It is this person’s opinion that the hallmark of humanity is the proper interaction of man with his environment. This doesn’t diminish the wonderment or power of Angel Falls or the Grand Canyon, but they don’t exist as a result of us. It would follow that the greatest food in the world is that which allows the flavors of the world best disclose themselves. Sometimes a juicy peach plucked right from the tree is a paradigm. Other times, we have to intervene and it is our handiwork that best discloses the latent potential of the raw ingredients. Malt, hops and yeast. In their raw state, all of the ingredients, are actually quite repellent. But with patience, artisanship and time, the ingredients Voltron themselves into an elixir called beer. And while the ingredients, in the broad sense, stay the same, subtle changes in temperature, varietal and storage lead to vast differences in result. On Tuesday, June 12, 2007, the panoply of flavors coaxable from malt, yeast and hops were fully showcased.
If one assumed that on an evening called “Bloggers and Beer” one would find bloggers and beer, then one would be right. But I wasn’t expecting the two phenomena to be so partitioned. Most of the bloggers seemed to be aware of each other’s work. The (marginally lit) room at the Library Bar downtown was abuzz with conviviality. The bloggers seemed relatively unified in another fact: no one that I had the chance to speak to knew much about beer. And so, before detailing any of the beers that were actually served, special praise is due to the originator and organizer of the event, self-professed BeerChick, Christina Perozzi. There are probably dozens of people around this city that are at least as knowledgeable and excited about beer but there is no one else who has the ability, utilizing only charisma and erudition, to make you more knowledgeable and excited about beer.
Like any successful multicourse endeavor, the beers were selected and presented in a particular order. When you walked into the bar, you were handed a set of 8 "library check-out" cards – a little slice of adorable – and told to enjoy the beers in the order laid out on the cards. Each card told you the name of the beer, its style, some tasting notes and had room for notes of your own. So as not to occlude your palate, the beers were presented generally in order – starting from lighter and simpler and progressing towards the heavier and more complex. (I say “generally” because I don’t wish to imply that a light beer doesn’t possess complexity, but in terms of complexity, lighter beers tend to emphasize grassy undertones whereas darker beers have fruity/spicy undertones.)
The first beer of the flight was the Craftsman 1903 lager. Without getting overly detailed, there are two types of beers, ales and lagers. The manufacturing process is quite different but the main divergence is that lagers are made at cooler temperatures and ales are made at warmer temperatures. The 1903 was the only lager of the evening. It was a good place to start and many of the people I spoke to declared it their favorite beer of the evening. I sort of get its charms – mild and smooth with some hints of straw and walnuts, but frankly I think the best description of the beer is the “rich man’s Budweiser.”
Along with presenting different styles of beer, Christina was interested in showcasing beers from different areas of the world. Two of the beers, the Blanche de Chambly and the Maudite are Belgian-style ales brewed in Canada. The Blanche de Chambly is a white ale and the Maudite is a strong red ale. Both of them wear their heritage on their sleeves – clearly nodding to the Belgian ales they are modeled on. The Blanche de Chambly was particularly well received by many of the bloggers precisely because it is deep yet approachable. On the surface, it bears some resemblances to Champagne because of the small bubbles and the fruity aroma. When the beer warms slightly its fruitiness becomes more prominent and some of the sourness (presumably from the yeast) dissipates.
The most divisive beer of the night was certainly the Saison Dupont. This was one of two Belgian ales served (as opposed to ales brewed elsewhere in the style of a Belgian beer) and its merits seemed not to disclose themselves to this audience. Most of the people that I talked to felt that the Saison was sour and acidic. Prior to that night, I had actually recommended that particular beer to friends of mine that claim they only like wine. After this evening though, my recommendation was probably mistaken. Maybe my friends were humoring me but the folks that I talked to were definitely mixed. Saisons are an idiosyncratic beer. They are light, yet higher in alcohol than one might expect (although they were traditionally brewed to be quite low in alcoholic content). And there is a distinctive sweetness, like fresh hay, underneath the lemon and pepper. Saison Dupont is a great example of Christina’s willingness to expand the horizons of the attendees. Most people have never tasted a beer of this style and whether one enjoys it or not, they’re at least apt to toast to its uniqueness.
After sampling an excellent porter (Black Butte Porter) and a less than excellent one (Road Dog Scottish Porter) we arrived at the Westmalle Tripel. I don’t think that anyone could deny that this particular beer had the most going on. Now, you may not like what it has going on, but it is a BIG beer. It may not look like much – pale, straw translucence and less carbonation than the Saison – but when brought to your nose, or rather, a foot from your nose, you know you’re in for something different. Christina educated me on the fact that “triple” is actually a name for a style of beer, not (as I had thought) a description of how many times it was fermented. She pointed out that the two phenomena usually dovetail but it isn’t necessarily the case – often one encounters a “triple” that hasn’t been fermented three times. That all said, the Westmalle Tripel is one of the most classic and emblematic of the style.
While high in alcohol, the beer is never overpowering or “spirit-y”. Instead, it combines some of the best aspects of the lighter and darker beers we had during the course of the evening. Eschewing the maltier notes of the previous two porters (because most of the sugar has been turned into alcohol), the Westmalle instead floats on a balance of the two pervasive characteristics of light lagers and dark ales. The straw and pine of some of the lighter examples of the evening are present (a la the Craftsman 1903 and Saison Dupont), as are the headier, spicier smells of the heavier Inversion IPA and Maudite. A fitting culmination of the flavors of the evening where there could have been a de-escalation. Between the camaraderie shared among the bloggers and the celebration of one of our oldest crafts, this evening aptly showed that the attentive interaction of different ingredients results in something worth talking about.