Monday, April 11, 2005

Where were you?

Saturday night: You're at the San Francisco International Beer Festival. You've got your plastic 2 oz. specimen cup with another shot of Shiner Bock and a tremulous smile on your face. You're taking in the reverberant noise, scoping the tasting booths thinking, "Well, this is it, this is the life of a beersnob - or is it? Why do I feel like there's something... missing?"
Ohhhhhhh, it's Belgian. It's Belgian beer month. Motorhead is in the air, there's Deleriums everywhere, oh yes it's Belgian. It's Belgian beeeeeer month. At To-ro-na-do! [Sung to the tune of Copa Cabana - ed.]
That's right. While you were practically begging the volunteer at the Chimay table to pour you more than just a thimble of foam at Ft. Mason the other night, the rest of us found some slightly larger thimbles of some of the best beer in the world. In all fairness, while the SF Brewfest comes but once a year, Toronado's Belgian beer month lasts, well, a month. And it was apparent from the 9pm surge that a number of folks had bussed across town to make it a package event. I'm sorry, but while you were waiting in line for a few precious drops of Amstel Light, the rest of us were going deaf to some "international" beers on a whole different level.
The line-up for early April can be seen in these three shots, thanks to Des' steely camera hand. The 'tenders said that they're going through new items constantly, and to expect many of these to be off the boards shortly - only to be replaced by new, equally delicious surprises. So, where to start?
Well, your approach to the rather intimidating menu will depend on your tolerance for a) severely alcoholic beers, and b) weirdness. Don't worry too much about the latter: as the least traditional beer on the board is the Duchesse De Bourgogne, the uninitiated can order fearlessly while I sit in the corner crying for a glass of geuze or faro (alas, neither to be found, although some nice offerings from Brussels' Cantillon come close to sating my appetite for sour, wild beers). In fact, my only complaint about the current draught line-up is the dearth of session beers on the menu. And with a few of them ringing in at around 12% abv (that's three pints of Guinness, fellow brewfesters!) it pays to choose your libations carefully lest you want an abrupt end to your evening early or risk forgetting where you last saw your pants. So, some picks:
St. Bernardus Prior 8 & Abt 12: Phenomenal abbey-style beers that remind you that "Trappist" is just a designation, not a level of quality. We all agreed that the Chimays of the world could do best by paying attention to the amazing depth of flavor these two brews showed. Hopefully, they'll bring out the 6 and the tripel to make for one hell of a vertical tasting (followed by some horizontal napping).
Dupont Moinette: Probably the smoothest farmhouse ale we've ever tasted. Much less tart than its counterparts, with a warming glow that seems to radiate from the glass. Bitchin'.
Abbaye de Rocs Grand Cru: When a brewery like de Rocs calls a beer their "grand cru", you pay attention (same goes for when La Binchoise calls a beer their "special reserve"). These folks aren't kidding. Deep amber, sweetish, and packed with layers of flavor as it opens up and warms in your hand. Stellar.
Delerium Tremens: This one's on and off the board all year round, but there's no better time to have it than when the Belgian love is flowing. It was, after all, recently named the "best beer in the world". It faces some pretty stiff competition here, and you're likely to enjoy a spirited debate regarding that lofty title when you place your order at the bar.
A side note: Special thanks to the gentleman who, reviewing the bottled beer list while sitting next to me, decided that he needed to try the truly extraordinary 2002 Fantome Noël and offered to split it with me and the bartender. Outstanding!
Undoubtedly I'll have some more tasting notes as this blessed month continues, but until then - op uw gezondheid!


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