Between global warming and economic meltdown, it’s a good thing the camping cooler’s crammed with summery Belgian beers and their North American kin
The existential white of this Belgian wit is hazier to the eye than August in San Francisco. The palate deals out spice galore (coriander and orange peel, but hinting of clove and cardamom) along with healthy wheat tones. But it’s the long, dry, teeth-clenching finish and the moderate (5%) alcohol that makes this my definitive warm-weather beer.
Rich, hypnotic color and a layered chrysanthemum nose as suggestive as any white Burgundy. On the palate the main attraction is not the superb primary flavors (malt and white fruit) but those fleeting overtones of metal, limestone, pear and honey. The texture like swaddling cloth and a bitter, hop-driven finish make this a world heritage ale in my book.
VANBERG & DEWULF
The foamy ivory head on this beauty from Opwijk rises in the glass and, loyal as an old Labrador, settles in for the duration. Razor-keen flavors of citrus and spice sally onto the palate, followed by a phalanx of nutty, malty tones and a bitter citrus-rind finish. Truly Belgian; truly great.
STAR BRAND IMPORTS
Halve Maan brewery brews this appealing jester of a beer. (The name means “fool of Bruges.”) The aggressive head is as fizzy as Alka-Seltzer and rises in the glass—sound and all—like a science experiment about to go south. It’s soon dispatched, however, and the stuff shows lovely flavors with medium weight and moderate alcohol. Very entertaining. WIN-IT-TOO
Gorgeous whipped-egg-white head? Check. Intense citrus-spice nose? Yep. Luscious, creamy mouthfeel? Oh, brother. Bracing, thirst-quenching crispness? Glug, glug. Bitter, lingering finish? You betcha. This Belgian-style 5.9 percenter from Maine rings all the right bells. I heart this stuff.
Unibroue Blanche de Chambly
This Canadian wheat beer from Quebec is rich, soft and leesy on the tongue and slides down the gullet faster than a luge down a glacier. Like most of Unibroue’s other beers, it’s refermented in the bottle for extra maturity and longer shelf-life. Only 5 percent, so a perfect quaff for summer afternoons.
Red Carpet Treatment
Larry James of Wine Warehouse, Alex Macy of Red Carpet Wine and Aex Brown of Gourmet Imports show off some Wine Warehouse Belgian selections.
Los Angeles area beer aficionados gravitate periodically toward Red Carpet like swallows homing in on Capistrano. This Glendale shop, founded in 1964, ranks among the best places to buy wine, liquor and beer in Southern California, and Alex Macy, who is in charge of the beer department, has instituted an occasional series of blind beer tastings that draw crowds of avid home-brewers, hopeless beer geeks, curious neophytes and the just plain thirsty.
At a recent Friday tasting, Macy pitted a bevy of Belgian brews against domestic versions of the same type. There were a few surprises (who knew Michelob could trounce Stella Artois in the lager category?), but the Belgian originals generally showed more depth and complexity. Excellent American offerings from the likes of Allagash and Alesmith, however, had attendees frequently stumped and often divided about individual preference.
Drew Beechum from L.A.’s notoriously opinionated homebrew club, The Maltose Falcons spoke about each beer. (The Falcons’ Jonny Lieberman also helps out on occasion.) Larry James, rep from wholesaler Wine Warehouse, which distributes many of the 400-plus brews that fill Macy’s shelves at Red Carpet, offered color commentary. Carefully matched cheeses were provided by Alex Brown from Gourmet Imports, and one of the participants even baked a pecan pie for dessert. Is this a great place, or what?
Look for Red Carpet’s Grilled Cheese beer pairing later this month and their Oktoberfest event in September. www.redcarpetwine.com