Saturday, April 11, 2009


Ale Mary full of Taste
An April plunge

Let's hear it for stand-up beers. The beers that count - the ones that remain on your mind long after the last great trickle of scent and taste in one enduring gush guzzle.

First up, one of the very best I've tasted in a long while, courtesy of Beerhunter Daniel Mittler (whose latest new and old finds are on display on the top photo of a tiny part of the beautiful Berlin home he shares with Kathrin and Noni.) Stortebeker Bernstein-Wiezen. This is a beer that surprised me, since it's quite hard to be in the German weizen class and be above this really wide but well-maintained quality strata. There are a lot of bad ones of course, but in general there's a wide range of really good weizen beers. But this one had a distinct personality, a unique flavor kick, which was that the banana scent and finish was so exquisite and elegant that it just stood out of the many wheat beers I've had. That's no mean feat, considering that most good weizen beers usually have a taste that carries the herbaceous plants of the genus Musa, while the bad ones end up with a silly plantain flavor. This one -- you knew you were having beer but the fragrance, the carbonation and the finish -- it all added up to an organic class act, with the 5.3% abv making for a fine bio beer that really deserves a standing ovation. I really wonder why no one from BeerAdvocate has reviewed this very good beer.

I had it in Berlin with Daniel, seen here with that other sunshine of his life, baby Noni. Daniel-san has sampled many bio beers and weizen brews, and he agreed with me completely that this was a really nice one.

If you've had good wheat beers you'd know what a "banana finish" means. Think Hoegaarden Wit beers, and think ordinary. Stortebeker's product is as good as that very name - a German privateer who led the Victual Brothers' piracy enterprise in the 1390s and who, after his capture, legend has it, asked his executioners to grant mercy to all the comrade pirates that he'll manage to walk past right his head was lopped off. Stories said he did traipse past his brothers but they were all executed anyway. There's even a statue to honor his memory in Hamburg. We of course can remember him through this beer. (Without losing our heads.)

Mind you, the word "pirate" means many things, especially during its ancient heyday -- a buccaneer's almost the same as a privateer, but they're not exactly pirates or at least not the same as Blackbeard or the ocean brigand Anne Bonny, who were pirates for a different purpose and who were not sailing and pillaging under the flag of private or state interest. But that's another chapter in a book I'm writing and there's another time for that.

Next up, Mort Subite's Original Geueze, a 4.5% Belgian lambic that's a classic thirst quencher and soul-satisfyingly good. I had this very good beer with Mae and Maia, in Sloterkade, Amsterdam one night and though it wasn't as the label said it was -- mort subite, or sudden death -- it was certainly a very memorable brew.

We sampled four different Lambic beers that night and Mort Subite's was the first one, and it really sort of gave the rest of the bottles a very difficult time. It had good body, which was surprising too given the familiar lightness of many lambics, and as a geueze beer it was complex enough with just the right tartness and bubble. It was a bit different from most gueuze styles as it tended to be on the sweetish side and the tartness was not authoritative. But it surprised me in a good way and its yeastiness was very subtle and it was like, having had it just before dinner, I immediately thought "I should have had this for lunch a while ago."

A few GP diaspora friends of mine from Facebook immediately wrote in to agree with my initial thoughts - Jim Thomas for instance wrote in to say he had it all the time once upon a time, and Tonya Hennessey exclaimed "Yummy" while the wizard John Carella reminded me to drop by De Wildeman (which I did again; this bar deserves a separate post later, perhaps with the help of Padma?). This is a nice gueuze, very reliable in the mouthfeel it gave, and it reminded me why lambic beers, especially the gueuze style, should be on the minds of all campaigners worth their salt, because it's based on the premise of spontaneous fermentation and wild yeast and bacteria endemic to the region where it's brewed.

Last but not the least, we have what I'd consider the great Mary from Brouwerij de Prael (The Pearl, in English). Mary packed a 9.6% abv and it had a stand-out flavor that has come to be a hallmark of good Dutch beers. I had it with Ginting and Harris and I believe it dislodged the already really good Zatte of Brouwerij 't Ij from my all time list of fave Dutch brews. It had more bitterness, had more body, and it had a finish that I didn't think could top the Zatte but which clearly surpassed it after I had my first drink. It was a bitter-sweet, almost red triple that was named after Mary Servaes, who the brewery says is also "full, soft and outspoken." That's just what Mary was to me, and Ginting agrees with that it's really a very good beer, and we both preferred it over De Prael's Johnny and Andre and Heintje, which both deserve a post another time.

The brewery's located in one of the oldest parts of Amsterdam the Oudezijds Voorburwal. De Prael says "as long ago as 1300, [the] canal had a beer quay where wooden ships unloaded beer from the south of Germany." It was here that "the first breweries were later established." De Prael named their beers after Dutch singers of popular 'life songs' and the brewery "offers people with a history of mental illness work of a clear and honest nature."

When do we apply eh?

De Prael's labels -- beautiful.

Thanks for dropping by... #




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