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A man for all Saisons

April 1999

By Kurt Epps

"You canšt be intimate with beer until you make it. Until then you can only love it."

So goes the credo of a volcano of beer passion named Steve Gale. And make it he does - exceptionally well, I might add - down in his basement, which sports a refrigerator door especially designed with two taps poking out the front. The taps are hooked up to Steve's current homebrews like the incredible Pool Table Pilsner he shared with the PubScout during a quick trip to the bowels of his lakeside New Jersey home.

But it was not to sample the creations of this human beer engine that caused a small but savvy group of beer-nuts to assemble at Galešs home this rainy April night.

The group, which included beer luminaries like ASN editor Tony Forder and Beers International President Richie Stolarz, had been invited to a Gale creation called Saisonathon 99.

Gale, who will be featured in an upcoming issue of "American Brewer" magazine, hosts a website dedicated to exploring and enjoying the intricacies and intimacies of Gale's second love - Belgian Beer (his gracious and reserved wife Anne gets top billing on the love list).

The private tasting was rounded out with a delightful couple, beer connoisseurs Bill and Carolyn Blowers and long-time Stolarz compatriot Ron Battafarano, whose approach to beer is devoid of pretense and elitism: "I donšt know or care what the fancy ingredients and terms are; I just know what I like." It's an approach that the PubScout wholly endorses, but more about that in another venue.

Gale, on the other hand, displays a knowledge so thorough and a palate so trained he can frequently tell you how close a particular farmhouse ale (saison) was made to where the farm animals themselves reside. One taste heard him reveal that he detected some "graceful barnyard notes" in the nose, though no one else who sampled it could - or would have cared.

We were too busy enjoying an unending array of Belgian Beauties, some seven years old or more, accompanied by some delightful delectables like fine cheeses, fruit, and hot French bread dipped in olive oils from four different countries. It was not a night to count calories or yeast intake. I fully intended to make complete notes about the beers according to color, aroma, body, character and other "graceful notes" but I kind of lost my journalistic instinct - though not my dedication to the tasting - after the tenth offering.

I did get to taste Saison Dupont, Moinette, Le Bons Voeux (my favorite - at least I think it was), Hennepin (another favorite and one which held its own quite nicely among some pretty fancy company), Fantome and four (or was it eight?) varieties of Vapeur en Folie. These beers were so good that the lowest rated one - a flat '94 - got the best quote of the night from Richie Stolarz: "It's not bad - it's just dead." Having just provided us with a mini-lesson in the intricacies of cork construction, Stolarz's comment carried a special significance.

There were many more saison samples, including one produced by the Gale himself, which he said had never been well received at contests (though no taster here panned it), but since I had the privilege of sampling some of Steve's other private stock downstairs, I lost track. You can get the rest of the names from Tony Forderšs article when it comes out next year (grin).

In sum, it was night made memorable by the exceptional quality of the beverages and accompanying food, the graciousness of the hostess, and the gregariousness of the invited guests (which seemed to grow in direct proportion to the numerous beer samplings).

And permeating it all was the passion, wit and personal beer exuberance of one Steve Gale - truly a man for all Saisons.

®Kurt E. Epps 1999 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps