Brewers Bearing Gifts
The Americans told the Belgians something about their breweries by the beers they chose to serve in Belgium.
Allagash White: Extreme only for those who drink only international lagers, but that’s most of the world. A classic version of the white beer style that Pierre Celis revived at Hoegaarden. Hazy to look at, fruity and refreshing to drink, with coriander and Curacao orange peel remaining nicely in the background. Bottle conditioned. 5.2% ABV.
Allagash Interlude: The first beer in a new experimental series, fermented first with a farmhouse yeast, then with wild yeast developed at Allagash—finally aged in French oak barrels that once held syrah or merlot. Tastes like it is still coming together: plenty of wine character, lactic tartness, orchard fruits, some citrus, wood, and an earthy character that may eventually unite everything. 9.5% ABV.
Russian River Damnation: Forget the comparisons to Duvel (the first strong golden, which pretty much defines the style); these two are distinctive in their own way. Damnation can use a little TLC in the cellar, giving it the yeast time to get used to its new home. Banana taffy aroma when its young will give way to subtler fruit character as it matures, including pears and tangerines, with a spicy-peppery-earthy finish (add a little yeast from a well-settled bottle). 7% ABV.
Russian River Supplication: Time might be the most important ingredient here—rich malts, a range of wild yeast strains, sour cherries and pinot noir barrels for aging all considered. After a year in production and another year in the bottle, each flavor finds a perfect foil, so ripe fruitiness gives way to a sour body in a seemless transition. It’s a rare beer than can be rustic and refined at the same time. 7% ABV.
Dogfish Head Festina Lente: Ever heard the homebrew rule of thumb that a beer is ready to drink about the time you finish the last bottle? Festina spent six months aging in a tank and three years in the bottle before it won a medal at the World Beer Cup. And now it’s retired. Plenty of Delaware peaches and cultured bacteria frame its flavors—quite peachy, tart, aging fruit skins, pleasingly dry at the finish. 7% ABV.
Dogfish Head Fort: The world’s strongest fruit beer, brewed with a ton of Delaware and Oregon raspberries. Alcohol is in your face (and lingers through a finish deep in the back of your throat), but does not mask glorious raspberry character or underlying flavors that hint this will be more complex if the alcohol asserts less personality over time. 18% ABV.
Port Brewing Cuvee de Tomme: Starts with The Mother of All Beers at the base and goes from there—with traditional barley malts, sugar, raisin and sour cherries all giving a combination of yeast strains plenty to work with. Spends nine months in bourbon barrels with wild yeast continuing to add character and a subdued sourness. When talking about the political/social challenges beer sometimes faces, Tomme Arthur likes to say wine celebrates and beer apologizes. This beer never apologizes. 11% ABV.
Port Brewing SPF 45 Saison: Gives a nod to its San Diego home with the sun tan lotion number in its name (SPF 8 is the dark version) and let’s you know this is a modern interpretation, featuring a wide range of fresh spices the virtually jump out of the glass. Spicy character continues through the finish, balanced by tartness that makes this a summer drinker. 6.7% ABV.
Avery The Beast Grand Cru: A muscular as the name suggests, with dark and citrusy fruits from the start (at one moment you’re thinking pineapples and figs, at another plums and apples). Plenty of alcohol, with rum and port qualities, although not as strong as past vintages. Several brewers called a decision to match The Beast and chocolate mousse at one of the group’s beer dinners the pairing of the trip. 14.9% ABV.
Avery Salvation: Subtitled a “Belgian Golden Ale,” so there’s no doubt about the inspiration. Fleshy fruits, particularly apricots, mingle with sweet spicy aromas and flavors, a surprising hint of honey and alcohol that isn’t altogether hidden. A lingering impression of perfume, where Damnation offers pepper. Maintains complexity despite a properly dry finish. 9% ABV.