Many sommeliers enjoy unwinding with a beer after a full workday spent talking about wine with clients, matching wines to dishes, tasting wine, drinking wine….wine, wine, wine. Can you tell us your favorite beer these days, and what you like about it?
Christopher P. Bates, M.S., F.L.X. Wienery (Dundee, NY). Oh boy. Where to even start with my favorite refreshing beverage? Like many of us, I find myself reaching for a beer as often as wine for my own pleasure—if not more often. Whether it’s the end of a long day at work (kitchen or floor), after a long day working in the winery, or tasting/teaching/discussing wine, a beer is often the most necessary of evils.As we say in the wine industry, “It takes a lot of great beer to make great wine.” But, I am always shocked when people are surprised that when most of us industry folk get together, it is often for a beer, not a glass of wine (occasionally both, shhh).
As for making a beer recommendation, picking one is NOT possible, so, here goes:
I tend to cycle in and out of what I am enjoying, both seasonally and just from interest/excitement. So, my basic style categories I reach for are sours, saisons and stouts, but there is certainly a place for crisp refreshing lagers (like while breaking down at the end of the night), wheat beers (any time I am in the sun) and occasionally a hop forward beer.
Let’s begin with sours. One of my all-time favorites still has to be Rodenbach Grand Cru. The beer combines excellent drinkability, freshness, tartness and an amazing amount of complexity, all for an unreasonably good price point. A blend of old and young sour red ales, the beer has tartness but a noticeable sweetness to it, making it one of the more approachable sours for those who do not tend to gravitate towards the style. Furthermore, it is readily available. On a more rare note, if I am treating myself and in the mood for sour, I cannot imagine being more happy than with a Russian River sour. Supplication with sour cherries and aged in pinot barrels for something deep and brooding, or Temptation (a blond aged in chard barrels) for refreshment. Both should be enjoyed in the same fashion as the best of wines.
For something a little easier to share (not everyone loves a sour like I do), I love the saison category. With a really spicy, complex yeast profile and a noticeable but not dominant hop characteristic, these beers are just pure delicious; they do not demand attention but can certainly handle it. Brasserie Dupont really is the king of the style. While the style has blown up and gotten a lot of attention lately, and more and more brewers are producing the style, I find a lot lack the balance of Dupont, whose Foret Blanche is one of the great hallmarks, and when I really want something fun, the Bier de Mièle is truly delicious. For an American version, the saison brewed by Stillwater is stunning with white sage.
Whiles those are both beers for refreshment, every once in a while I want a beer to cuddle me to sleep after a long day, one beer to envelop me: I have always had a sweet spot for stout. While the category has gone crazy on the extremes (ABV well above 10% is the norm, with 15% not rare, and the misuse of oak runs rampant still), I still find Founders Breakfast Stout to be one of my favorite examples of rich and creamy, roasted and heady, yet still balanced. For something a little more rare, I seriously love Firestone Walker’s Parabola, an oak-aged monster that walks the fine line of balance between sweet, rich, and alcohol.
While hops for a long time was the beer version of oak in wine (more is always better: the way to make your wine/beer more serious/expensive/rare is to add more oak/hops), it is finally getting under control, and like oak in wine, more and more producers are starting to focus on the fact that it is the quality, not the quantity, that will make the finished product stand out. That being said, I feel that most breweries still don’t hop their IPAs well. One of the notable exceptions, despite not wanting to like it, is Alchemist’s Heady Topper. It truly shows a master of hopping and actually lives up to the hype. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to find, but, if you are able to get your hands on one, DO NOT follow the instructions on the can to drink it directly from the can. Pour this beer into great glassware and enjoy the aroma and balance of perfect hopping from start to finish.
And, because we all have one, my guilty pleasure is, as would be appropriate, the Champagne of Beers. Yes, I love the High Life. Miller is my brand allegiance for cheap beer.