Friday Froth: Super Bowl Gold

James Gribbon

Diane de Poitiers, a mistress of French King Henry II in the first half of the 16th century, subscribed to the idea that gold was imbued with magical youth-preserving powers by the Sun’s energy, so she drank it in elixirs made by the King’s apothecaries. John Barry, the man who composed scores and themes for a dozen films in the James Bond franchise, died this week at 77. One of his most recognizable themes has Shirley Bassey booming out the word “gold” eight times in the last nine lines of the song in her unmistakable foghorn of a voice. In the film, Goldfinger famously tells 007 “No, Mr. Bond – I expect you to die,” which is exactly what happened to Mdme. de Poitiers when the gold in her body reached Bond-villain levels. We’ll hope to avoid that fate this week as we toss back a little gold to honor Mr. Barry.

Super Bowl Sunday, that highest of February holidays (What? OW! Stop it.) introduces the yawning mouth of the Boring Beer Pitfall into our collective path. Minds no doubt cluttered by snacking and seating concerns are wont to be lazy at the liquor store and, as such, instruct the bodies they drive to reach out and grab whatever packaging looks most familiar: usually a light beer from the big three of brewing. These beers have their place, I’m no snob, but one can do better. The stage direction at this point reads [Enter STOUDT’S GOLD]

This beer pours a familiar, clear yellow – immediately putting any macro-beer stalwart at ease. The aroma may be slightly more enticing, with a good, yeasty scent, and there is an actual head to the pour. This common-looking beer is unusually flavorful, though, for a brew that looks like it should be served in a red cup. The slight maltiness is weighted with hops that don’t add bitterness so much as depth. There is a mild grain sweetness that comes through as the beer warms, changing its character and keeping it interesting, sip after sip. This golden Helles Lager would be a good keg beer, and is an excellent alternative to Heineken.

Pranqster is a Belgian style golden ale from North Coast Brewing Co. in Ft. Bragg, California. The amusing label is an engraving by De Loose, altered slightly to include brewmaster Mark Ruedrich’s face on the right hand side. This ale pours a predictable golden amber, speckled with heavy yeast particles held in suspension. There was a light head after my pour, with a lace ring around the edges, and a bull’s eye of foam in the center where the carbonation was releasing. It has a sweet aroma of Belgian yeast and raisons, and that spicy Belgian yeast really grabs one’s attention at the first sip. The prickly carbonation feels like it has unusually large bubbles, and sets off the flavors of hops and caramel the way cilantro leaves can add some joie de vivre to chopped onions. Pranqster is one of my favorite beers from a brewery I’ve come to trust with my palate, and I’m happy to take the opportunity to recommend this quaffable gold.

It always comes back to IPAs with me, I know, but as long as we’re talking about trusted breweries, let’s talk about Smuttynose Big A IPA. Smuttynose is the name of an island off the coast of New Hampshire, close to the brewery’s home in Portsmouth. The seal on their logo is common to the area, and is an image which conveys a message of “drink this” to my brain. Big A IPA won CAMRA's Michael Jackson Award for best American Cask Ale at the Great British Beer Festival in 2010, and one good gulp will tell you why. The color is a rich, cloudy amber: reminiscent of a high quality, first-pressing soft cider. There is a light, filmy head, and a fresh, herbal aroma that is flowery without being perfume-y. It’s a “green” scent: like being outside on a spring day. A host of flavors march their way across the tongue: several different hops, from bitter to piney, and hints of tart cherries - likely from the yeast varieties used - are immediately prevalent. There is a sense that this beer lights up the tongue from front to back. The tiniest sweetness sparks as the liquid pours from the glass to the tip of the tongue, and the strong and attractive bitterness washes further back and lingers there likes the spice from a fatty cappacola coats the mouth. It is an intensely pleasurable beer, and a slightly dangerous one, too, at 9.7%ABV. The old-timey boxer on the label is there for a reason. 

A heads up is in order this week:

- Stew Leonard’s Wines in Norwalk is making a concerted effort to serve beer aficionados, so you may want to add a stop there to your list of errands, pre-Super Bowl.

- Post-football, when the calendar year is at its absolute bleakest, succor may be found courtesy of Harpoon Brewery, which is holding a tasting event at Monster B’s in Stamford on Friday, February 18th. Your occasionally humble author may be in attendance.

Have fun, everybody.