Monday, December 9, 2019

Belgium Beer: Gueuze Lambics with the Gueuze Tilquin à l’ancienne

Belgium has provided the world with a plethora of historic beer styles most likely because the industry wasn't hampered by government degrees like the German reinheitsgebot. Their brewing history, starting with Trappist Monks, has supplied us with Dubbel, Tripel, Quad, Saison, Witbier, Flanders Red, Belgian Dark Strong Ale, Belgian Blond Ale, Belgian Pale Ale, Belgian Golden Strong Ale, Oud Bruin, and Lambic beer styles. American consumers most likely think that the last style must contain fruit, however, that is not necessarily so. In fact, Lambics can be further segmented into framboise (raspberries), kriek (cherries), straight lambics, and gueuze.

Gueuze beers are created when blenderies purchase freshly brewed worts from different producers, combine them into oak barrels, and allow them to naturally ferment. Then 1, 2 and 3 years old lambics are blended together and because the young lambics are not fully fermented, the blended beer contains fermentable sugars, which allow a second fermentation to occur in the bottle. The end result is the "Champagne of Belgium" which tends towards a yeasty slightly sour and barnyard profile.

One of the most prolific producers of this style is Gueuzerie Tilquin -- the only gueuze blendery in Wallonia. Their flagship beer is the Gueuze Tilquin à l’ancienne (7% abv) which starts as wort brewed by Boon, Lindemans, Girardin and Cantillon. The blended worts are then fermented and matured in oak barrels at the blendery. After blending the different years, the lambics are then allowed to re-ferment for six months in the bottle.

One local Northern Virginia restaurant, Rustico, carries this beer in different size bottles from 37.5cl ($45) to a magnum ($90).  The profile is very bready - almost grainy with a slightly sour core that stays through the tail. This finish also exhibits a dry tannic bitterness that should be alluring to wine drinkers.  Starting Friday, December 13 Rustico is hosting their annual 12 Days of Christmas Beers where all bottles are 50% off. Since Gueuze beers are priced on the high side, this is a great opportunity to sample these delicious beers. Cheers.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Why is Saint Nicholas the Patron Saint of Brewers?

St. Nicholas giving dowry gold
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
And that is not a rhetorical question, I honestly do not know why Saint Nicholas is considered one of the many patron saints of brewers? Today, December 6th is the feast day for this Greek saint who eventually morphed into the Nordic Christmas legend. Nicholas was born in the Greek city of Patara in the late 3rd century to wealthy parents and was raised in Myra - a port city now known as Demre, Turkey. Tragically his parents died during an epidemic and Nicholas was raised by his uncle - the Bishop of Patara.

The youngster vowed to distribute his inheritance through works of charity and his most well-known effort led directly to his reputation for giving gifts and indirectly to a possible claim for being the patron saint of brewers. Here is Catholic Online to describe the traditional story of the Gift of Gold for the Three Daughters.
An opportunity soon arose for St. Nicholas and his inheritance. A citizen of Patara had lost all his money, and needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty; so the wretched man was going to give them over to prostitution. Nicholas became informed of this, and thus took a bag of gold and threw it into an open window of the man's house in the night. Here was a dowry for the eldest girl and she was soon duly married. At intervals Nicholas did the same for the second and the third; at the last time, the father was on the watch, recognized his benefactor and overwhelmed Nicholas with his gratitude. It would appear that the three purses represented in pictures, came to be mistaken for the heads of three children and so they gave rise to the absurd story of the children, resuscitated by the saint, who had been killed by an innkeeper and pickled in a brine-tub.
Saint Nicholas
© Elisabeth Ivanovsky
Afterward, Nicholas would be ordained a priest and be elected Archbishop of Myra where he was tortured, exiled, and imprisoned by the Romain authorities. He was eventually freed with other Christians when Constantine converted to the faith and Nicholas served the remainder of his life as Archbishop of Myra. During that time so many miracles and good deeds were attributed to his intercession that he became known as the Wonderworker. After Nicholas passed on December 6, 343 he was buried in Myra's cathedral church where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. According to the St. Nicholas Center, "this liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas". For close to 750 years his remains served as a pilgrim destination. But, depending on your point of view, on May 9, 1087, his relics were stolen or rescued after Constantinople fell to the Saracens. The thieves or liberators were sailers from Bari. In that Italian city, Nicholas' relics were buried in a new church: the Basilica di San Nicola.

From Bari, both the factual and legendary stories surrounding Nicholas spread throughout Europe. The resuscitation myth led to paintings of Nicholas surrounded by children which in itself led people to conclude he was the patron saint of children. And combined with his gift-giving, St. Nicholas Day became an early advent fixture in European countries where behaved children's boots were filled with candy and toys. On the other hand, naughty children received a visit from the Krampus and a literal tongue lashing. In America, the Dutch Protestants of New Amsterdam turned the saint into the Nordic magician - Santa Claus.

Great story, but what about brewers? None of the classical authors associate Nicholas with beer or brewers. One modern discernment concludes that the images of Nicholas shown with a barrel led people to conclude that he was the patron saint of brewers. Flimsy. Maybe even too flimsy to raise a beer in his honor. Instead, sip a Turkish Arak, the distilled spirit made from grapes and aniseed or a glass of wine from Puglia perhaps the Gioia del Colle DOC. In any case, cheers to Saint Nicholas.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Follow the Old Valley Pike to Box Office Brewery

Looking for a Hallmark Christmas destination that has the one important feature that these movies lack? I'm referring to a craft beverage establishment like Strasburg Virginia's Box Office Brewery.

Craft beverage establishments have been repurposing abandoned buildings in small towns throughout the U.S... In the Shenandoah Valley, the owners of Box Office Brewing renovated the defunct Strasburg Theatre which was originally built in 1918 as the Strand Theatre. They reused both internal and local materials including a 1930s Lucky Strike bowling lane for the main bar.

As for beer, the Old Valley Pike American Pale Ale is solid and is named after US Route 11 that runs in front of the building. The road was previously the Old Valley Pike, a dirt road originally used by the local Indians then predominantly by troops during the Civil War. The German styled Prohibition Pilsner is also exactly what one would expect.

But if you are really lucky the Curtain Call Coconut Porter is still on tap. The name speaks for itself. Cheers.