Summer Brews

With temperatures above 90 degrees, now seems like a good time to discuss options from our beer aisles for the summer beer season. Here are three selections that give craft beer drinkers some variety not only in flavor but also in packaging.

 

“Refreshing” is always one of the buzzwords when talking summer options. However, you also need a beer that is flavorful and light and able to quench your thirst. That is all you need for the onset of summer. And a little sunscreen couldn’t hurt either.

 

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Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Let me first state that I am a big fan of ginger. Its unique citrus character is the foundation for many of my favorite Asian-themed dishes I cook at home.

 

But would I want to drink it? As hypothetical questions go, I would be wary of that one as it sounds more like a dare. But now, a new ginger beer is in our market and to enjoy it isn’t much of a challenge.

 

A few years ago, there was a rise in what I call “old time” sodas; sarsaparilla, birch beer and ginger beer. That experience was nearly enough to put me off for keeps. These beverages were based on that old time western theme, because when I think of the old west, naturally my mind defers to their understanding of refreshing soft drinks.

 

The problem for me is that ginger beer has a great opening, but then kind of goes off the rails. The start is a big citrusy explosion, right on schedule. However, on that mid-palate, it gets very spicy and peppery. It’s a big piquant bite that only makes me purse my lips and shake my head. It isn’t just spicy, it becomes almost hot. It’s something I just can’t get my head around. That was it. I was done with ginger beers. Or so I thought….

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Nøgne-ø DunkelWit

It might be a contradiction in terms to advise someone to hurry up and savor something. However, if I find myself behind that person in line somewhere, I might be singing a different tune.

 

Nogne O DunkelWitThis sense of urgency can be traced back to a specific beer, its unique character and its suddenly abrupt and unwelcome departure.

 

The beers from Scandinavia never cease to engage and inspire me. From the complexity of the grain profile in their stouts and porters, to the chewy richness of their malts or the tongue-lashing brightness in their choice of hops. They always keep me interested. We have a small section for these beers and I can often be found going on to no end about the region and their offerings with customers I meet in the aisle until they finally say, “Yes, that is very interesting, but I was just looking for a Pinot Noir.”

 

The Norwegian Brewery Nøgne-ø is a magnificent example of what is being exported from that region. They have been producing some of the more interesting and ambitious beers in the craft world for years now. Their Imperial Dunkel Wit wowed me when I had it for the first time a few months back. It was so complex with a barrage of ever changing flavors. I was floored by it and just couldn’t shake it the memory. So I did what most beer managers would do, I bought as much as I could find so I could preach the gospel and hand sell it to my customers.

 

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Cidre Brut par Nature

As Summer slowly begins its stroll towards Chicago, it is time to start thinking about the eventual return of warmer weather and what we should be drinking when it finally arrives. And after Springs late arrival, I will also try to find a polite way to ask someone, if it is just me, or is he an awful lot shorter than I remember?

Warm weather brings plenty of change with a switch from big flavored imperial stouts and robust Cabernets to citrusy IPAs and crisp whites.

On a piping hot summer day, few things get the festivities started like a pint of hard apple cider. It is always clean, remarkably crisp and refreshing.

Fortunately, the Chicago market has an abundance of ciders. Unfortunately, there is also an abundance of preconceived notions about the drink that should first be debunked.

Yes, traditional hard ciders are sweet. The problem arises with the interpretation of the word sweet. Some think all cider is sweet in that cloying-faux green apple-Jolly Rancher sort of way. That flavor profile is an option, yes, but it is not the be all and end all in the flavor spectrum. Thank goodness.

Fortunately, other options are available. Where some people enjoy that green apple flavor, I prefer something dry. Most reputable cider makers will differentiate their products by putting the word dry on the label itself. Personally, I prefer this style because I believe it gives you the opportunity to actually taste the flavor of the apples themselves, instead of the additional sugar that is added to enhance their flavor. When selecting a cider, dont be afraid to ask for assistance from one of the friendly folks in the beer aisle and explain what it is you are looking for. Getting off on the right foot is the best way to establish a new flavor connection. It is also the best way to flee an angry crowd.

I had a cider recently that really stopped me in my tracks and I think would be an interesting recommendation for those people who enjoy structured white wines and the beer people who like a complicated Belgian sour. This was the second time I tried the bottle and I am still thinking about it.

Cidre Brut par Nature is the product of the Pays dAuge in the Calvados region of northwest France. It comes specifically from the farm of Julien Fremont, who works less than 30 acres of orchards. His methods are old world and the end result shows a complexity of flavor that could never be reproduced by using contemporary methods.

After popping the cork, the color in the glass showed me this wasnt going to be just any cider. It was golden orange with a cloudy and hazy body. The first taste reminded me of a Belgian sour; big, really tart but clean on the finish. There was plenty of action in the glass as it had an almost effervescent quality to it. This is the product of a secondary fermentation that takes place after the cider is bottled when the alcohol level hits 4.5%. This specific technique is where the Brut par Nature part of the name is born. It was still feisty and active, considering it was a 2008 vintage.

As it warmed up, it began to show oranges and citrus, but on the underside was a faint, smoked meat flavor that had me scratching my head. In a few minutes the flavor concentrated to an almost poached apple flavor with hints a firm pear as well. It was clean and sweet, with a profound mineral quality to it.

On the nose it stayed citrus, but being from Iowa, I could also pick up the smell of the pasture as well. The alcohol is high at 5.5%, giving it Cidre Brut classification for any cider over 5%.

It was interesting as the first time I tried this bottling, it had been opened and resealed the previous day. Even a day later, you got the big sour flavor, but the smoke was gone. Surprisingly, the flavor I came away with most was that of Camembert, a little musty, with a meaty and savory quality to it. The bottle was still very much alive.

For a food pairing, any of the cheeses of the Normandy region would work perfectly. Camembert, Livarot or Pont lEveque would be great place to start, as well as any ripe soft-ripened cheese like a Brie. Look for cheeses that have softened a little or have a little give to them. Look for some rust color around the rind. A funkier cheese would work better with this cider.

This certainly isnt a bottle for the beginner, but it would be an interesting selection to anyone looking to broaden their horizons in the world of cider, beer or wine. All it will take is a broad palate, and open mind and hopefully soon, some loungewear.

 

Jeff Collins is the beer manager at the Lakeview Binny’s

Cidre Brut par Nature is available only at the Lakeview Binny’s location.