Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Be a Drink Snob for Under $10: Drink Beer

Call it pride or call it an appreciation for The Good and The Beautiful, but I'm always a sucker for a certain snort of snobbery. Not the "Oh dear, my boy, you mustn't be seen reading that. Not done at all, my boy," sort of snobbery, but simply the desire to seek that that which is best whenever possible.

Of course, one area in which seeking out that best can be particularly pleasurable is when it comes to drink, as our Savior showed when he felt it necessary not only to assure that the wedding feast did not run out of wine, but that they were provided with the best. However, seeking the best can be an expensive proposition when it comes to drink. While there's much very drinkable wine in the ten-dollar-a-bottle set these days (and that's what we drink here at Darwin manor) to get into what's really considered the best wine, you're often looking at spending over a hundred dollars a bottle.

Scotch and brandy both suffer from similar price challenges, though at least a bottle can be expected to last you months rather than just one evening. Still, putting down $60+ for a bottle of Scotch is something I'd feel bad about when it came to totally up accounts, and don't even ask about brandy: prices for Cognac start high and simply go higher.

However, there is thankfully, one area in which you can treat yourself to the very best that the world has to offer without spending more than ten dollars a bottle, and that is the world of beer. That noble and nourishing drink made of malted grain is not only the working man's drink, but the very best examples of the brewer's art are available at working man's prices.

Everyone has his own favorites, but I'm going to cover a few of the highlights of beer snobbery -- at least to my own mind and palette.

Trappist Ales:
Simply the best beers on the planet, to my mind, are brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium and the Netherlands. The most easy to find is Chimay, which offers three varieties of beer: Red, White and Blue.

Chimay is sometimes found in roughly standard-size beer bottles (as show above with the traditional Chimay chalice) but you're much better off looking for the 750ml (wine bottle) size. These retail for $7-9 and are the right size for two to share and enjoy a great deal.

Chimay Red is a Belgian "double" style -- a brown, malty beer about 6% alcohol with hints of fruit and spice in the background. Chimay White (shown) is a Belgian "triple" style, a strong, straw-to-amber-colored ale which has some sweetness still in it, and a yeasty, estery, spicey blend of tastes. (Beer snobs do not use nearly as much weird terminology as wine snobs, but the "estery" quality of a beer is hard to describe any other way. Some have described these as being "banana-like" which somehow fits, though it's nothing like the taste of real bananas.) Chimay Blue is a Grand Cru style ale, very strong, dark (not like a stout, but very, very dark brown) with yeast, spice, malt and a port-like aged taste all rolled into one powerful whole.

The beers brewed by the other trappist monasteries are harder to find, but equally good. "Trappist" is a legally controlled term in regards to beer. Only beers actually brewed in the monastery by the monks can be labeled as such. Any beer you see that says "Trappist" (not "trappist-style", which some unscrupulous American brewers have tried) is going to be something very special.

Orval, shown below, is another of the Trappist brews.

Abbey Ales and Belgian-Style Ales
As monks have become harder to come by (and high quality brewing has come to require more expensive equipment) many of the monasteries scattered throughout Belgium which used to brew beer have licensed their traditional recipes (or even just their names) to local commercial breweries. These, and other beers simply brewed in similar styles, for the vast constallation of abbey ales, most of which are very much worth your attention. The standard Belgian styles of "double" and "triple" are often represented here, as are other more unusual types. Maredsous is one such:

Here too, most beers are available in both standard size and 750ml bottles -- the larger bottles are generally a better deal price-wise and keep longer, plus it's a great excuse to share a beer with a friend. (Friends don't let friends drink alone, right?)

Also worth noting is the wide variety of Belgian-style beers brewed throughout the world. The stand-out among these is the Unibroue brewery of Quebec. Their beers are relatively easy to find and I have yet to try one that isn't good.
German Beer
Belgium is certainly the place for exotic beers, but one can't do a list of top brews without mentioning Germany. Lagers are not necessarily wholly to my taste, but I'm very much partial to the dopple-bocks: dark, strong lagers with a strong malt profile. Best among these are Celebrator and Salvatore. The latter of these comes from the Pauliner brewery, which has good to outstanding beers available in every German style.

