Last Friday the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club met in Minneapolis to celebrate yeast. This was the last of three club events each highlighting the flavor and aroma contributions of a particular brewing ingredient. For this event we sampled our way through a bevy of beers that showcase the beloved fungi (and even some bacteria) that turn hoppy sugar water into beer. We tasted eight different beers representing eight different styles ranging from a balanced English Extra Special Bitter to and intensely funky Belgian Gueuze. Of course a few more beers mysteriously appeared after the official tasting finished. An added bonus for this event were the delicious food pairings prepared by our host Cory. The combination of great beers, great food, and great people put this club meeting over the top.
As with the other two of these ingredient focused events, we started off tasting an English Bitter to see how our highlighted ingredient plays out in an essentially balanced beer. This month it was Huvila ESB from Finland. A great example of the style, this beer starts with a solid bite of hop bitterness that fades into a luscious caramel and toffee malt. The yeast comes through as a subtle orange marmalade with none of the buttery character that is sometimes a part of this style. Cory paired this beer with a cheddary macaroni and cheese.
From there we moved solidly into the realm of yeast starting with Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier. Hefeweizen means “yeasty wheat beer” in German, and in my view Weihenstephaner is one of the best. It does a great job of balancing the characteristic citrus, banana, and clove yeast character with the rich, bready wheat malt. This one was a crowd favorite. Next up was the Smokestack Series Saison from Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City. Historically a Belgian farmhouse ale intended to keep farmhands hydrated through the hot summer months, Saison is a light, effervescent, and refreshing beer with a unique yeasty profile. The Boulevard saison is true to style with a sharp dry finish and a tasty blend of black pepper spiciness with citrus and stone fruit esters. Paired with an aged gouda this was heaven.
It’s the flavors of the yeast that define Belgian beers as “Belgian”, and you can’t talk about yeasty beers without including at least one example. For this we went to the Trappist Westmalle Dubel. Rich caramel malt and dark fruit combine perfectly with the fruity and spicy “Belgian” yeast character in this beer. The Westmalle example has a drier and more bitter finish than some others that I like. This beer was the perfect compliment to the slow boiled beef tongue and heart that cory prepared. I had eaten beef tongue in the past and was never a great fan. I had never eaten heart. Both were absolutely amazing and worked wonderfully with the beer. This was one of the favorite pairings of the night.
From there we dove headlong into the world of true fermentation funkiness, the sour beers. We waded in cautiously with Rodenbach Classic Flanders Red Ale. Wine like, slightly sour, and redolent of cherries and other fruits, this beer received a mixed response. Some loved it. Some simply choked it down. Others thought it would make an excellent salad dressing. The pairing of this beer with pickled herring was the surprise of the night. The sum of the sours was less intense than either separate. It worked quite well. Next was Oro de Calabaza from Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales. This is a Belgian Strong Golden ale that has been aged in barrels harboring wild yeast and funk producing bacteria. Strong barnyard and leather aromas and flavors dominated, but didn’t completely cover up the fruity and spicy belgian yeast character. This was the favorite beer of the night to many in attendance.
My favorite beer and food pairing was 3 Fonteinen Oud Gueuze with gueuze steamed mussels. Gueuze is a blend of one, two, and three year old lambic beers. Intensely sour, cidery, fruity, leathery, and complex, these beers can be a shocker on first tasting. I was really curious to see how the group would respond to this one. I encouraged them to look beyond the sour to find the complexity hidden beneath. By the end of the five ounce pour, it was beginning to grow on many of the tasters. I was happy to see that no one dumped it out. One even commented, “I don’t hate this. I think it could grow on me.”
The last official beer of the night was Oud Beersel Kriek. Take a young unblended lambic and let it sit on a boatload of tart cherries until even the pits dissolve and you have kriek. The intense fruity almond character from the cherries tones down the funkiness and subdues the sour of the lambic making the perfect desert beer. Cory paired this one with a New York Cheesecake for a very proper end to the evening.