Thursday, June 20, 2013
By TOM ATWELL
The wild and sour beer tasting on Nov. 7 at the Bier Cellar in Portland would have been a perfect introduction for people who have never had these types of beers before. But there were also a lot of people experienced in these beers looking to expand their horizons.
The Flemish Duchesse de Bourgogne, above, is a blend of beers aged in oak casks; the Italian Rubus beer, below, is a 5.8-percent alcohol brew made from fresh raspberries.
I considered myself somewhere in the middle on these beers. I have had some wild-yeast beers in the past, including lambics and geuzes, but not many, and have not sorted out all of the different brewers, styles and regions. A note here: It can be spelled either "geuze" or "gueuze." I will use geuze unless the brewer uses gueuze.
Greg Norton, the Bier Cellar's co-owner, offered sips of nine different beers in a progression of complexity in the style. And while most people think of Belgium for sour beers, he also had offerings from Italy and Germany.
We opened with Rubus, made by Del Borgo in Italy. This 5.8-percent alcohol beer is made with fresh raspberries, and had some reddish orange. It also had just a hint of wild beer funk, but that was offset by the flavor and sweetness of the raspberries.
The Flemish red ale Duchesse de Bourgogne from Brouwerij Verhaeghe is a classic for the style, with almost no carbonation and a rich flavor. It is a blend of 8- and 18-month-old beers, aged in oak casks, with just a bit of sourness. It was one of my favorites of the line-up.
Norton described La Mummia as a young geuze. It's brewed in Italy, where the beer from several brewings is split and aged in six different oak wine barrels, and then reblended. The 4.8-percent alcohol beer has a little bit of the classic wild yeast beer funk, but it is not overly sour, and again has low carbonation.
Alvinne Undressed is a Belgian brown ale with a minimal amount of hops and little carbonation. It had a bit more funk and sourness than the earlier beers in the group. This is the basic Belgian brun, Norton said, the beer to which brewers will add spices and other adjuncts to create their specialty beers. It's from a new (founded in 2004) and improving brewer in West Flanders.
The Berliner Weisse offered as part of the line-up was a little bit unusual. When I have ordered this beer in bars in the past, it came with a little bit of fruit syrup. Norton said this beer was brewed with salt added, so it does not take the fruit. It has a lot of yeast and pours very cloudy, and is nicely sour. It's only 3 percent alcohol, and would be fairly refreshing.
The line-up of six beers ended with Oude Geuze Vielle from Oud Beersel in the Flanders section of Belgium. Old Geuze is the pinnacle of Belgian beers, and this is a fine, authentic beer with a wonderfully complex flavor. It's 6 percent alcohol, and Norton said it's one of the bargains for the style. Tim Webb, in his "Good Beer Guide Belgium," has high praise for this beer, giving it four stars moving toward five on his scale of five.
All of these beers are on the shelves at the Bier Cellar, and the ones I checked were in the $5 to $9 range for an 11.2-ounce bottle. Not inexpensive, but what you expect for the style of beer.
Norton also offered sips from three different beers from LoverBeer, an Italian beer company. These beers have to be special ordered, and are more expensive. One was a wild beer with grape juice added, one was a wild beer brewed with grapes, and the third was a wild beer with lacto-bacillus acid added to the mix to make it especially sour and funky.
The sips provided only enough of a taste to make you want a bit more, but they were all intriguing. The one with whole grapes was my favorite, but the one with lacto-bacillus acid had a crazy mix of sour and sweet flavors.
WHEN FREEPORT Brewing Co. was brewing in Freeport, our favorite of the company's beers was the Chocolate Porter.
Ken Collings brought the brewery back to life last spring, but in South Portland, and I have enjoyed the beers.
A couple of weeks ago, the Bier Cellar said on its website that it had the Chocolate Porter. It has a big creamy head, requiring that you pour carefully if you don't want more than half head in your glass. And it is full of rich, roasted malt.
The beer was every bit is good as I remembered it.
Tom Atwell is a freelance writer living in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: