Beercraft Newspaper Column #98: Beer on New Year’s Eve

Surprise them this New Year’s Eve…with the complexity of beer!

By Mark Tichenor & Bruce Lish

Boy, those French sure have a racket going. Their Champagne is the undisputed king of alcoholic beverages, a longstanding symbol of affluence and hedonistic luxury. And often it’s quite delicious. Why wouldn’t you want to pop a bottle on New Year’s Eve?

Well, maybe because the hosts of the party you’re attending didn’t exactly spring for the stuff rap stars swill on TV. In fact it’s quite likely that what’s being poured into your plastic flute, to celebrate the turning of a decade, is not from France, costs less and tastes substantially nastier than a quality craft beer.

Now before you call us gauche, consider the wide visual and flavor variety currently inhabiting the shelves of your local beer store. It isn’t particularly difficult to find a beer that will amaze and delight your fellow partygoers, especially if you focus your shopping on the Belgian beer section.

Our personal favorite for the toast is Lindemans Framboise. The soft yet prickly raspberry lambic is much sweeter and less musty than most of its counterparts, so it’s a beer everyone can enjoy, regardless of palate development. It’s red hue and soft pink head make an aesthetic statement as well.

If you want something chunkier, a good Belgian or Belgian-style dubbel can give you plenty of taste, a sparkly mouthfeel, and a little more bite for your buck. These beers have a slightly tart, cidery quality, and taste as funky and individualistic as the abbeys in which they’re brewed.

Now that so many North American breweries have adapted to Belgian brewing styles and ethics, it‘s easy to find beers of that character, with unique qualities right in your own backyard.

“We will be toasting with La Fin Du Monde because we’re a beer bar and it’s a cool alternative,” says Joe McBane, owner of the Tap and Mallet and an easy guy to get quotes from, considering the frequency with which we sit across from him.

Fin Du Monde, from Montreal’s Unibroue, is a perpetual visitor to McBane’s inventory and looks great in a champagne glass. Both he and the Tap’s bar manager, Chris Schultheiss, liken the beer’s character to champagne, especially because of the pinprick bubbles formed by the fructiferous Belgian yeast.

Fructiferous. We’ve always wanted to say that.

Ahem. Anyway, Belgian is the way Old Toad Cellar Manager Jules Suplicki would go as well, but she hints at a slightly more daring approach.

“I might try an oude gueuze,” she says via the awesome communicative power of the text message. “It’s super tart and has an amazing essence which is champagne-like but still unquestionably beer.”

Gueuze, unfiltered blended lambic served without the sweetness of fruit beers like Lindemans Framboise, can be a challenge for those who haven’t opened their minds and palates to a broad range of beer, but serving one of these to a roomful of beer lovers will speak volumes for your taste, discriminating style, and ability to read 6-point type.

And the elegance goes beyond what’s in the glass. Many Belgian beers, as well as the American Belgian styles from brewers like Unibroue and Ommegang, come in heavy swanlike bottles, caged, corked and ready for presentation to the guests of honor.

Beer instead of champagne is an audacious option. While some people might turn up their noses at your flagrant disregard of tradition, others will be delighted, and more than a little surprised at the way a fine beer fits into such a celebratory moment. You’ll be viewed as keen and worldly, and avoid the certain sparkling wine hangover when the party’s over and the next ten year slog begins.

For the holdouts, you can always yank out a $7 bottle of bubbly.

In other beers:

It would be difficult to live in Rochester and not know that Tastings, Wegmans’ fine dining restaurant, has evolved. Relocated across Monroe Avenue from the Pittsford store, the new Next Door Bar & Grill, which trades some of Tastings’ tradition for a more comprehensive and breezy dining environment. Finally, Executive Chef Chris Brandt and his merry band of culinary troubadors have the space and tap lines to exhibit their appreciation of craft beer and its relation to cuisine.

Next Door is open for lunches, dinners and casual bargoery. Find them at nextdoorbarandgrill.com or just drive Monroe and look for the color green.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://www.beercraftsite.com. Find us on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

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