Friday Froth: Notable Wheats

James Gribbon

Isn't it odd how our tastes change? I remember when I used to ride my bike five miles to buy Charleston Chew and Cry Babies at the old Vic's Variety in Stratford, and now I won't even lean forward in my seat to grab a piece of Halloween candy. Every dinner accompanied by broccoli used to be a contest of wills. Now I'll do actual work to pair my steak with asparagus, and I order collard greens with my BBQ at Smokey Joe's. So it is with wheat beer: I couldn't be bothered after an unimpressive first pint, but that may be changing. Broccoli remains a better projectile than comestible, though, in most cases. The dog seems to appreciate it. 

I decided years ago that wheats just weren't up my alley, and have largely ignored them since. Having a first-person column gives one Nursultan Nazarbayev-like power, but I'd like to be a more benign dictator, and really, this column is about you and I both learning - so on it was to round two.

I was scanning the taps on my most recent voyage of discovery when I remembered a commenter noting a special love for Allagash White. I haven't tried that one (although I do love their Curieux), so I chose another in the same style, although brewed even closer to home, Southampton Double White. This beer pours a dull amber, and cloudy, as per usual for a wit, with a medium head. It has a sweet aroma with notes of citrus and yeast. The taste retains this sweetness, it is a double after all, but  it's subdued, not sugary. The flavor was of citrus with the faintest whisper of stone fruit, and is enlivened by spicy overtones of cinnamon and coriander seeds. Only one sip was a letdown, and that was the last of the pint. How about that? I like wheats more than I thought I did. 

Photo: courtesy of www.Idrunkthat.comBeer has more in common with food than it does with other alcoholic beverages. Beer is made from grains and cereals, but not distilled, so it is best enjoyed while fresh, and can easily go bad if subjected to too much light, time, or the great ravager: oxygen. A twenty year old bottle of Wild Turkey suffers no such ill affects, and wine clearly cellars better than most beers, and for far longer periods. Many of the styles we enjoy were first brewed by monks as a means to achieve a degree of nutritional intake without breaking the various fasts demanded by their ascetic lifestyle. Unfiltered or semi-filtered "live" beers contain live yeast cells, which are an excellent source of B-vitamins, as well as vitamins A, D, E and all the essential amino acids. "Merry monks" indeed. We're about fresh foods on this blog, right? Right. So let's keep it fresh and local with a beer from Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Cuvée Noir is a Belgian strong dark ale weighing in at a hefty 8.7%ABV, and one of the brewmaster reserve series. Our oenophile readers may recognize the "cuvée" name, which can mean "vat" or "tank," and generally denotes a single batch. Brewmaster Garrett Oliver likes to say he has more in common with chefs than winemakers (as evidenced by another reserve, the Cuvée de Cardoz, created after a class he took with Floyd Cardoz of New York City's Tabla restaurant) and this craft brew lives up to both the aspiration and the name. This is as much a singularity as a beer: no light can escape its black depths, apart from a dim trickle of photons passing through its event horizon at the rim, where the beer shows a deep brown color. There is a strong flavor of toasted malts, similar to a porter, and the flavor is enhanced by a smokiness which swirls around the palate with spicy Belgian yeast and the complex pairing of several different malts. Cuvée Noir may not be easy to find, but be sure to keep an eye out for it on tap in area bars and restaurants.

That may be enough exploration into the esoteric for today's column, though. How about we settle down with a nice IPA from Laughing Dog brewery: "Diabolus Canis Imperiosus" or Devil Dog Imperial IPA. This IPA is both wet and triple dry-hopped with Columbus, Northern Brewer, Ahtanum, Cascade and Simcoe hop varieties to achieve 98IBUs of lip-smacking bite. The beer pours amber with a slightly red hue. There is a light head, but it stays, and the lace sticks and remains as a fine ring as the head dissolves. This IIPA's flavor exhibits a strong, clean hop punch that would be immensely enjoyable if it weren't for the aroma.  

A note: the reviews in this column are overwhelmingly positive because a) I would like to share with you new beers I think you might like, and b) I didn't get into this to slag anyone's product on the internet. That's what Pitchfork is for. I mention the following because it helps to illustrate the subject of freshness.

Every sip after the beer had warmed a bit was accompanied by a frankly foul scent when nose entered glass. The taste remained good, but the sour, skunky, slightly rancid smell was a deal killer. I had this one on tap, so two factors may have been in play here: distance and time. Laughing Dog is all the way over in northern Idaho, that's a heck of a long trip to bring this beer to market in Connecticut. This beer was also, according the brewery's site, released in April. What it was doing on tap in January is beyond me. I think a little benefit of the doubt is in order here: a fresh batch of this beer, if found in the late spring/early summer would probably be exemplary. I'm going to make a note to keep an eye out for it then to do a little follow-up.

The time and toil of daily food preparation throughout most of human history had given way in America to the convenience of supermarkets and pre-prepared food by the late 20th century. One stop shopping and the way of the future had replaced a connection with the land around us, which now mostly sprouted condos instead of corn. But you know what's good about winter tomatoes grown in South America? Not much. Bland, processed food ruled. Gradually, though, the slow food movement began to take hold. Farmers' markets are growing in number and popularity. Fresh and local is back. I may talk about great imports from other states and other countries, but sometimes the best of the best is close to home.

Bars Serving Great Beer:

Monster B's in Stamford

The Ginger Man in South Norwalk and Greenwich

Retailers Selling Great Beer:

Wines Unlimited in Stratford

BexMax in Stamford

Saugatuck Grain & Grape in Westport

Castle Wine & Spirits in Westport

Ancona's Wine in Ridgefield

Port Chester Beer Distributor 

Fairway Wines & Spirits 

Stepney Wines & Liquors in Monroe

Harry's Wine & Liquor Market in Fairfield