We've all heard of fine wine. But fine beer? Perhaps you were perplexed upon seeing $18 craft beers on restaurant menus? Well, the age of finely crafted beer is upon us. And it's not to be missed. Even sommeliers are taking note. Why? Because there's more of a connection to fine beer and wine-making than you might think. It's not just about the hops anymore. And the results are delicious!
The Connection Between Fine Beer and Wine Country
Tyler Clark, founder of The Libertine Brewing Company in San Louis Obispo, Calif., says, "We use more techniques from the wine industry than the beer industry to brew barrel aged wild ales. We’ve used rum, brandy and distillery barrels. Red wine and white wine barrels. French oak and American oak. Pretty much any oak vessel.” All that combined with local yeast strains create mouthwatering wild ales with surprising flavor.
It's not just California that's in on the craft brew scene. Italy is leveraging its wine making heritage to produce luxury fine craft beer. Organic and local, Birra di Capri Ligea, is the delicious result of the family's 900-year wine-making legacy on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Steven Poe, Master Sommelier & Wine Director at Big Canyon Country Club, waxes on about it saying, "Birra di Capri Ligea offers an array of dry, refreshing flavors including Golden delicious apples, a hint of yellow peach and honeycomb, with a palate caressing, creamy-style mousse.” Words you don't often hear to describe... a beer.
Discover Craft Beer's Delicious Sense of Terroir
While most breweries don’t grow their own ingredients and often homogenize them – the essence and flavor and soul in terroir are lost in most commercial beers. Even in larger craft breweries. But not so with sustainable small batches using fresh local ingredients. Especially with sour beers and wild yeast ales. Clark of Libertine explains, “Everything we do uses the wild microcrobes of the Central Coast region" to produce a distinct local flavor not found anywhere else.
Elevated Craft Beer and Food Pairing
Fine craft beer is now so refined, delicate, and dare I say elegant, enough to be paired with even the most complex dishes. At SLO Beer Week, I had the pleasure of indulging in a paired three-course brunch at Foremost Wine Company. Think poached eggs, sweet soy, coconut jam toast paired with a Central Coast Brewing Chai Ale. Then wild smoked black cod blinis with crème fraiche, scallion pancake, chive paired with Central Coast Brewing Monterrey St Ale. Both were incredibly delicious and the beers enhanced the flavors of each dish in surprising ways.
Vegetarians and vegans need not feel out of the craft beer scene. Matthew Kenney NM in Neiman Marcus's Beverly Hills location, expertly pairs small batch craft beer with an elevated vegan café menu. You'll find organic Eel River Blonde that deliciously blends with Avocado Toast. And Lomaland Saison to pop the flavors of a fresh Citrus Truffle Salad.
SLO Beer Week even hosted a Somm vs. Cicerone Dinner where fine wine and the best of craft beer battled it out course-by-course to the claps and cheers of the guests. Bill Sysak of Stone Brewing Company and Sommelier Jenna Congdon of The Station, each made their careful selections. Interestingly enough, the beer won!
The Better to Taste You With: Glasses Matter
Forget your typical pint glass. Not when you're shelling out big bucks for the good stuff. Just as red and white wines are best enjoyed in differently shaped glasses - as is fine craft beer. Famed Bavarian glass maker Spiegelau has perfected the art of craft beer tasting with three distinctly different shaped glasses that enhance a beer's color, texture, clarity and most important--the taste.
A whole new world of flavor and innovation awaits you at the junction where the very best of craft beer and wine-making merge. Here are some tips to get started:
- Go for a four-ounce taster flight. It'll give you the widest range of taste before committing to a full glass.
- The best craft beers aren't always widely available and might be more expensive then you're used to paying at the supermarket.
- Sometimes you have to go to the mothership - the brewery's tasting room - for limited releases. Worth it every time!
- Craft beer often sells out. And when it's gone - especially with Wild Ales - it's gone because it can't be duplicated.
- If you can't go to the mothership - let it come to you. Hit up a craft beer festival where you can cruise rows of fresh brews. Sometimes, you can chat with the master brewers themselves.