Friday 17 February 2012

SF Beer Week: Thursday

After Wednesday night’s excesses at the Dogfish Head night at Amsterdam CafĂ©, we were nursing slightly sore heads this morning. Once we’d managed to drag ourselves up and out of our hotel, the only reasonable thing to do was to go back to Amsterdam for a bacon sandwich and a hair of the dog while we planned our next move.

They were busy loading in kegs and preparing for the night’s Belgian showcase from the US importer Waterloo, but luckily they still had a couple of Dogfish beers on tap from the night before that we hadn’t had the chance to sample. With so many different events each day, often dedicated to particular brewers, a lot of kegs remain unfinished after the event – missing out on a particular brewer’s showcase isn’t the end of the world, as it’s quite possible that you can pop in the following days and find some of their wares still on tap.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, DFH’s main strength is their invention and innovation in their brewing – their continually hopped 60 and 90 Minute IPAs (where the hops are added slowly and gradually over the course of the brew rather than all being dumped in at once) is a good example. However, it can also be a weakness, and I’ve heard a few tales about wacky Dogfish beers that they found borderline undrinkable.

Which brings us to the two beers we had with our brunch. The first was Red and White, a sort-of splicing of red wine and a Belgian wit. The beer is fermented with Pinot Noir grape juice, then once the yeast has done its job, the beer is divided up into three, with one portion being aged on oak and another in red wine barrels. The three parts are then blended together again to make the finished beer. There’s a slightly pinkish hue once it sits in the glass, and it smells more like a rose wine than any beer I’ve had before. There’s some grape must and peaches in there, and you get the same impression when you first taste it – floral and grapey, like an easy drinking summer wine. But then it mutates in the mouth and you realise that it you’re drinking a strong ale, and by the time you swallow you get some hop bitterness to round it off. A compelling beer, even for lunchtime drinking.

(left - Dogfish Head Red and White; right - the disappointing Dogfish Head Pangaea)

As you might guess, the other beer we had was not quite as good. Pangaea has a very gimmicky concept – the name comes from the single supercontinent that made up the Earth millions of years ago, and the beer contains one ingredient from every continent (Australian ginger, Japanese rice, water from Antarctica(!) etc). It sounds interesting, but in reality it was easily the most dull beer we’ve had all week. I couldn’t taste any ginger in there – it’s light, drinkable, some clove-like phenols… but then it becomes a little too sweet and flat. It’s a bad sign when the words ‘Top Deck Shandy’ are included in my notes.

And so to the evening. As we emerge from the BART, San Francisco’s mass transit rail system, at 24th Street Mission station, a busker with an accordion provides us with an appropriately Gallic soundtrack. The palm trees and taquerias that line the street may be more Mexico City than Montreal, but tonight belongs to Quebec. I have to be honest, I don't know very much about the Montreal craft brewing scene, but that seemed all the more reason to come to Rosamunde in the Mission for French-Canadian brews and poutine.

 Rosamunde is, strictly speaking, not a beer bar – it’s a sausage grill, serving gourmet hot dogs with a beer on the side, but it has a bar that would put all put a couple of London’s pubs to shame. A full 24 keg lines, featuring everything from the ubiquitous Stella Artois through to Green Flash’s Double Stout (a rich, dark, malty brew that seems to lose a few of the 8.8% ABV between tap and tastebuds, which makes it very dangerous indeed), and a long list of bottles on top of that. Five of those keg lines had been given over to Unibroue and Brasserie Dieu du Ciel, so we picked one from each brewery.

We gave Unibroue’s (apparently famous) Maudite a miss and instead went for the Trois Pistoles, a dark, malty banana loaf of a beer, with a sort of hot-cross-bun yeast-and-spice character to the palate. A sort of home baking double act in a glass. Rich and sweet, with that familiar banana ester profile, it had a strong but smooth alcohol finish. As nice as that was, I was much more intrigued by Dieu du Ciel’s Route des Epices, which was billed on the menu as a rye beer but which could more accurately be described as a peppercorn red ale. Rye can give a beer a very subtle spiciness, but Dieu du Ciel decided not to leave that element of flavour to chance and threw in green and black peppercorns just to make doubly sure. It smells like freshly ground pepper, tastes like cayenne pepper and then burns down the throat like a chilli pepper. I love spicy food, so I thought it was fantastic, but unfortunately everyone else who tried it made a bit of a face. Philistines.

(The Quebec Night line-up. Unfortunately, we didn't get to try the poutine...)

By the time we’d supped those up, the poutine had already sold out and there was now a queue to get in, so with the Route des Epices firing my appetite for spice, we left San Francisco’s little piece of Quebec and headed for one of those local taquerias. And as if to underline the penetration that craft beer has here, you can grab a hop-laden Lagunitas IPA with your red snapper burrito. Amazing.


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