(UPDATE: City Weekend article here)
(UPDATE 2: Beijing Today’s article, in PDF format. May 14 – 20, 2010 Issue, page 17)
In late April, I was proud to showcase a few select beers for several invitees from the English-language media in Beijing. Amongst them were Annie Wei from Beijing Today, Gabriel Monroe from Agenda, and Greg Williams from City Weekend. We were also joined again by Jim Boyce and by Frank Siegel, who graciously hosted the event at the new Kerry Center location of Sequoia Cafe.
There were six beers featured, with three of them available in Beijing and the other three which I hand-carried back from the states:
- Inedit, by Estrella Damm (Barcelona, Spain). A spiced, wheat ale designed in collaboration with three-star Michelin chef Ferran Adrià and his staff at El Bulli. Available in Beijing
- Chateau Jiahu, by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery (Delaware, USA). Inspired by a 9000 year old beverage found at a Neolithic archeological site in Jiahu, Henan Provice. NOT available in Beijing
- Dead Guy Ale, by Rogue Ales (Oregon, USA). Descended from the German Maibock style, a strong springtime lager, but brewed with Rogue’s house ale yeast. Available in Beijing
- John John Dead Guy Ale, by Rogue Ales (Oregon, USA). A special batch of Dead Guy Ale that was aged in Rogue’s own whiskey barrels. NOT available in Beijing
- Imperial Stout, by Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster, England). A classic Russian Imperial Stout. Available in Beijing
- Bourbon County Brand Stout, by Goose Island (Chicago, USA). An imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels. NOT available in Beijing
(DISCLOSURE: I am currently a sales representative for DXCEL, the importers and distributors of Estrella Inedit and Rogue Dead Guy into mainland China.)
Starting off with the Inedit (French for “new” or “original”) was a deliberate choice. I wanted something that would be flavorful and enlivening on the palate, but also refreshing and not too overwhelming. The beer was created under the auspices of 3-star Michelin chef Ferran Adrià and his staff at El Bulli. These are the names made (in)famous by their pioneering in the realm of molecular gastronomy. Inedit is intended as an alternative to wine for food pairing in fine dining establishments, and particularly for foods that often prove challenging for sommeliers (such as vinegar, asparagus, and spicy, sweet or bitter flavors).
With a Belgian-style witbier as its base, Inedit is brewed with barley malt, wheat, hops, coriander seed, orange peel, and licorice. The yeast sediment in the bottle should be swirled into each serving, to provide both a freshly bready flavor and a creamy mouthfeel. What sets Inedit apart from more commonplace witbiers such as Hoegaarden is both the inclusion of licorice and the blending of a small amount of pale lager, for an additional crispness.
(UPDATE: Boyce’s blog entry here)
Since we only started in the late afternoon, I didn’t want to spoil anybody’s dinner plans. But I still wanted some small accompaniments for the tasting. For this, Sequoia provided bread and cheese, as well as some chicken-and-mushroom jiaozi, to accompany both the Inedit and the forthcoming Chateau Jiahu. For those interested in more food pairings, also try Inedit with salads, chicken, seafood, and cuisines as varied as: Thai, Vietnamese, French or Indian, to Italian, Japanese, or Mexican. It is currently available in 750ML bottles at Beijing restaurants such as Carmen, Salt, La Sushi, RoomBeijing and Invito.
Next in line was Jim Boyce’s most eagerly awaited item: Chateau Jiahu. This is a concoction reverse-engineered via molecular archeology from a 9000-year-old Neolithic site in Henan province. In addition to barley malt (a legal requirement for the beverage to be sold as “beer” in the USA), it includes pre-gelatinized rice flakes, wildflower honey, muscat grapes, hawthorn fruit (山楂 shān zhā, commonly found in a candied street snack and in haw flakes), and chrysanthemum flowers, and is fermented with a sake yeast. More details on the research and development can be found in a piece by National Geographic, and from Discover Magazine (although the latter didn’t seem to be a fan of the final product).
We found this particular batch of Chateau Jiahu (bottled 2009) to be quite floral and tropically fruity on the nose. This is slightly more flamboyant than what I remember from my initial review of the 2007 bottling. Still, it remains a tasty and intriguing brew that was well-received, and especially for staying true to Dogfish Head’s theme of making “off-centered” or “extreme” beers. While not currently available here in its ancestral land, perhaps one day it will be…
(UPDATE: Boyce’s tasting notes are now available on his blog. Also note that we only opened one bottle out of two. One of the bottles was Boyce’s own contribution, via another friend visiting from the US.)
Returning to something a little less “extreme”, we sampled Rogue’s venerable Dead Guy Ale, which has been available in China for several years now. Dead Guy is derived from the German Maibock style, which is a springtime bock beer. However, while using a Maibock-like recipe, it is fermented with Rogue’s house ale yeast (dubbed the “Pacman”) instead of a typical lager yeast. Thus the fermentation is quicker and at higher temperatures, and emits more of the estery and spicy qualities of an ale. And again, as an American re-interpretation, it is hoppier than the German originals as well.
Originally brewed almost a generation ago in celebration of the Day of the Dead (and unintentionally also earning a following amongst Grateful Dead fans), this is now Rogue’s most popular brew. Pair this with pork dishes or roast chicken for it best expression. Available throughout Beijing. (Comprehensive list forthcoming.)
But admittedly this was also a segue into trying out John John Dead Guy Ale: a special batch of Dead Guy Ale, but aged in Dead Guy Whiskey barrels. Rogue is also a producer of small-batch distilled spirits, and both the brewmaster and the head distiller are each named “John” – hence the beer’s name.
Aging beer in wooden casks has enjoyed a resurgence in the past few years. With whiskey-barrel-aged beers such as John John, you will get notes from the liquor previously held within, in addition to the character of the wood itself. John John combines the malty foundation of Dead Guy with hints of vanilla and spice from the whiskey and oak. Leather and tobacco are also detectable – although it seems that Boyce felt this lent a “sweaty sock” note to the overall beer.
From here, we continued a march into newly charted territory (or at least “new” for Beijing)… with Samuel Smith, of Tadcaster England, and their classic Imperial Stout. One of the original “craft breweries” (before the term was even coined) to be imported into the US, their Russian imperial stout is descended from the brews originally made for the royal court of Catherine the Great. The same US importer, Merchant du Vin, has only recently entered the China market.
Rich and heavy, this beer is well-suited for sipping and contemplation. At 7% ABV it might not be as brash as its mutant American cousins, but remains bold and hefty. Coffee and cocoa notes, from the roasted barley, approach the intensity of espresso and dark chocolate. Plum and cherry hints emerge from underneath the plentiful hopping. It is with this beer that I introduced one of my favorite pairings with imperial stout: a well-aged Gouda cheese.
For your own adventures with this heady brew, seek it out at Beijing’s long-standing champion of suds: Beer Mania. While Samuel Smith beers have been available in Shanghai for about a year now, they have finally made their way to the ancient capital, and it is no surprise that Beer Mania would spearhead its entry. (Merchant du Vin will also update me with other venues in the future.)
To close out the evening, I treated everyone to a rare, hand-carried item: Goose Island’s 2009 Bourbon County Brand Stout. Clocking in at a menacing 13% ABV, it gives credence to the reputation for American swagger – but in a deliciously smooth way. While also an imperial stout, in addition to being higher in alcohol and heavier in body than the English originals, Goose Island’s monster is furthermore aged in Elijah Craig Bourbon whiskey barrels. (Elijah Craig is Heaven Hill’s premium, 18-year, single barrel bourbon, with an astonishing 66% angel’s share.)
While I personally prefer Bourbon County Stout after 2 or 3 years in the cellar, this fresh 2009 batch is prized amongst those who love the in-your-face blast of bourbon – boozy yet still smooth, with the upfront characters of vanilla and toasted coconut, with hints of toffee and sweet tobacco. It plays well with the base beer’s notes of syrupy molasses and honey, with roasted coffee and rich cocoa. Not only a great nightcap, but one touted by many as the perfect “cigar beer”.