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Beer: A week to remember

I expected DC Beer Week to be a bacchanale, but it turned out to be more of a wedding ceremony, celebrating one of the hot trends in craft brewing: the marriage of American hops and Belgian yeast.

Aboard the cruise ship Cherry Blossom a week ago Sunday, Sam Adams rep Mike Sheehan was giving passengers a chance to exercise their franchise by choosing which of two experimental brews they'd like to see in six-packs in January 2011. Sample B was a rye pale ale, perfectly drinkable, but Sample A, a Belgian-style India pale ale, was exceptional, combining the huge piney, citrusy notes of Pacific Northwest hops with the more subtle fruitiness imparted by a fermentation with Belgian yeast. (The company describes the beer as having "complex notes of eucalyptus, peach and citrus.")

The final tally was 42-24 in favor of the IPA, said Sheehan, but that was a beer geek crowd; nationally, the rye pale ale holds the edge. The Beer Lover's Choice contest, an annual promotion from Boston Beer Co., closes at the end of September. In the meantime, area residents can sample the contenders side by side at Dixie Liquor in Georgetown on Sept. 9 from 5:30 to 8 p.m., added Sheehan.

Can we please stuff the ballot box for the IPA?

Also on board the Cherry Blossom was Steve Cardell of Duvel Moortgat USA, pouring samples of Ommegang BPA (Belgian pale ale), "the first new year-around release in seven years" from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y. That beer has already popped up locally on a test basis, and will receive its official rollout in January 2011. The BPA mixes Saaz and Styrian Goldings hops (two European varieties frequently used by Belgian brewers) with in-your-face American Cascades. It's meant to be a session beer, a beer you can drink multiple pints of, although at 6.2 percent alcohol it's still a tad on the strong side.

On Wednesday, Aug. 25, Bread & Brew managed to pull of its first-ever beer dinner successfully in spite of its chef abruptly resigning at 10:30 a.m. that day. The featured brewery was Lagunitas Brewing Co. of Petaluma, Calif., a free-wheeling operation that's not afraid to thumb its nose at stylistic categories. Its summer wheat beer, the aromatic, grapefruity Lil Sumpin' Sumpin', is actually hoppier and higher in alcohol (7.3 percent) than the brewery's IPA. (Kudos to substitute chef Kingsley John for pairing the Lagunitas beers so well with a seafood-heavy menu that included Maryland crab, oysters Rockefeller and baked salmon. Seafood wouldn't have been my first choice to serve with hoppy beers, but it worked here.)

The big news from Lagunitas rep Logan Spielberg is that in September the brewery will ferment a batch of Lil Sumpin' Sumpin' with a Belgian yeast from the Westmalle Trappist brewery. The new brew, Lil Sumpin' Wild, will be available this fall in 22-ounce bottles.

Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Md. was especially active during DC Beer Week, hosting events at the Big Hunt, Bread & Brew and the Black Squirrel. Flying Dog is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a new year-around beer, Raging Bitch. This Belgian-style IPA has "an American IPA chassis," as brewery rep J.T. Smith phrases it, with a healthy dose of Amarillo hops for a flavor somewhere between grapefruit and orange. The Belgian yeast, a strain called "Diablo" because it ferments so vigorously ("the first time we used it our tank overflowed"), adds softer tropical fruit notes.

The beer's name, added Smith, has gotten it yanked off shelves in New Hampshire and banned in Michigan. Smith seemed a little peeved that Michigan has taken no action against Arrogant Bastard from Stone Brewing Co.

But censorship is rarely logical or consistent.

-- Greg Kitsock

By The Food Section  |  August 30, 2010; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Beer  | Tags: Beer, Greg Kitsock  
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