Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hooray Beer!

While the focus of this blog is obviously on wine, beer holds a special place in my heart as well.  I probably consume as much, or more, beer as I do wine.  I'm lucky to be surrounded by friends that are as passionate about beer as I am about wine and who have introduced me to many different styles.  While I know my way around the basics of beer, there's only so much room in my brain, and if I truly learned my way through beer it would likely be at the expense of something important, like Drive-By Truckers lyrics.

So, on to the agenda: I've had some noteworthy beers in the last few weeks, each of which is interesting for a different reason.

First up is one of my favorite beers in the world: Duchesse de Bourgogne.  Brewed by Brouwerij Verhaege in Belgium, this is a Flemish Red Ale.  What is most noteworthy about this beer is that it is perhaps the seminal example of a style of beer that is regaining popularity: the sour beer.  Sour beers get their sourness by intentionally allowing bacteria or yeast to enter the beer during the fermentation.  Brewing usually takes place in a sterile environment to avoid exactly this scenario.  One of the yeasts most often used to make sour beers is Brettanomyces, long an enemy in wine production where it is the cause of excessive "barnyard" aromas and flavors.

The beer itself is unique and food friendly.  It has a nose of balsamico, sour cherries, and and red wine vinegar.  On the palate the red wine vinegar notes persist, but are joined by hints of molasses and cranberries.  This is my favorite accompaniment to any barbecued meat, and is at its best with pulled pork.  I recommend seeking this beer out if only as a gateway drug to sour beers in general.

The second beer I want to share with you is Heady Topper, brewed by The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, VT.  This is an American Double India Pale Ale (DIPA).  IPAs originated in England and are characterized by intense citrus and fruit aromas as well as bitterness due to their use of large amounts of hops during brewing.  A Double IPA is more alcoholic and has more hops than a regular IPA.  This beer is packaged in a tall-boy can.  Cans have been increasing in popularity in recent years, and I, for one, am a huge supporter of this trend.  Not only are cans lighter, and therefore more environmentally friendly from a carbon footprint perspective, but they do not allow any light to enter the beer, thus preventing the phenomenon known as "skunking".

This beer is available only at The Alchemist's cannery in Waterbury.  They also owned a brewpub in the center of town but it was taken out by Hurricane Irene, so they've shifted 100% of their production to the cannery.  I picked some of this up over the Thanksgiving holidays and am really glad I was tipped off to this.  The beer shows intense tropical fruit and pine sap aromas when opened, and on the palate is intensely hoppy, but completely in balance.  The hops balance the sweetness and the bitterness is in check.  This is pretty close to perfection from an IPA perspective, and a beer that I'd be happy to drink anytime.  I'd pair this with seafood, such as mussels steamed in white wine, or something like fried chicken.

My favorite thing about this beer, though, might be located on the back of the can:

That's all for this installment of Beers Over Somerville.  Check back in a few days for a writeup of a beer tasting I recently did: a vertical of the 2009, 2010, and 2011 Trader Joe's Vintage ale.

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