Monday, May 17, 2010

Cascade Brewing Beer Belly

Following on the heels of the Fred Fest report, here's another opportunity for you to rub shoulders with local beer luminaries, enjoy special beers with good food, and benefit a good cause. You don't even have to wait a year to do it: the EastBurn hosts a new Beer Belly Dinner every month on the 2nd Thursday. It's hard to beat a $35 four-course meal, paired with five beers presented by the brewers themselves. And proceeds go to Ride On, the local non-profit that helps drivers get home with their cars when they shouldn't be behind the wheel themselves.

Thursday's Beer Belly with Cascade Brewing found Carla and I -- and probably some of the other attendees -- slightly out of our comfort zone, in the world of sour and fruit beers.  But if your comfort zone has to be breached, this is the way to do it. Ron Gansberg and Curtis Bain brought along a brilliant set of beers to show off their talents at brewing wild things, then aging and blending them to near perfection.  The weather was perfect on the patio, we had interesting and affable table mates, and chefs Jeff Pagel and Joe Dougherty served up a delicious menu.

The beers on hand were:
  • Spring Gose: German wheat beer with salt and coriander
  • 2009 The Vine: Belgian Abbey ale barrel-aged with wine grapes
  • Busta Nut Brown: mild brown ale
  • 2009 Cascade Kriek: Flanders Red aged with cherries
  • Noyeaux: Belgian blonde with raspberries and apricot pits (!)
  • 2009 Apricot Ale: another Belgian ale, with apricots
The sample of  Noyeaux was an unannounced bonus at the dinner.  Ron introduced it by saying he thinks it's the first truly world-class beer that Cascade has produced.  I think others would disagree that it is the first, as the accolades for their sour beers are starting to pile up, and it really took some chutzpah to make that statement right as the diners were finishing their glasses of the show-stopping Kriek.  Noyeaux was a fine beer with a kind of mingled raspberry/apricot flavor, and the apricot pit adjunct makes it an interesting conversation piece as well as adding almond notes to the smell and taste of the beer.  When I first heard that Gansberg made a beer with the meat from apricot pits, my first reaction was, "Is he trying to poison people?".  Turns out that roasting the pits detoxifies them and leaves you a little almond-like nut (there's a trace of cyanide left, so you wouldn't want to eat a pound of them).  I was glad to get a taste at the dinner, though I did watch Ron take a drink before I tried mine.

Finer palates than mine may pronounce Noyeaux the top of the Cascade line, but for me the highlight of the evening was definitely the Kriek.  I had never tried it, because the 750 ml bottles seemed out of my price range for something I suspected I might not like.  But it was an astonishing beer, rich and lush with dark cherry flavors, and went especially well with the lamb entree.  What is it about cherries that makes them work so well with beer?  I hardly ever think I want to eat a cherry or a cherry pie, but the cherry beers that have come to my attention lately have been wonderful -- Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam, Bridgeport's 2009 Stumptown Tart, Upright's Four Play, and now Cascade's Kriek.  Whereas the lighter Tart and Four Play had more of a pie-cherry flavor, the Kriek was reminiscent of darker bing cherries.  It was an eye-opener for me; I'll be looking for more of this.

There wasn't a bad beer there that evening.  Even Carla liked the Gose, and she didn't like the Goses I plied her with before.  It was my second dose of The Vine that week, though I had to wait for my glass to warm up before it reminded me of how much I had liked it at Fred Fest.

Cheers to Cascade and EastBurn for putting together a wonderful meal.  Definitely keep an eye on the Beer Belly calendar -- they're great events.

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