Monday, June 19, 2006

June 29 Caffe Classico food & beer tasting and a digression about amber ale.

Be reminded that on Thursday, June 29th, at 7:00 p.m., I’ll be emceeing a beer and food pairing at Caffe Classico, Louisville’s bastion of continental-style coffee. It’s located at 2144 Frankfort Avenue in Louisville.

Owner Tommie Mudd offers elegant Italian-roast espresso, solid café food menu of soups, salads and paninis, short lists of beer (including Duvel and often Chimay) and wine, eclectic evening entertainment on weekends.
The price for 3- to 4-ounce samples of six different beers and accompanying appetizers is only $20:

1. Pilsner: Damm Barcelona with olives, sardines, tapas, etc.

2. American-style microbrew: Boulder Sundance Amber with Sushi (California rolls)

3. Wheat Beer: Paulaner Hefe-Weizen with Weisswurst mit Senf, bitte.

4. Stout: St. Peters Cream Stout, with clams and/or mussels.

5. Trappist Belgian Ale: Westmalle Tripel with cheeses (French-style assortment)

6. Belgian Raspberry Lambic: Lindemans Framboise with Belgian chocolate truffles.

You’ll see that the beer selections haven’t been designed as “advanced.” Rather, my aim is to have beers of moderate strength (except for the Westmalle) but a wide range of flavors and textures, with only one lager (Damm) to serve as calibration.

The only one of the six that I’ve personally not tasted is the Sundance Amber, this being because amber ales generally have not been among my favorite microbrewed styles. However, since my April journey to the Pacific Northwest, I’ve found that they can be serviceable if the malt isn’t too sweet and a good, firm hopping rate is present.

Here are three pertinent amber ale (10-B) explanations from the beer style guidelines at the BJCP website:

Overall Impression: Like an American pale ale with more body, more caramel richness, and a balance more towards malt than hops (although hop rates can be significant).

History: Known simply as Red Ales in some regions, these beers were popularized in the hop-loving Northern California and the Pacific Northwest areas before spreading nationwide.

Comments: Can overlap in color with American pale ales. However, American amber ales differ from American pale ales not only by being usually darker in color, but also by having more caramel flavor, more body, and usually being balanced more evenly between malt and bitterness. Should not have a strong chocolate or roast character that might suggest an American brown ale (although small amounts are OK).

To be candid, although they tend to be well made products, I’ve never much cared for the many amber ales brewed within a few hundred miles of my Louisville-area home, commonly seen examples being Bell’s and Upland.

It’s a nebulous style category at best, and as the BJCP definitions illustrate, amber ale overlaps both pale ale and brown ale, and often has been the repository for simplistic “red” ales without a stylistic home.

And yet, quality amber ales were spotted and enjoyed throughout coastal Oregon and in Seattle during my holiday sampling, and these included regional favorites like Mac & Jack’s African Amber and Alaskan Amber, as well as Fat Tire from relatively far-off Colorado.

Is North Coast’s Red Seal amber ale or pale ale? Accounts very, but I’m guessing the former owing to the body and balance between malt and hop. It’s certainly a sturdy specimen, as is Rogue’s American Amber, always a crisp and well-hopped entry that goes gangbusters with pub grub.

While in Seattle, I purchased a six-pack of Alaskan Amber to take home with carryout garlic and anchovy pizza. The deep dish pizza crust was doughy and chewy, and the amber ale’s malt matched it perfectly, while remaining quaffable for rinsing the saltiness of the sublime and ticklish fishies.

How will Boulder’s amber do with sushi at the Caffe Classico event? I'm not sure, but I’m looking forward to it.


smoosh said...

I agree completely with your comments regarding amber ales. It, along with American Wheat ales, tend to be among my least favorite styles. The reason? They are just boring. Even well made examples are not exciting. Not overly malty. Not bitter. Not yeasty. That doesn't leave much of interest.

antzman said...

If you get a chance, check out Lakefront's Riverwest Stein Beer. This is one of the maltiest ambers I have found available locally. It has a great malty flavor, with enough hops to keep it fairly balanced.

The New Albanian said...

I suppose my problem is that when I look at an amber ale, I keep thinking it will taste like a classic Vienna style lager, which of course it isn't.

smoosh said...

All this still doesn't excuse the American Wheat.