Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The wedding tasting

The subject: my best friend's wedding this coming June, and his need to fill approximately 200 of his closest friends and family with freshly-brewed beer.
The job: to brew said beer, to the enjoyment and thirst-quenchingness of all, even those from Hawaii.
The test: eight good friends, eight different palates, 14 beers, but only four finalists.
The competition: We only served ales we thought could be successfully brewed within a few months with a minimum amount of lagering, and ones that come in below 6% alcohol by volume (with one notable exception). Sorry, no eisbock or Imperial pilsners!
Why you'd even care to read this: I imagine that a number of brewers out there are being asked this very minute if they could brew up some bride-ale for their summer wedding. We were quite surprised by which brews almost unanimously came out on top, so maybe it'll give other brewers some uncommon alternatives to consider.
Coming into the competition, I thought I had their choices pegged from the start - American hefeweizen, West Coast pale ale or IPA, Dusseldorf-style alt, and stout. Wrong on all counts, and not for lack of pouring high-quality examples. The judging panel thought the American hefe was nice, but lacking in character. While they enjoyed the West Coast pale and the IPA, it was the beer that followed them in the tasting order that got everyone excited. Lastly, while the alt and the stout got everyone's attention (the oatmeal stout garnering special praise) it was agreed that neither of them really fit the mood of an outdoor wedding on a hot summer day in the country.
The winners: After the tasting opener (De Koninck, a Belgian pale ale) received a lackluster response from the panel, the second beer on the roster immediately made the grade:
Ross Valley's Kölsch got everyone's attention with it's spicy, floral notes, slight acidic tang, and overall refreshing quality. While maybe not the perfect quaff for a winter's afternoon by the fire, it struck everyone as perfect for a warm evening of celebrating. It's a relic, actually, of a brewery that no longer exists - but as my first choice is off the tap lines until Valentine's Day, it was an acceptable substitution.
Pauläner Hefeweizen came on the heels of the American hefe, and nailed its bid for number two out of the four we'll be cloning come summertime. Like the kölsch, the combination of a light, easily drinkable body with a heady aroma (in this case, the banana and clove phenolic scents so prized by Bavarian yeast farmers) screamed "summer's day bevvy" to the group. The tinge of lemony tartness only added to the appeal.
Rogue American Amber Ale won the third spot on the roster by doing what Rogue does best. While both the West Coast pale ale and the IPA left the tasters wondering what level of hoppy goodness would be appropriate for the group, this amber ale left no question. It's a perfect, fresh, clean, aggressively bittered American ale that reminds you exactly where all this craft brewing madness spawned from in the first place. I think this one elicited the greatest single response from the group out of all the samples we tasted.
The last one is kind of a cheater. We went through the amber and brown ales, into porters and stouts, and the response was generally the same. Yum, but not for this event. Then came the dessert beer. Without question, the final wedding beer was chosen...
Schneider Weisse Aventinus. So maybe I cheated by serving it with pieces of Scharffen Berger semisweet chocolate. But that was precisely the point: when the time comes for the cake to come out, some kids will be looking for their champagne flute, but some of us are going to be looking for their boot. And sure, it comes in at 8%, but I think with a little bit of tinkering, we can knock a point or two off without sacrificing too much. And, although it's a dark, caramelly brew with a ton of rich flavor, it also has a clean, silky texture and a moderate enough body that doesn't seem to dominate the palate in the same way that stouts and porters can.
So there you have it. I'll probably post the results of the various batches, so check back in over the next couple of months to see if I'll be shelling out for that pony of Sierra Nevada after all...


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