The best beer pairing is friends (not to eat, of course), and I relish* the opportunity to go all beer-geeky with another willing participant (as opposed to this scenario, which hits close to home). My friend Matt is a homebrewer, soon to be head brewer at a new local brewery, and our past beer explorations have proved delightful.
This time, we went Belgian, and consumed three tasty morsels that have been staring at me from the shelf for a couple weeks now. First up was Brasserie Dupont’s Cuvee Dry-Hopping 2013, which is their regular Saison with a hefty dose of Trasker hops (bred from French Strisselspalt). It poured a cloudy straw gold with a tousle of big champagney bubbles, and smelled of mint and sage. In comparison to it’s mother beer, the herbal factor is tweaked from the dank, spicy-fruity side to the traditional French herb garden of thyme, sage, oregano, etc. More peachy character emerges as it warms up, and the carbonation keeps your palate practically itching for more.
Next up, we popped a Straffe Hendrik Quad from Halve Maan (Half Moon), a “home brewery” in the center of Bruges, Belgium. As soon as the cap came off, a spring of tan foam burbled forth, and I quickly moved my glass under the stream (if only beer came out of a mountainside…). My first thought was “oh dear, a gusher,” as I’ve judged enough homebrew competitions to know that this is generally not a good sign. But leave it to a small Belgian brewery to prove me happily wrong! Though highly carbonated, that was perhaps the most notable feature of this beer. The flavor and aroma was dominated at first by dark things: prunes, leather, even a hint of smoke (in the good way). If not for the cola-like effervescence, that beer would have clung to the inside of our cheeks; instead, it sliced through the sweetness (which was not cloying, just lots of big flavors), leaving a wake of light clove phenol. So complicated, so carbonated– so good (and thanks to Rob for the recommentation!)
A picnic table came available outside, and so we moved into the sun for our last number: Upright Flora, the soured, barrel-aged version of Flora Rustica, a “botanical saison” with calendula and chamomile flowers. The original, as I recall, is quite floral. This reincarnation is different. Sometimes a brewery will barrel up a batch and it will be a Jesus story; it goes in a beer, comes out a deity. In the case of Flora, it went in a nymph and came out a satyr. Aging in “multiple use” barrels produced a beer that smells like (and I am not kidding) dill pickles. But really good fermented dill pickles! (*now you know why I asterisked “relish.”) It kinda tastes like pickles, but without the salt, and with a hint of the flowers, a hint of woody tannin, and a soft lactic sourness rather than bracing tartness. It took a good bit of snuffling, snorting, re-sniffing, swishing, sloshing, and swirling to come up with dill pickles as a descriptor, but everybody agreed. Don’t let that dissuade you from trying the beer. In fact, I can see all sorts of great pairing opportunities: Italian sausages, prosciutto, other pickles, and Emmentaler and Edam cheeses would be the perfect small plates to share with a big bottle of Flora.