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Beer Goes On Forever

i>September, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Day three in Denver began at 10:00 at the amazing Falling Rock Tap House, where “no crap on tap” is taken seriously. The basement room was reserved for our event, a Belgium beer tasting. Seven real live Belgian brewers were originally on the agenda, but all decided on the side of caution, eschewing the unfriendly skies.

Exclaiming that nothing could keep him away from the Great American Beer Festival, beer bard Michael Jackson again did the honors. Wearing the same wrinkled jacket as the night before but with different shirt, trousers and beer tie, his job this morning was as salesman. Teaming with Real Beer, Jackson introduced us 30-some people to a unique beer-of-the-month club, Michael Jackson’s Great Beers of Belgium. The program sends 12 bottles of a Belgium beer, otherwise unattainable in the US, to your door each month, provided of course that you do not live in one of the states (like most of the South) that prohibit beer stronger than 6% alcohol.

Our tasting journey began with Petrus Age Pale. Michael’s crib notes allow that it has “oaky aroma, hints of sherry and fruit among a depth of flavors.” I found it tart, sherryish, similar to a Rodenbach Grand Cru. Not a bad breakfast beer, for I’d had none that morning.

Malheur Brut Reserve, from unlabeled bottles many of which had already popped their corks as they warmed during Michael’s talk, wafted a sweetish aroma from its golden body. I say it’s dry and citrusy. Michael commented that this 11% abv has “a remarkable flowery aroma, with suggestions of vanilla; restrained, tightly combined, fruity flavors (apricot? citrus?) and a very dry finish.” Hmm, we’re getting closer.

Our final taste was Grottenbier. Aged for up to two months in limestone caves in the Belgian province of Limburg, bottles turned weekly like champagne, this 6.5% abv dark ale includes “exotic spices” which provide a gentle, balancing dryness and crispness. When Michael first tasted Grottenbier in late 1998, he proclaimed it his Beer of the Year. I found it extremely complex. New tastes were revealed with each mouthful, though dark toffee flavor provided background for the revolving sensations.

All this and more for only $45/month. Send it to friends or family in a beer-friendly state. Place your order at www.realbeer.com or 888/380-BEER.

Along with several fellow beer writers, we rushed over to catch the end of the Boston Beer Brunch with Jim Koch. Nearly everyone in the industry has their own opinion of Koch (pronounced Cook) and his Samuel Adams beers. Some honor him for bringing craft-brewed beer to the people, effectively broadening the market. Others belittle him for contract brewing and misleading people in Sam Adams advertisements. I have sentiments on both sides of that equation, but this was lunch.

Handshakes and welcome from our host, we headed toward the Italian buffet at Il Fornaio, a sorta-swanky LoDo restaurant. The Samuel Adams Oktoberfest went well with fried calamari and pasta.

Then finally I met friends at the special Connoisseur Tasting session of the Great American Beer Festival. While they wandered the aisles sampling beers from around the country, I waited patiently in the audience for the 20th Anniversary Award ceremony. Paul Gatza of American Homebrewers Association, who served as manager of the Professional Panel Blind Tasting competition, read out gold, silver and bronze winners in 55 beer categories, while Charlie Papazian, Association of Brewers President, greeted each recipient for an official congratulatory photograph. I stood nearby photographer Tom Dalldorf to snap my own shot of Southern winners.

? Rejoining my group, we sampled beers at my suggestion, sort of a guided tour through 1500 American beers, picking unusual beer like Baltimore Brewing’s DeGroen’s Rauchbock, a dark smoked lager, and Flossmoor Station’s Imperial Eclipse Stout, conditioned in used Jack Daniels barrels. It was time to leave before we barely got started.

My final official stop that day was back at Wynkoop Brewing, where this wild excursion began, for the Quill and Tankard Awards Ceremony & Banquet staged by the North American Guild of Beer Writers. I spent quality time with Mark Dorber, celebrated cellarmasters of London’s fabled great beer pub, The White Horse. Needless to say, I walked away without an award, though just about everyone else in attendance was honored for their beer writing prowess.

Hey, no tears in my beers. I stumbled back for the Saturday night festival session. Said goodbye to old friends. Met a few new ones and headed to the hotel to prepare for an early, security-enhanced departure. Consumed by beer for most of three days, the trip home was peaceful.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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