Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Beer for Wine Lovers

Advance warning: This post is pretty unpolished and was born out of a casual email to a friend last night. I plan to update it over time (and will need to, because some of these beers are temporary and I'd like to keep it topical), and I'm rushing to Ohio in 24 hours, so this is the amount of polish I've been able to put on it so far.

My friend and fellow beer blogger Jeff forwarded me an email last night asking for beer recommendations for wine people. I happen to know a lot of wine lovers, and so does Jeff, and their beer tastes are so varied that this is a particularly stumping question. I also think it's a really great question - some people like pairing food, I like pairing wine and beer. Jeff gave some suggestions and copied me in on the email, and I hit the ground running. I am by no means an expert, so take these with a grain of salt and please feel free to disagree in the comments. Also, the brand suggestions are specific to San Francisco distribution, but many of these beers can be snagged nationwide.

My very first suggestion for a hardcore wine drinker is this year's Stone Vertical Epic (10.10.10). The whole concept of these beers is that they should be aged for a full vertical drinking (or, drinking every year's in succession to see how they compare to one another as they've aged), but I think it's particularly lovely right now. At approximately $6 for a 22 oz. bottle, you can afford to buy a few to try and buy a few to stash away, if that's your thing. Muscat, sauvignon blanc and gewurztraminer grapes are added in secondary fermentation to a beer that starts off as a Belgian strong brewed with pale malt. Wine drinkers will most likely pick up on this. It's simultaneously a little challenging and terribly drinkable and hits the top of my suggestions list for anyone.

I recommend nearly everything from The Bruery. Orchard White may be the greatest for non-beer drinkers - it's carbonated, it's light, it's sweet without being syrupy. I have never poured it for someone and had them dislike it - caveat here being that it may be hard to get ahold of this time of year. (It's year-round, but they make so many incredible beers that your local stores may pass it over in colder weather.) Jeff's suggestion in a similar category is the Allagash White, which I would second. The Allagash is a little too full in the mouth for me, but I know a ton of people like it. The Bruery also makes a couple of saisons, and as always, I think the Odonata Saison is one of the greatest beers available in Northern California. (North Coast's Le Merle is also not a bad choice.) It would go incredibly well with Christmassy food. Saison Dupont is lighter and more dry than your American saisons and could resonate with wine drinkers used to lighter, less sweet wines. Brasserie Dupont also makes a seasonal beer, Avec Les Bons Voeux. If you can find it, it's fantastic. The 2009 is good; I think I actually prefer the 2010.

A big question is "What kind of wine do they prefer", but on the off chance that you don't know or that they're like me and the very irritating answer is "all of it", let's keep going.

Orval is by and large one of the greatest beers ever. It is not cheap, it is not always easy to find. It is lovely. A very light Belgian with brett added - not enough brett to pucker your mouth by any means, but the right amount to dry out the sweetness of the yeast. Stunning, and my regular replacement in champagne-worthy settings. (At a fraction of the cost, despite me claiming it's expensive.) Warning - the brett that exists in this beer, and any brett-based beers that I may mention, is that brett in wine is a VERY BAD THING. So if you bring something sour or bretty, please god mention that in beer, brett can be a really great thing. (I'm big into stories when I bring a new beer somewhere, so if you bring Orval, you should read Jesse's really great writeup at Beer & Nosh.)

A gueuze - Lindeman's Cuvee Rene, which is probably located close to their lambics - is also a champagney choice. Much more dry, but I've seen it win over champagne drinkers.

I've never poured a Delirium Tremens for someone and received a turned-up nose in return. The same goes for Dogfish Head Festina Peche, which is unfortunately near impossible to find during the holidays, but is a perfect Easter beer. (People drink beer on Easter, right?)

I would love for a bottle of the Goose Island Bourbon County stout - this year's, or any year past if you can find it - to be on every table in America. It is one of the most challenging but pseudo-widely available beers during the holidays and it's perfect as an after-dinner drink. This is not for your light and fizzy friends, this one is for the port drinkers. The bourbon shines through without being overwhelming. Note, though, that it's incredibly thick and heavy. It'll pour with barely any head whatsoever. At 13%, pour it into small snifters and share it between a few of you. It's a little expensive (in San Francisco it's not uncommon to see around $7 for a 12 oz.), but with the small quantities you'll drink it in, it's well worth it.

If you've got gin drinkers, seek out a beer brewed with juniper berries. My favorite right now is St. Amand. You can find it at quite a few places in San Francisco (Shotwell's, Pi, Rosamunde, and I know I've seen it at the Whole Foods on Potrero). It's a Belgian single brewed with juniper berries and it's really, really great. Light and drinkable, with a very forward juniper taste that's far less earthy than what you'll get from gin. The Dogfish Head Sah'Tea is also brewed with juniper, but it's got a chai tea finish that gives it a totally different profile.

For wine drinkers accustomed to a smokier red - syrah and the like - you might be able to push the Alaskan Smoked Porter. The smoke flavor is a pretty acquired taste, but it's dark and rich without being heavy. Might go over well. Stone also makes a smoked porter, but I really prefer the Alaskan. Previous years will have a slightly different character as they age, but the 2010 is great right out of the bottle. Allow me to also suggest the humble Anchor Christmas, which I really like this year. It's spicy in all the right ways. An open-minded red drinker might dig it.

The Chimay family is always a good choice. I know beer nerds are sometimes sort of past the Chimay stage, but every time I have Chimay Red I'm struck by how much I really like it. The red is my personal preference, but your mileage may vary. Bringing one of each and having everyone try a little is a fun conversation starter. At around $9-10 per 750mL bottle, they won't break your boozy pocketbook, either.

I honestly believe there are beers out there beyond the occasional ciders for non-beer drinkers, and wine lovers might be one of my favorite groups. If we all approach one another with an open mind and stay away from the "mine is better" mentality, we probably stand to learn a lot from one another. Read your beer labels, find out what's in there that you really like (i.e. the juniper berries from above), and you might be surprised at how that carries across drink categories.

As of tomorrow, I'm hopping across the country for the next two weeks. I'll hopefully be drinking a Bell's Two Hearted when I get off the plane in 36 hours, and six days after that I'll be drinking Boulevard's Bourbon Barrel Quad. It's not a rough life I lead. Looking forward to catch up with all of them, and all of you, in the new year. Cheers!

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