Tag Archives: Belgian beer

A Religious Experience at Monkless

I had a religious experience (in the bathroom) at Monkless Belgian Ales this weekend. And I’m having another while typing and listening to Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert from 1975. But that’s not what I heard in the bathroom.

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Let there be beer!

Monkless Belgian Ales is just four years into production, and only two-and-a-half years on a 10-barrel brewing system. The shiny, clean brewery has a tank capacity of 100 barrels, and it’ll push 1,000 barrels of production this year. While that’s not very large for a production brewery, it is remarkable that 100% of the beer is fermented with expressive Belgian-type yeast. This model is an extreme rarity in the U.S., and deserves attention because the brewery has been quite successful selling its canned, bottled, and draught beer in Oregon.

When Monkless first came to Eugene, while I was working at The Bier Stein, the Imperial Peppercorn Wit and Capitulation, a dry-hopped Tripel, seemed a bold first move to push into a new market. But once the pint cans of Shepplekoffegan Wit, Peppercorn, and Capitulation hit the shelves and started selling, it seemed that Monkless had discovered a sect of beer drinkers who appreciated the balance of its characterful beers. It helped that Shep’ became an easy, affordable domestic alternative to Blue Moon.

In 2017, 500ml. bottles of Friar’s Festivus, a Belgian Strong Dark ale spiced with mace and cardamom, spent a brief layover on the shelves before being scooped up. That compelled the brewery to shift its schedule and brew more while customers continued to seek it out. As far as I remember, it outsold the perennial favorite St. Bernardus Christmas Ale; at the very least it generated more fervor. This year, it won a Gold medal at the Oregon Beer Awards.

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Monkless turns water (& malt & hops) into beer!

I was treated to a flight of all eight of Monkless’ current beers at the brewery’s tasting room on a hot Saturday afternoon. Somebody had kindly set up water misters in the garage doorway. A Mexican food truck was serving tasty street food. Folks trickled in; most ordered flights. Some came back for a full glass, others got their Bend Ale Trail passports stamped and continued on.

The flight was arranged on two barrel staves, in order from lightest to heaviest, starting with Shepplekoffegan and ending with Meet Your Maker, an un-spiced Belgian Dark Strong. With the exception of the Maker and Dubbel or Nothing, all of the beers lay in the pale-to-golden realm, but the shared traits more or less ended there. The brewery keeps four yeasts for its various beers, and even blends a couple of them for one of the beers (can’t remember which).

If you’re curious about the difference between a Tripel and a Belgian Golden Strong, Monkless has you covered; the Restitution and Trinity are quite different, with the former, a Belgian Golden Strong, showcasing fruity, apple-pear-peach esters with a bit of spice, honey, alcohol, and a full body without being too sweet. The Trinity, an Abbey-style tripel is spicier and a bit drier, with some pale stone fruit and pepper/cinnamon notes, all from yeast. Capitulation, which is Trinity dry-hopped with Hallertau Blanc and Citra, pairs the vinous German hop and now-classic IPA hop to lend bright fruitiness and some extra bitterness to the Tripel, which is a lovely addition that’ll surely get a hop-head’s attention.

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A little beer church on a hot day

Being a fan of sessionable beers, the Shep’ did me right, and paired perfectly with my pork tacos and spicy salsa verde. I’ve found that witbiers made as one-offs lack the fluffy wheat body, and are often too dry feeling; Shep’ is a well-practiced wheat beer with a good dose of the traditional orange peel and coriander.

 

Samaritan’s Saison was a recipe from one of the assistant brewers, and had the distinct ganja aroma that I remember from my first bottle of Dupont Saison; that was very pleasing to recall. It’s dry, a little scratchy, but not as carbonated (on draught) as a bottle-conditioned saison so the pils-like malt sticks around for the next sip.

The bartender, cellarman (and also homebrewer and cheesemonger) Nick gave us an educated tour of the brewery, which is well set up and seems ready to receive more tanks if necessary. The brewery currently hires a mobile canner, but the cork & cage bottles (packaged with priming sugar and yeast for natural carbonation) are done by hand.

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Thou shalt wash thy hands after peeing.

After the tour, finishing the flight and chatting about cheese, I felt the familiar urge. Entering the bathroom is a step back in time, to a Renaissance-era cathedral – especially if you close your eyes. A single speaker in the corner was playing Miserere, the Gregorian hymn based on Psalm 51, at a high enough volume that all other sound disappeared. I guess I found where the monks went.

