Thursday, November 29, 2007

Beer Tasting

Beer is a two-syllable word. Or so the Australians would have us think.

This evening I attended a beer tasting benefit for the local humane society. The owner of a local liquor business and his brother, the owner of a local large hotel franchise, hosted it. Our host and beer educator was from Merchant Du Vin, the sole importer of many craft European beers sold in the U.S. Pictured below is the spread, which was split among the four of us at the table. Alas, we left a fair bit of it on the table - given enough time I might have been able to drink my 1/4 share, but the tables were set for 8, so it would have been quite the feat even to do that much. It didn't help that the wait staff kept bringing out food to go with the beer. My stomach groaned even as I gave it more excellent stuff.

Our host was exceedingly knowledgeable. Apparently all he and his colleagues do, when not selling their wares to local retailers, is go from country to country and sample the best stuff around. Tough gig. He held forth for over two hours about the different kinds of beers, anecdotes about their development, and why European beer is so much different than American.

The lineup for the evening was:
Ayinger Brau-Weisse, and outstanding wheat beer that would have been even better in hot weather. Brewer's page here, for those that speak German.

Samuel Smith's Organic Lager, India Pale Ale, and Imperial Stout. The IPA was refreshing - it didn't knock you over the head with the hops, and instead was just downright pleasant. As our host put it to us, "Guinness is on the light end of stouts. This is on the heavy end." That should put it in perspective - it was like pouring chocolate.

Zatec, a Czech "Brilliant Lager." It is better to call it a pilsner (a subset of lagers), but the EU forbids any beer not brewed in Pilsn from carrying the name "Pilsner."

Orval Trappist Ale. Apparently, trappist ales are a very specific class of beer. To officially be a trappist, it has to be brewed by monks, in the monastery, to cover the monastery's costs, and 65% of the profit must go to charity. For some trappist beers, they meet their operating and charity quota mid-year, and just go out of stock until the next. This one was unbelievably aromatic in taste and bouquet, floral, with a very persistent head.

Westmalle Trappist Dubbel - this was in a 750-mL bottle, like wine. At 8% alcohol and very smooth, it is meant to be sipped like wine. As it turns out, our table had most of a full bottle leftover, which I was allowed to cork and take with me.

Green's Endeavor Gluten Free Dubbel Ale. This was of the same style as the Westmalle, but brewed with rice instead of malt, and some other changes, so that it contains no gluten, and is thus accessible to drinkers suffering from celiac's disease.

Traquair Jacobite Ale. The Traquair House is, apparently, the oldest habitation in Scotland, and belongs to the Stuarts. When the Stuarts fell, they shuttered the house until they reclaimed the throne. That didn't go so well for them. In the 60's, thought, the patriarch reopened the house and turned it into a brewery. This thick dark Scotch Ale is aged 10 years in oak casks and is to ordinary beer what cream sherry is to chardonnay.

Lindemans Peche and Framboise Lambics. These two are becoming trendy these days. Very sweet, low in alcohol, low in fizz, and very smooth, they are able to take the place of champagne in various functions. The host described women requesting cases or kegs of this stuff for their bachelorette parties. The Peche tasted just like peaches, and the Framboise like very flavorful raspberries.

All in all, I'd say I downed only a bit more than two pints' worth. Still, it was an awful lot to take in. Good thing I took notes.

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