ale, I suppose due to its color and the use of Belgian yeast. But online reviewers seem unsure what to make of it, in large part because of the monk fruit and soursop.

Dedicated amateurs at RateBeer describe its smell as "like honeysuckle and corn" or "yeasty, sweet, and chlorophyll rich"; a third comments on its "Very strange sour aroma. Tires, wet socks and flowers." At Beer Advocate a particularly wordy reviewer mentions "light white wine with dried pineapple and lemon, other unnameable bright fruit-like esters, and a touch of soapiness." Another simply says, "Biscuits and strange fruits."

For 16 years I've lived within a few blocks of Argyle Street and its many Asian groceries, and in that time I've sampled more than my share of strange fruits. So I might be better qualified to identify the flavors in Rolle Bolle, if not to describe them.

It's a straw-colored ale, with a frothy, pillowy, almost meringuelike head that looks like it ought to persist a bit longer than it does. (On a related note, aren't you glad that beer reviewers say "straw colored" instead of "looks like a urine sample"?)

Rolle Bolle has a bright but gentle aroma. It's distinctly fruity, but no hops leap out at me—the fruitiness seems to come from elsewhere. I get apricot and banana (maybe from the yeast), honeysuckle, crackerlike pale malt, green grape (I can see the "white wine" thing), and, well, soursop. I've eaten it fresh, but because it's hardly cheap and doesn't keep well, I've tried it more often pureed in canned drinks or smoothies. Also called guanabana or custard apple (and related to the chirimoya), it's sour and creamy, with flavors of pineapple, coconut, banana, and underripe strawberry. (Make sure not to crack its seeds with your teeth, though—not only do they taste nasty on the inside, they contain a neurotoxin.)

Maybe I was trying a little too hard to crop out the clutter in my living room this time.
  • Maybe I was trying a little too hard to crop out the clutter in my living room this time.

I've also had monk fruit, sometimes called luo han kuo (a corruption of its Chinese name), but only powdered and dried in bouillon-like cubes—it's rarely eaten fresh, even in countries where it's grown. Following the instructions on the package, I dissolved the cubes in hot water to make an intensely sweet and allegedly medicinal molasses-colored infusion with an odd mouth-drying effect.

The monk fruit comes forward only in the flavor of Rolle Bolle, where its datelike sweetness and apple-skin astringency complement the hops' subtle bitterness as well as the mild tartness and floral fruitiness of the soursop. On the tongue the beer is clean and light, but silkiness from the oats makes it feel more creamy than crisp; the grain is also much more prominent in the taste than in the smell, adding toasty biscuit and brown-sugar oatmeal. The soursop returns aggressively in the finish, adding green, outdoorsy flavors like honeydew melon and fresh-cut grass—Rolle Bolle is a "lawnmower beer" in an unusually literal way.

I've got to give New Belgium credit for assuming that America's drinkers were itching to hang out in their backyards in the sun and drink an ale brewed with obscure fruits from South America and Asia. I'm certainly entertained by it, but the consensus seems to be less enthusiastic—Rolle Bolle's aggregate rating at Beer Advocate is 78 ("okay"), and at RateBeer it's a middling 60. (Both sites use 100-point scales.)

Rolle Bolle isn't very metal, and neither is the song I'll leave you with: "Summertime Rolls," from the 1988 Jane's Addiction classic Nothing's Shocking. I listened to the shit out of that album in 11th grade.

I was going to add "Black Hole of Summer," from Tombs' 2011 album Path of Totality, but it just didn't feel right.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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