Thursday, March 16, 2006

Great Beers of Belgium

Recently, at the Washington, D.C. pub - R.F.D. - I was fortunate to participate at a beer tasting and signing for Michael Jackson's new edition of Great Beers of Belgium.

Host Bob Tupper began with a gracious introduction of Michael Jackson that reaffirmed, in my mind, why Mr. Jackson has been so important to the 'cause' of good beer, if you will.

Jason Oliver of Gordon-Biersch (Washington, D.C.) brought his Keller Pils, an excellent example of such - slightly sweet with a bracing finish, golden with a slight veil owing to its unfiltered nature.

Oliver noted that casked beer - ale or lager - is simply beer that is put in a cask. It's how a brewer prepares the beer that makes it keller bier - or its ale cousin, cask-conditioned "real' ale.

Jackson noted that the kellerbier style is found in Germany only rarely, and then only in the four northern Bavarian counties called Franconia (a name derived from the name of its ancient conquerors, the Franks). By his reckoning, Franconian brewers are more experimentally adventurous than those in the rest of Germany.

Jackson was getting thirsty by this point, and noticing that the rest of us had received their samples, he bent close to the microphone and asked, "Am I going to get a beer?"

Brief notes on the beers and their presenters:

  • Brewers' Art (Baltimore, Maryland)
    Steve Frazier, Volker Stewart.
    Sublimation Ale Abbey Blonde
    Deep golden. Pale malt, Perle hops, EK Goldings hops. Frazier noted that he prefers hops with savory and floral aspects rather than the U.S grapefruity. "Exercise in restraint." Soft with hint of spice.

  • Capital City (Washington, D.C./Arlington, Virginia)
    Mike McCarthy, new Director of Operations.
    Best Bitter
    Simpsons pale ale malt and "Naked Oats" malt. First Gold hops - dwarf hop (tangeriney). Strong phenolics (anise).Orange hue, hazy

  • Gentry Hamp, a brewster and co-owner of a 3 month old brewery in Georgia - the Savannah Brewery. She "loves the aroma of yeast" and worked at Mordue near Newcastle. Jackson mentioned the unique Geordie accent of area. She uses Brewlab yeast. She brought a cask-conditioned version of her Best Bitter brewed from Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter (premium malt imported from Great Brtiain) and torrified wheat. She told us that the cask was not showing as well as she had wanted it to.

  • Old Dominion (Ashburn, Virginia)
    Chris Frasier.
    Imperial Pils Spring Brew

  • Clipper City Brewing (Baltimroe, Maryland)
    Thomas Cizauskas.
    Loose Cannon
    Firkin of "triple-hopped" IPA, also 'dry-hopped' in cask, with Centennial hops.

  • Sweetwater Brewing (Virginia)
    Dean Lake, assistant brewer Colin.
    Belgian Brown with ginger.

  • Southampton Publick House (New York)
    Charley, assistantt brewer. (Phil Markowski was not here; referred to as "the ghost.")

    Abbey Double
    good, full flavor but balanced; not overweening body.

  • Dogfish Head Brewing (Delaware)
    Andy Tveekrem.
    Burton Baton
    Homage to Ballantine's special employee-only beer - brewed big and aged in wood. Very alcoholic. Uses a derivative of Ringwood yeast. Cinnamon, graphite, and 'biting into a branch' oak

  • District Chophouse (Washington, D.C.)
    Barret Lauer.
    Bourbon Oatmeal Stout
    The grist comprised oats and a small measure of peated malt. Finished, aged 4-6 weeks in Virginia Gentleman oak casks.

  • DuClaw (Bel Air, Maryland)
    Bo Klemp.
    Naked Fish
    Chocolate Raspberry Stout.
    When hearing of the ingredients - hazelnut, praline, chocolate, coffee, and more, decadent to that effect. Jackson bleated: "I love it when you talk dirty."
  • UPDATE: Michael Jackson died on 30 August 2007, of complications associated with Parkinson's Disease. Michael Jackson (1942 - 2007) —aka "The Beer Hunter"— was an erudite Yorkshire newspaperman who promulgated, over several books and numerous essays and appearances, the idea of 'beer type' or 'beer style,' based on geography and tradition, and ingredient and process. A novel concept in 1977, 'beer style' is now well-established, if often twisted beyond Jackson's original premise. Mr. Jackson's writing career coincided with the re-birth of what we now call 'craft' beer. His cheer-leading and gentle prodding were important parts of the fragile industry's early and maturing growth. His imprimatur was often regarded as more valuable than a win at the Great American Beer Festival. In some aspects, historical research has moved past his work, but, in a time of "dope" and "awesome" and "lol," Mr. Jackson's graceful and "more-ish" wordsmithing remains refreshing. "But I digress."

  • More photos from the book signing: here.

  • For more from YFGF:

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