You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Weekend of Exotic Beer

Once a year, I retire to a remote location with a group of friends to tell lies and behave badly. I abandon vegetarianism and drink more than I ought. This year's edition took place in Central Oregon (review of Three Creeks Brewing forthcoming), with the surprise attendance of a crop of lovely foreign beers brought secretly by a friend. A partial list, by memory: Hitachino Nest Red Rice and White, Grain D'orge Belzebuth, Steenberge Gulden Draak, (De Proef) Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale, Corsendonk Pale Abbey, St. Sebastian Dark, Castelain St. Amand, Huyge Delirium Tremens and Nocturnum, O'Hanlon's Thomas Hardy, and Samiclaus. What's really remarkable is that the friend who delivered this bounty isn't even a beer drinker: he picked them up at a beer store in California on the advice of the salesperson. Not bad.

We didn't drink all of these, and some are old standards. Some, like the Corsendonk, is one of those famous beers I've never tried (for shame!). But there were also some discoveries, and I'd like to share three. Consider these strongly recommended.

Castelain St. Amand
An authentic French Biere de Garde is a rare bird. Of the several companies making versions, I have been thrilled by few (Jenlain in particular leaves me cold). I find that most of the examples I've tried--including those brewed by US breweries--tend toward heavy sweetness. Castelain's is exquisite. Just 6% (the low end for style), it nevertheless tastes drier and more substantial, like a more fortified ale. It was a friend who identified the key element of the beer when he asked if it was a lager. Not exactly. It is an ale, but it's cold-aged. The result is a silky, dry beer with lovely warm undertones. Wonderfully drinkable.

Hitachino Nest White
Although I've tried a number of beers from this brewery, I've somehow missed the White. A mistake. While some of their other experimental beers achieve a quality one might dub "interesting," White is flat-out tasty. It takes as its inspiration Belgian wit (wheat, coriander, orange peel), but departs pretty sharply from the originals. The nose is almost exactly like lemon meringue pie. Like the nose, the beer is a balancing act between sour and sweet--though nothing like actual lemon meringue pie. It finishes crisply, with a lip-smacking flourish. To achieve this, the brewery adds orange juice and nutmeg. Wait for a hot day and track down a bottle.

Reinaert Flemish Wild Ale
I regret to say that I didn't take notes on this beer, from De Proef. Brettanomyces can do a lot of things--make a beer funky, sour, or bone dry. In this case, it's the latter, which is what I mainly recall. Despite this, it was on the straightforward side of wild--not too funky or unapproachable. An inverse of the Castelain, it is light and suggestive of modest alcohol. Resist the urge to quaff it like a session, as I did. You'll come back to the bottle and discover it's 9%. In my case, too late. Ah, but my punishment wasn't too objectionable.

Of course, there were other great beers in that batch, including world standards. You may not have tried all of these three, though, and I hope you will. Big fun.


  1. That list gives me goosebumps… I don't think I would've left the house all weekend if I had such sustenance ready at hand.

    Instead, I ventured out to Higgens for my mother and step-father's birthday(s), and while half the beers on tap had blown, I was fortunate that the Klokke Roeland had not… *sighs with delight*

    While I'm just a simple beer geek - far removed from the erudite "afficionado" - and as such lack the verbiage to properly describe such a beer, allow me to put it in layman's terms: take everything you love about Belgians and crank it to 11… %, that is. I didn't know this going in - it was exceedingly easy to drink - but I could tell by the nose that "strong Belgian" might be an understatement.

    The closest flavor (and appearance) I could equate to this would be somewhere between a dubbel and a tripel - somewhat rich like a dubbel (not as dark), but effortlessly smooth like a tripel. I realize not every tripel is "effortlessly smooth," and not everyone may consider an "effortlessly smooth" tripel to be a good thing or even all that common, but all of my favorite tripels trend that way (Cascade's Tempter Tripel being a prime example of that, Allagash's Tripel bring a prime example of not that). If it wasn't so strong (and I didn't have to drive home), I would've easily gone for another (even at $8.50 for what might have been a 25cl pour).

    Of course, it was just as well the kind of beer I could sit there for hours and smell… and I practically did, as I made the glass last the entire meal. The nose really is one of the most appealing aspects of the beer, and that also trends toward my favorites. It has inspired me to seek out the bottle and invest in a supply… I must thank Higgens for (once again) a fantastic meal paired with a spectacular beer.

    Oh, and just to get the Doc's goat… exquisite, sumptuous and delectable. :-P I could use words like "cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, banana, esters, phenols, yeast," etc.… but I wouldn't really have a clue which of those would be accurate in describing this beer. I'll let those more knowledgable (and/or with sufficient ego) dictate to me what it tastes like while I just sit back and enjoy it.


  2. …and only now, an hour removed from the post, do I now see how mispelled Higgins is… where was my head? Too preoccupied with Monty McCutchen, probably… *sharpens the axe*


  3. I must say Three Creeks is a good brewery. We went over to LaPine during spring break and stopped there for lunch. Stonefly is one awesome beer. Anvil Amber wasn't bad either. In fact I think I wrote a crappy review on the that didn't come close to being worthy :P