The statement's very intonation was a dare.
"There is no difference at all, I'm telling you."
A quick glance past my right shoulder revealed two men who stared at each other with furrowed brows, half grinning. I began to turn back, but was arrested by a series of clunking sounds as two shot glasses and two bottles of beer fell onto the bar like hailstones. The bartender was smiling: finally, some action.
I was at a Plan B with the guys from Branford, Connecticut's Thimble Island Brewing, and it seems the challenge was met.
Just in case you're wondering, a lot of thirsty people walk into places like Plan B, look at over a dozen beers on tap, peruse a list showing tens of bottles of foreign and domestic craft brews, and then order a Coors Light. This was how it started, and why a giggling someone was now secretively pouring small servings of Budweiser and PBR into tiny, bucket shaped glasses. Five of us took the Pepsi challenge, and (I'll protect the innocent here) only three of us got the gold star.
It takes a tremendous amount of technical know how and skill to produce beers like that, with utterly unerring consistency of flavor wherever and whenever you buy them, but without any artistry. Art is meant to be it's own point. It's meant to be provocative, different from its surroundings, the center of attention. These beers are the background feedback while we're doing something else. Just there, like gravity at a party, or driving a Toyota.
Blue Moon and Shock Top are both acquiesces from the major brewers to the craft brew phenomenon, and it's good that they exist. It's probably no overstatement to say a million or so people now know what a wheat beer is because of those two. The problem, in my mind, is they've been finely polished to the point of being featureless. More beer for people who don't like beer.
Thimble Island Windjammer is an American wheat ale fermented with a hefeweizen yeast. Poured form a tap, it has a good head on its golden shoulders, and gives a faintly bready aroma. Wash it over the tongue, and it's maltier than I might have expected, but the flavor is more barley than wheat. A zingy effervescence and nibble of hops bite through and impart real character.
It's not world shaking, but it's quite a bit crisper than most wheats, and it's very nice for a relaxed summer beer. At 4.7% alc. they're practically demanding you drink several of them. Windjammer is part of Thimble Island's Uncharted series of limited edition beers, but should be available for while now, since the latest batch was made just this month. The two year old brewery is extra helpful, and provides a beer locator for you on their site.
A little closer down the coast, and rapidly gaining notoriety, is Overshores Brewing Company, in East Haven.
These are the first three sentences they use to describe themselves: "We love Belgian beer. We love strong beers. We like funky beers."
Well saddle up, cowboy, because I'll ride with that any day.
When I try out a new pizza place, I use a plain, cheese pizza as my figurative yardstick. When I try out a new Belgian-style brewery, I use a saison. Overshores' is called Belle Fermiere.
The heavy, stubby bottle was a giveaway. Unfiltered or semi-filtered beers bottle condition, i.e. they change over time as they continue to ferment even after the cap is secured. This adds pressure, which can turn into festive, shrapnel-ridden explosions unless they're packaged in roughly twice as much glass, so I knew before it was even poured that this was no lightweight.
The saison poured amber with orange highlights, and the head was thick as a Mix-A-Lot chick. There was a mild, flowery waft of Belgian yeast to the nose, and it was a bit sweet on the first sip. I kept drinking, working my way down the body of the big snifter glass, and the sweetness became less apparent, being replaced by more chewy grain in the body. All that is nice, and I use that word on purpose. "Nice" is a sweater you wear to church. The red, lace bra your wear underneath - that's the spice, and the spices in this saison are turned up. That's what makes Belle Fermiere worth checking out, and closely.
The spices come in from different angles - the coriander flies parallel and complimentary, the cloves dive in with counterpoints and new ideas... I'm not sure what else was in there, but it all goes on within the space contained by your glass. Overshores (a brand new brewery, btw) suggests pairing this beer with soft cheese, artichoke, figs, shellfish and pasta dishes. I had it at The Whelk in Westport, but a beer finder can be found at the link above.
Utility is good. Utility is important. Utility is a socket wrench set, or two layers of sealant on the floor of your garage. They are reliable and consistent, but they're ancillary. Art, though, stands apart. It draws focus away from the mundane. I think this is part of what craft brewers give us, studding little joy-nodes into an otherwise flat background.
See you out there.
The statement's very intonation was a dare.