One of the hardest things about brewing Belgian-style beer is attaining a balance between yeast, malt, and hops. All beer obviously requires yeast management, but the flavors in American-style ales and lagers are mostly expected to be “neutral.” Utilizing yeast’s potential for flavor contribution is a tough game, and means really getting to know how it acts under various conditions. Monkless gets it right.

Thanksgiving Beer Pairing Time!

You can smell it, walking down the streets of Eugene: fermentation. The aroma of leaves and apples on your neighbors’ lawns is the byproduct of the work of a whole civilization of bacteria, yeast, little bugs, and fungus breaking down the summer’s bounty into next year’s tilth. Those aromas, the ebbing daylight, the imminent rains: signals to bundle up and share warmth with our friends. This is epic meal time.

To paraphrase a superhero movie: With great flavor comes great pairing opportunity. Yes, that was a terrible paraphrasing, but let’s keep moving. The impending feast and its traditional accouterments lay out a gauntlet of flavors, all at once, that can be hard to navigate. Additionally, the imagery of a stuffed Thanksgiving table presents a limited view of acceptable beverages– carafes of wine in straw diapers astride cranberries, corn, and sweet potatoes tilt the tables away from a more versatile and traditional drink (I think we all know where I’m going with this).

I’ve been thinking about what beers I want to bring to Thanksgiving dinner. The hosts are vegetarian; I probably won’t  be bringing a smoked porter. But when I think of turkey, I feel it’s fairly forgiving, and pretty much absorbs whatever you put on it. It can (but hopefully doesn’t) turn out somewhat dry, which I’d want to counter with a fuller-bodied beer. IPA would be fine, if you must; Sam Smith’s IPA has plenty of body, and enough hop presence to liven up a bite of turkey or salad.

The real challenge is to find a couple beers that will pair well with most anything on the Turkeyday table, and IPA is a little too specific. My first inclination is to save the rich and sugary beers for dessert, and lagers for pre-game; we’re looking for richness and earthy flavors. If you’ll be doing traditional dishes like candied yams, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes & gravy, I would pick a strong Belgian ale; they are rich in flavors, but are drier than most other strong beers. Because you’ll be filling your plate multiple times with everything in sight, don’t worry– just start light and go dark. If you are among the few capable of restraint in the plating department, you will likely enjoy the progression of flavors more. A Belgian-style pale or saison with salad and veggies; a dubbel or brown (like Nostradamus), with richer earthy-spice flavors and a sweeter aroma will be complemented by buttery mashed potatoes and your bird. If you want to break some pinot fans out of their box, pop a bottle of Flanders Red, like Rodenbach Grand Cru; its rich oak, dark fruit, and hint of cocoa pair well, and won’t be subdued by the butter on your corn.

At this point, no doubt you’ve lost count of your trips to the buffet table, and all the food is absorbing the alcohol faster than it can get to your head. I recommend a short break for a sip of peppermint tea. Peppermint is a digestive aid vis-a-vis slightly irritating your stomach lining, causing it to work a bit harder. Licorice helps too– anything with that flavor, like fennel, is helpful after a big meal. You’ve probably had (or noticed) the little candy-covered bits at Indian restaurants. Those are fennel seeds, and help freshen your breath and soothe a stuffed stomach at the same time.

And now it’s time for dessert. Pumpkin, apple, blueberry pie… gingerbread and ice cream…

One of the best beer desserts I ever had was Uinta’s Labyrinth Black Ale (a 13% doozy) with a well-prepared glass of absinthe alongside. If your guests are sticking around / have a designated driver, I’d recommend a hearty conversation along with those two (not for the faint-of-heart!). But you might want something a little more… normal. Barrel aged beers make excellent dessert pairings (or just desserts), as do Belgian quadrupels, barleywines, imperial stouts, and Scotch strong ales– really anything with a good dose of sweetness will keep the pleasurable feeling of a rich, sweet, creamy dessert rolling right along. Breaking into the stash of old, strong beer is a great way to thank your friends and loved ones. Come on in and ask us for some recommendations, we’ve got plenty!

A bit of history: the early European settlers definitely brewed beer in their first years here; some of it may have been made from maple or birch sap and flavored with herbs until they began importing malt from England; the Native Americans definitely made birch and maple beers. No doubt these were primitive by our standards, but there are extensive records that brewers knew the effects of the various wild-harvested herbs they used; most have medicinal value, some enhance the effects of alcohol (yarrow, for example, is a famous “intoxicant”), increase mirth (St. John’s Wort), or prevent scurvy (nettle, spruce). This brings back a whole new meaning to “seasonal beer!”

Isn’t beer fun?