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Beer Articles

2007 Specialty Beers
Orchards, Berries, and Barrels

Posted: December 17, 2007

By Chad Wulff, cwulff@tastings.com

Once again, BTI’s specialty beer competition for Ciders, Fruit Beers, Lambics and Unusual Fermentables produced some interesting results. Here’s a category-by-category breakdown.

Cider is a worldwide tradition and in the States it started with Colonists settling New England.  Back then, a town’s prosperity was largely judged on the quantity of Cider it produced.  Easy to grow in the East Coast climate and also a very easy product to ferment, Cider quickly gained popularity in the New World.  A few original varietals of Apple’s had monikers such as "Blood Butcher" and "Slack-my-Girdle". I’m surprised these names haven’t come up in the marketing of cider just yet.  Cider production had gone rotten after Prohibition, however with the rise of artisanal brewing, cider was once again produced and seen as a unique and refreshing beverage.

In our Draft Cider category the Green Mountain Cidery’s products, particularly their well-known Woodchuck brand, stood out among the others.  The Granny Smith offering scored 91 points and their other entries that included Dark & Dry, 90 points, and Amber 89 points, all proved to be excellent examples of the revival of craft cider.  I feel that ciders make for a great aperitif: low in alcohol and all around refreshing; it’s a great way to get your autumnal celebrations started.  Try pairing them with foods such as a Butternut Squash soup, or use as an ingredient in a seasonally minded cocktail.  For the home chef, ciders are a great for glazes on ham and roasted pork.  We also sampled a French Cider named Clos Normand Brut, 86 points, a great product that has an effervescent quality making it a great picnic drink or a substitute for Champagne.

In the Flavored Lager category, Granville Island Brewing Co.’s Honey Lager stood out at 88 points.  This beer’s well-balanced malt profile and clean honey fade make it a nice and simple afternoon quaff.  Also in this category we received the Lakefront Pumpkin Lager, 86 points.  This product stood out as a great seasonal beer that wasn’t made too gimmicky by the addition of too many "pumpkin pie in a can" type spices.  

In the fruit beer category we were very lucky to see some entries from the New Glarus Brewing Co.  Their Raspberry Tart, 98 points, and Cherry laced sister beer, Wisconsin Belgian Red, 96 points, are two of the Midwest’s Best Fruit beer offerings.  With an almost three-dimensional flavor profile, they can be dessert on their own but it wouldn’t hurt to have a slice of Black Forest Chocolate Cake or a chocolate truffle to complement these beers.  Cheers to Deb and Dan at New Glarus for their passion in brewing!  Other notable products in this category included Unibroue’s Quelque Chose, 94 points, and Liefman’s Brewery’s Kreik Bier, 91 points, and Frambozen Bier, 89 points.  These beers also would do just fine on their own as dessert but could use a small piece of chocolate as well to be truly decadent.

The Flavored Stout Category only saw one entry, but what an amazing entry it was.  A cult beer since it’s debut, The Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, 97 points Platinum medal, gave our judges a great example of a Barrel Aged Beer.  This product would pair well with BBQ, and obvious choice, or for more contrast, try it with some Cajun food.  Also a great nightcap, this product will stand up to a single malt scotch, or small batch bourbon.  Kudos to the Goose Island for brewing one incredible beer.

In our Lambic category, we tasted the Brouwerij Lindeman’s Cuveé René Gueuze Lambic, 93 points, and the Boston Beer Co.’s Samuel Adam’s Cranberry Lambic, 88 points.  The offering from Lindeman’s would pair great with some artisinal triple cream cheese to start your party and I felt as though the Cranberry Lambic could easily replace a Holiday staple wine and wash off the caramelized flavors in the Turkey keeping you ready for another helping.

Last but not least, the Unusual Fermentable Category saw some truly unique beers.  Rogue produced the Chipotle Ale, 88 points, and the Morimoto Soba Ale, 87 points.  Chipotle Ale would be a great compliment to some Chicken Mole or for an interesting dessert, match it up with some dark chocolate. Trust me, the chocolate and spice in this beer will marry very well.  The Soba Ale would work great with some Japanese cuisine such as spicy sushi or teriyaki.  As far as the Belgian style Specialty category, the Signature Ale, 94 points, from Tome Arthur of Pizza Port Brewing and the brewers at De Proof produced an ale of monumental proportions.  The addition of Brettanomyces made this beer’s complexity really give one something to ponder.  It reminded me of a snack that my wife likes to make when chanterelle mushrooms are in season. Mushrooms gently sautéed with some dried apricots, shallots, and a little chicken stock, when reduced, make a great topping for toasted slices of fresh baguette.  The earthiness of the chanterelles plays with the tart flavors of the beer while the apricot brings out the subtle hints of fruit in this ale.  Nothing short of sublime!

As always, the competitions provide me with some fun ideas for food pairings and new ways to celebrate beer.  I hope they do the same for you.

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