Vive la Bière

Newly reinstated in snowy Boston after a week in Paris, and avoiding stepping into the outside tundra, I decided now would be the perfect time to investigate French beer from the comfort of my couch.  I realize that France is better known for its other alcoholic beverages, but thought that it must boast some beer talent, with its close proximity to beer powerhouses like Germany and Belgium.

My hypothesis proved correct, and conveniently one type of beer is more influenced by German brewing while the other borrows from Belgian traditions.  These two major types of beer in France are bière d’Alsace and bière de garde.

Bière d’Alsace, not surprisingly, comes from the Alsace region of France (that would be northeastern France for those geographically challenged) right along that German border.  Most French beer is produced in Alsace, including Fischer and Kronenbourg.  These beers are mostly pale with some pilsner characteristics.  I tried Kronenbourg at a lovely sidewalk café one afternoon.  It poured a golden yellow with respectable lacing and smelled sweetly grainy and a bit hoppy.  It felt crisp and light in my mouth, and the taste revealed a nice balance of malts and hops, with some grassy notes.  I would describe it as a traditional European pale lager.

Perhaps more interesting and certainly more complex is the bière de Garde (in English, “keeping beer”), which originates from French Flanders, Picardy and the Pas de Calais in northern France.  Bière de garde was traditionally brewed from February to March and enjoyed during the summer.  This copper- to golden-coloured brew’s main characteristics are its malt accent and ale-like fruitiness, but it also has earthy and caramel notes.  The beer is spicy and strong enough to be passed off as a Belgian ale.  One very tasty bière de garde that I have sampled is called 3 Monts from the Brasserie De Saint-Sylvestre.  It comes corked and pours a bright straw color and is very clear.  It smells of yeast – earthy and spicy – and tastes of hoppy bitterness.  The taste is also earthy and maybe a little nutty, with notes of cinnamon, clove and white pepper.  This beer is very drinkable – dangerous with the high alcohol content – even though the high carbonation will make your mouth “fizzle”.

Next time you dine at a French bistro or brasserie, whether in Europe or in the Boston tundra, why not forego the predictable wine selection and investigate whether the restaurant offers these tasty beers?  You might be surprised by how well they pair with the French food!  Salut!

It’s Winter: Cozy up at the Café

When it started to get cold back in November, and we were past the time appropriate for “oktoberfests,” I decided it was time to get some “winter beers” into the café.  The problem was that I didn’t really know what a “winter beer” was.  It turned out that no one really knew what defined a winter beer – although the most common characteristics include malty taste, complexity and high alcohol content.  In addition to these characteristics, some winter beers have strong fruity or spicy overtones.  Others are flavored with vanilla or chocolate.  In short, these beers tend to make one feel “cozier.”

So far, we’ve served Brooklyn Winter Ale, Wachusett Winter Ale, and Peak Organic Winter Session Ale.  Brooklyn Winter (@brooklynbrewery) is a smooth and creamy Scottish ale that hits somewhat malty and bready on the nose, and pours a clear bright amber with a small head. It has a reasonable mixture of hops to balance the sweet malty flavor. Other flavors include chocolate and caramel as well as hints of butterscotch.

Wachusett Winter (@wachusettbrew) pours a nice amber color with a white foamy head.  Wachusett Winter is also a Scottish ale, made with crystal, Munich, smoked and special malts.  The beer has a ruby color and a malty aroma.  The malts come out in the taste as well, with notes of caramel, roasted nuts and a light fruitiness.  Wachusett Brewery asserts that no spices are needed for this rich flavored brew!

Peak Organic Winter Session Ale (@peakbrewing) is a winter wheat beer that uses dark malting to produce subtle toasty flavors.  Peak Organic single-hops the beer but then also dry-hops the beer with Citra hops from a friend’s farm.  The Citra hops give the beer pineapple overtones that contrast with the toastiness of the flavor.  Winter Session pours a darkened amber color, but the brew is very clear.  The aroma contains wheat, citrus, bananas, dark malts and a good amount of hops.  The taste begins crisp and hoppy, and then rounds out with dark roasted malts and hints of caramel and roasted malts.  Thus the beginning sweetness becomes moderately bitter in the finish.

We’ll be trying out more “winter beers” in the café over the coming winter months.  What’s your winter preference?  Are you a Scottish Ale type?  A dark wheat connoisseur?  Or do you like it spicy?  Come to the café and find out!

Your friendly bartender,


Blue Hills, Black Hops

For something a little different this week, I decided to go with Black Hops.  Blue Hills Brewery has created a hybrid lager-ale, based on the German Schwarzbier.  The brewery uses hops as the bittering agent rather than roasted malts used in related darker style beers like stouts and porters.   Black Hops is a hybrid because Blue Hills uses its house ale yeast to obtain full flavour, but once fermented, the ale  is “lagered” or cold-stored.  This lagering tones down the aroma produced in top fermentation.

The beer pours dark brown in color with some reddish hues, and a cream-colored head.  Before you taste the beer, note its malty and roasty aroma with hints of coffee and toffee.  The toffee and coffee come out fully in the flavour, accompanied by citrusy hops, finishing in a dry mild bitterness.  Blue Hills promises that Black Hops will delight the ale or lager customer alike, and it did receive positive critical acclaim at its Venture Cafe debut last night!  Come try it next week.

Your friendly bartender,