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Beer Here

Great Beers from Europe and the United States are Leading a Renaissance of the Brewmaster's Art
Garrett Oliver
From the Print Edition:
Demi Moore, Autumn 96

(continued from page 4)

Hops don't grow well in Scotland, so Scottish beers have always leaned on malt for flavor. In the United States, Caledonian's Edinburgh Strong Ale is sold as MacAndrew's Scotch Ale, a fine example of the Scotch ale style. Opening with an intensely toffee-ish malt nose accented with vanilla, this deep amber beer follows through on the palate with rich malt and fruit flavors wrapped around a pleasant sweetness, drying out into a toasty finish with a snap of hops.

Fortunately for the Scots, they have wonderfully flavorful malt to work with, made from traditional malting barleys that elsewhere have been replaced by more efficient breeds. Marris Otter and Golden Promise barleys provide the underpinning not only for Scotch ales, but for Scotch whiskies as well. Those who love The Macallan single malts will recognize the vanilla and butterscotch characteristics of these malts in MacAndrew's Scotch Ale as well.

We'll come back to England later, but now we hop over to Ireland for a pint of stout. Ireland's mysterious black ales have bred more music, tall tales and strange notions than just about any beer in the world. The strangest notion floating around is that stouts are beers scraped from the bottom of brewing vessels. In fact, stouts are ales made partly from malts that are highly roasted, like espresso beans, until they are black. Black malt has an aroma very much like coffee, and that character comes through in stouts.

Another notion is that stouts are very strong; this impression is no doubt due to their imposing appearance. Looks are deceiving, though, and just as a maduro wrapper often binds a mild cigar, Irish stouts tend to be flavorful, but with only about 4 percent alcohol by volume.

The sharp, snappy Guinness is the most famous and ubiquitous Irish stout, of course, but the uninitiated may find the increasingly available Murphy's of Cork more to their liking. As the beer is poured, nitrogen is injected into the stream, which breaks out in the glass into a dense white head with the consistency of whipped cream. A mild aroma of coffee and chocolate with a haylike whiff of hops leads to a surprisingly soft palate, with espresso and chocolate flavors intermingling in a fairly light-bodied beer. The finish is quick, toasty and dry, with hop bitterness pleasantly lingering.

Now, across to the United States, where you might say there is a revolution taking place in the beer marketplace, a revolution I'm happily part of.

At the forefront of the American brewing revolution marches the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico, California. Like a Ben and Jerry's of the beer world, Sierra Nevada started in 1980 with a couple of talented and enthusiastic home brewers at the helm of a brewhouse cobbled together out of used dairy equipment. Now a regional powerhouse, the brewery distributes virtually nationwide. The company's fanatical devotion to big flavor and excellent quality has made it among the most respected brewers in the United States.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is, without doubt, the benchmark for the new American pale ale style. Whereas English pale ales tend to be earthy and subtle, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is brash and proud of it. The northwestern Cascade hop is prevalent in the nose, instantly recognizable by its intense grapefruit and pine needle aroma. Big hop bitterness and bright citric hop flavor open up the palate, which is fruity and medium-bodied; there is just enough malt sturdiness to hold up the hops, which cruise right on through to a dry, crackling finish. The bottled form is actually bottle-conditioned, with the light haze of yeast contributing some additional earthiness. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a delicious beer that seems to delight in spicy cuisine, particularly Mexican and Thai, the cilantro and lemon grass complementing the fruity Cascade hop.

Brooklyn, New York, was once home not only to the Dodgers, but to dozens of breweries as well. At the turn of the century, 48 breweries dotted Brooklyn, making it one of the great brewing capitals of the world. By 1976, they had all fallen silent, victims of declining beer sales and growing competition from the emerging national breweries. But in 1988, the Brooklyn Brewery--for which I became brewmaster in 1994--started producing flavorful beers akin to those brewed before Prohibition.

Brooklyn Brown Ale is a more robust American cousin to the brown ales that were once popular among the English working class. Roasted malts provide a russet-brown color and chocolate and caramel notes in the nose, which is also suffused with a spicy hop aroma and a touch of fruit. After a hoppy snap up front, nut and caramel flavors predominate on a sweetish, malty palate with chocolate and coffee overtones showing through. The beer finishes clean and dry, with a bit of hop lingering. Steak au poivre has met its match.


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