I may have mentioned that I favor Belgian beers. I tend to like Chimay Blue, but I’ve been known to drink Maredsous, Duvel, Affligem Dubbel to name a few. Lately I’ve been drinking Kasteel Donker and Rouge. And therein lies a story. A story with castles, dogfish heads, IPA’s, cheeries, and intrigue.
Quite a while back I was at a local eatery called Burgers and Brew. As you can tell from the beers I mentioned I like the bigger, heavier beers (Duvel is a bit lighter, but like the others has lots of flavor). Now a place with the name “Burgers and Brew” wouldn’t seem to be a place that would have a great beer list, but they do. I won’t say I’ve had every Belgian beer (not by a long shot!) but I’ve had a few so I’m a bit hard to surprise (or so I like to think). Anyway I noticed they had something called “Kasteel Rouge” on their list; the name sounded familiar so I decided to give it a try. It turned out to be a cherry-flavored ale, which I happen to like. It was great. A very big beer, port like, lot’s of flavor, dark and rich with 8% alcohol. Good stuff.
Anyway I decided to stop in at one of my favorite purveyors of gourmet food, wine, beer and related items, which happens to be Corti Brothers. Darrell Corti is a local icon and an internationally known expert on wine, sherry and port. His beer section is small but well stocked with some great beers.
But he didn’t have Kasteel on the shelf. So I asked one of the managers if they could order it, and they did. I stopped in about a week later and there it was: Kasteel Rouge. But wait, there’s more! They ordered Kasteel Donker as well. So I bought some of each and went on home. It turns out the Donker is just as incredible as the Rouge — dark, 11% alcohol, big and port like, not much carbonation, malty. Something you could have with a hearty beef stew, or a great round of bread and cheese.
But of course that really isn’t the end of the story.
A few months went by, I had forgotten about Kasteel Rouge and Donker, but I wanted a Chimay Blue, so I stopped back in Corti’s and grabbed one. Now I should say that when shopping for beer I walk with determination and purpose. I took hold of that beer like it had my name on it, stuck in my basket with practiced skill. Which, as it so happens, did not go unnoticed. I looked to my right and saw the Kasteel Rouge and Donker, so I deftly snatched them up and gently placed them in the basket next to the Chimay. At that point I noticed a young man checking out some beers on the lower shelf under the Kasteel, using an iPhone to compare prices (or so I thought). No matter, I went on with my shopping.
When visiting Corti I always browse the wines; I do this in much the same way people browse books at Powell’s – which is to say casually but with purpose. I want to know what is available, I like to day dream about my next acquisition, plan my next tasting and etc.
So there I was, studying wine labels, and up walks the young man with the iPhone. He has two beers in his hand, a Kasteel Donker and a Maredsous. He had seen me at the beer shelf, noticed my intensity and purpose and concluded I would have an opinion about beer. And so I am, and so I do.
We talked for about 10 minutes. It turned out his name was Steve, he was picking out beers for a tasting, which was also a beer brewing party (an “American Red” was the brew to be brewed), and he wanted my opinion on the two beers he had picked out. Which of course I was happy to provide. He actually knew quite a bit about beers; and at one point he said that he did not take me for an IPA man (correct!) but given that we had talked about the relative merits of Duvel and the floral qualities of Belgian beers, there was a particular IPA that I might like. At this point it became clear that he had been using his iPhone not to check prices, but to check beer reviews.
The IPA he directed me to was Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA. I had heard of Dogfish Head before, but never had any of their beer. The 90 Minute IPA comes in a 4-pack, and it’s pricey. But “it might just be the best IPA in America” according to the blurb on the carton. Did I mention I don’t like IPA’s? Not for about 20 years. Too bitter. And this IPA was expensive. But there I was, standing in Corti Brothers, one of the best grocery and gourmet food stores ever, in a well stocked and well appointed beer section, talking about great beers with a bright young man who used an iPhone to track beer reviews while shopping. This was fate talking to me. So I bought the 4-pack.
Now 5:30 pm comes every day, right about the same time. And right about then, I tend to starting thinking about how wonderful a glass of beer would be, or which wine I would like. On this day 5:30 was slow to come around, because I had that Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA waiting for me. Did I mention it could be the best IPA in America? Did I mention it wouldn’t make much difference because I don’t like IPA?
By 5:30 the beer was gently cascading into one of my wine glasses, making that wonderful gurgling sound that beer makes when it’s time for beer. And as much as I don’t like IPAs, this one probably is the best IPA in America. The nose is as complex as any Alsatian Gewürztraminer you’ll ever have, the color is pale straw, and it is one big, rich complex beer. At 9% it has a lot of body. As expected a tremendous hoppy flavor up front, but there is also a spicy middle and a slightly fleeting sweet finish, followed up by a final taste of hops. One of the best beers I’ve ever had, bar none. And I still don’t like IPA.
I bought a couple more 4-packs to have and share.
Thanks to Steve for the recommendation! And best wishes with your brew.
And thanks to all of you for stopping by. Have a great day and we’ll see you soon.