Friday, August 5, 2011

Beery Friday

Time for Mike the Gay Beer Guy's monthly post on — duh! — beer...

Hi Janet, Hi Rachel -

OK... I know this is a food blog. I’ve been pretty good so far with writing about food and adding comments about beer, don’t you think? Well, this month, I’m going to stray away from food and only talk about beer!

As you know, in my professional life, I am a musician. For the past seven summers, I have participated in the International Musical Arts Institute, a summer chamber music festival based in Fryeburg, ME. While I enjoy the musical experience greatly (I mean, seriously ... what could be better than playing string quartets with your friends), our festival is about 20 minutes away from a Belgian-style pub that has slowly become a regular staple in our repertoire of restaurants we visit.

Ebenezer’s Pub and Restaurant in Lovell, Maine is a diamond in the rough; as you drive through the seemingly endless woods and wilderness, Ebenezer’s emerges in all its greatness. So what exactly makes this deceivingly innocent watering hole so amazing? Thirty-five Belgian beers on tap and a cellar of over 700 bottles that have been given the right amount of TLC over the years. And I should clarify ... yes there are some American examples or Belgian-inspired beers on tap, but I have yet to find a better selection of real Belgian beers ANYWHERE!! (Can you tell how excited I am?!)

Do you remember my friend Tim, who I talked about so affectionately in my very first post? Well, he and I (and a few others) went out one evening on the rare night we did not have a concert.

We started with the Ichtegem Gran Cru from the Strubbe Brewery in Ichtegem, Belgium. This was clearly the favorite of the evening, with two regrets: 1) it was the first beer of the evening, and 2) we wish we had ordered another glass! Simply complex and amazing. The bouquet has raisiny and figgy scents, layered among the obvious malty and sour cherries. I would call it a Flemish Sour Ale; this area of Belgium is known for open and wild fermentation and you taste all the years behind the creation of this beer as you sip!

Next up was a Saxo Blonde Ale from the Caracole Brewery in Falmignoul, Belgium (the lighter beer picture at top). Nothing was wrong with this beer — I actually enjoyed it very much — but there just wasn’t anything special about it. The recipe is probably very simple: a combination of malted barley, sugar, noble hops, water, and yeast. The yeast profile was clearly something Belgian (anyone who has had any American Ale knows the direct opposite extreme), but nothing to write home about.

Third was Pannepot Wild. Although not the favorite of the evening, it was certainly the most complex. According to the quick research I’ve done, the brewers from De Struise in Oostvleteren, Belgium took their standard Pannepot, fermented it with a few strains of wild yeast and then aged it in some French red oak wine barrels. Talk about a collage of flavors! Everything you could expect: tasty dark malts with figs, raisins, cherries ... a little sour, some Brettanmyces flavors (the books like to describe the Brett. as like a horse blanket, but I prefer earthy), but also some bright citrusy flavors as well...very cool!

And last but not least — the Cuvee de Jacobins from Bockor N.V. in Bellegem-Kortrijk, Belgium. To come full circle, we finished the evening with another Flemish Sour Ale. While the first beer was very balanced, this was almost vinegary. To get technical, the more oxygen involved in the fermentation process, the more vinegar flavors you get. There’s nothing wrong with that; I’m just noting the differences between this and the Ichtegem.

I wish everyone could experience Ebenezer’s. But in the meantime if you can’t get to Maine, I encourage everyone out there to find something new and try it. Quite often, there are many Belgian beers at decent beer, wine, and liquor stores...Try something!


— Mike TGBG

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