British Ales
And finally, how could one forget British beer? The "real ale" movement in Britain was one of the inspirations for the craft beer and homebrewing renaissance in the US. My personal favorite among the British breweries is Samuel Smith:
Home of the Taddy Porter and an excellent Oatmeal Stout, perhaps the finest Samuel Smith offering is their Imperial Stout.

What about Irish beer, you may be asking? Well... Traitor to my blood that I am, I don't have any Irish favorites right now. So far as I can tell, the Irish market is pretty dominated by Guinness and Murphey's, both of which are good, but neither one of which strikes me as quite in the league of the ones I've listed off here. However, I'd be very happy to be wrong on this. If you know about the great Irish beer I need to seek out, let me know!


Deacon Bill Burns said...

I;m a big fan of Spaten Optimator, although Celebrator is very good and has a similar flavor.

John Farrell said...

My wife and I just started getting into the Trappist Chimays, which are excellent.

(funny, I don't feel any guilt at all about spilling $30 + on higher quality specialtes--in my case Sauza Hornitos...)


Anonymous said...

Be a Drink Snob for Under $10: Drink Beer

You had me at drink snob... :-)

I must say that I agree with your sentiments on beer here. I only have a smattering of comments to accompany this post.

First off on Chimay... if you find a Magnum (1.5L) or Jeroboam (3L) sized bottle of the Grande Reserve, pick it up. It's been aged for at least a year, and mellows out quite nicely. The Magnum will probably run you $30 and the Jeroboam $75. This is what Trappists drink in heaven.

I've had two varieties from Unibroue. I very much like the Trois Pistoles. They also did a spiced holiday ale marketed under the Trader Joes name that I felt left a lot of room for improvement. It's major weakness in my mind, while having a wonderful malt aroma, it was just too spicy.

German beer. Paulaner is most certainly a good brewery in the German tradition. It's probably the most widely known (of those worthy of being consumed) here in the States. When it comes to weizen, Schneider-Weisse is king, with Aventinus as my personal favorite. It is a dopple-bock style beer, but made with wheat malt. This beer is amazing on draught.

Spaten makes good beers. Augustiner is also good. But when it comes to the dopplebock, my favorite here is the Ayinger Celebrator. No other dopplebock I have tasted comes close to the smoothness that the little braurei in Aying has mastered.

As far as the British ales go, it's all about Samuel Smiths. Samuel Smith's is good. Very good. However, I do like some the offerings from Youngs as well.

Guiness is overrated in my opinion. An interesting factoid about its taste is that they introduce 3% soured beer back into a fresh batch to get that lactic taste that is so familiar to us in the States. In the past with refridgeration hard to come by, the voyage was long enough to sour some of the beer.

I have been interested in trying some Beamish, but have not yet had the pleasure.

Pro Ecclesia said...

"If you know about the great Irish beer I need to seek out, let me know!"

I know we've talked about it before, but have you given Smithick's a try?

Bill said...

Outstanding sentiments. I agree with you across the board, if only in different order. Admittedly, I enjoy Guinness as an all around winter all and because that is what passes for exotic here in eastern Kansas.

You are a true connoisseur. When I started reading I was afraid you were going to wax poetic about Samuel Adams and/or hefeweisse. Thanks for reaffirming good tastes and standards.

Rich Leonardi said...

Believe it or not, Trader Joe's (yes that Trader Joe's) Belgian-style ale is excellent. It's made by Unibroue and is usually rolled out this time of year.

mrsdarwin said...

Rich, do you have to go to Columbus to find a Trader Joe's, or have they opened one in Cincinnati?

Jim Janknegt said...

When I am looking for a winter treat I reach for Young's Double Chocolate Stout.

John Farrell said...

Jay, yes Smithwick's is excellent. (Thanks for reminding me!)

Rich Leonardi said...

There's one in Cincinnati on Kenwood Road near the mall.

Anonymous said...

I confess to a shameful weakness for cheap Mexican beers. "Upscale" for me is Shiner Bock.

(strikes breast)

Darwin said...

You'd better go to confession and put two lime wedges down your neck for penance... :-)

Pro Ecclesia said...

There's nothing wrong with Shiner Bock.