Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mug Shots: Beer for Bastille Day.

Usually I don't reprint the "Mug Shots" pieces that appear in the Louisville Eccentric Observer (LEO), although I link to them periodically.

There'll be an exception today owing to extenuating circumstances.

First, the subject matter is appropriate for Sunday's much anticipated Bastille Day Biere de Garde Dinner at Bistro New Albany. Second, owing to an unfortunate mix-up, the publication dates for the two most recent "Mug Shots" became reversed. The Biere de Garde story below was to have appeared yesterday, and the lambic article on June 27. Here's how they actually appeared:

Mug Shots: Retro lambic
(July 11, 2007)

Mug Shots: Beer for Bastille Day
(June 27, 2007)

That's fine; accidents happen. Now, to France ...


Beer for Bastille Day

From the time just after 9-11, when it became the stated policy of every illiterate bumpkin in the American hinterlands to demean all things French without understanding any of them, I’ve resolved to buy and drink beer from France as often as possible.

Contrary to what you may have heard, this political statement requires no sacrifice whatsoever, because no other brewing nation in Europe is as underrated as France – and we’re not speaking here of Alsace’s producers of German-tinged Euro-lager like Kronenbourg. Rather, France’s prime brewing region lies to the north of Paris, alongside Belgium.

It is indicative of the imprecision with which beer styles are codified that aficionados tend to group the ales of Northern France into a catch-all category, Bieres de Garde (or, “beers that have been kept”). As with the Saison style of French-speaking Belgium, these originally were individualistic farmhouse ales brewed in cooler weather, bottled, and stored for later use. This period of aging rounded the edges and contributed a cellar character to ales that were little known outside the region until relatively recently.

In general terms, today’s Bieres de Garde have in common glorious layers of rich malt complexity, with hop-accented offerings tasty, but less common. They can be golden, amber or brown, with the latter being particular good alongside dinner.

While the bulk of received wisdom pertaining to food and drink concentrates on the oenophile’s vision of the correct jug of wine for a particular loaf of bread, France’s Bieres de Garde are an ideal accompaniment to the finest multi-course meal – or to a wheel of stinky cheese, rough country pate and a crusty baguette.

Be adventurous and look for 750 ml bottles, some corked and other crown capped, of Jenlain, Trois Monts, La Choulette, St. Amand and Castelain.

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