Divine Froth … Splendiferous … Mysterious … Rounded. Far more drink connoisseurs use these words than you might think to describe the secrets living beneath the surface in cellars, caves, and catacombs. This secret world seems to be shrouded in mystery, a throwback to ancient times when catacombs wound furtively underground throughout the European continent.
Who knows what secrets they hold? The word Catacomb was possibly derived from a Latin proper name of catacumbae, or from the phrase cata tumbas, meaning among the tombs. Some may have served as protected centers of learning or as escape routes for cities under siege. Many believe the earliest to have been beneath the city of Rome, where ancient Christians, the criminal rebels of antiquity, practiced religious rites and buried their dead. In France, they served as refugee hideouts during World War II, and eventually as storage systems for wine.
The Catacombs of the Bayreuth Aktien-Brauerei in Germany were honed-out between the 16th and the 19th century; then, used as a storage place for beer. This underground labyrinth was cool, where beer was stored and matured before refrigeration was an option. Although no longer used for beer storage, these underground tunnels have stimulated the imagination of beer collecting tourists who, upon their return to the States, built subterranean storage units and vertical collections of vintage beers.
Grottenbier, or cave-aged beer, was born in the dreams of Pierre Celis, founder of Hoegaarden. Along the River Jeker at the village of Kanne in Belgium, he established “cellars” for developing a beer with greater dimension. After his dark ale was brewed at St. Bernardus, Celis invented a fermentation process that riddled the beer in classic Champagne style, within the expansive caves at Kanne. These tunnels, meandering through ten miles of fossilized rock, created a natural environment at a constant 54° F, with 95% humidity. His instincts told him that the yeast would adapt to the new environment, producing different flavors than it would in the dry humidity of refrigerated storage units.
The Belgian Dark that emerged displayed the characteristics of a Superhero. Glistening with burnt-sienna highlights, the body supported a rich tan head that held a frothy appearance. This was a beer with muscle. Aromas of the finest Olorosos of Valdivia pierced the nose, while flavors on the tongue displayed full maltiness with a dry, resiny feel.
Another beer to emerge from aging traditions is Biere de Garde, or provisional beer, born in France amongst a region so thick with wineries that beer was dismissed as the drink of farmhands. No one wanted to drink it. Word-of-mouth, passed from one generation to the next, leaves a huge gap in understanding the original profile of Biere de Garde, from alcoholic strength to flavor and aroma. Today’s Biere de Garde, largely crafted by Brasserie Duyck and Brasserie Theillier, is believed to be stronger, and has become a fashionable specialty ale in cosmopolitan areas and college towns.
Barrel aging in the United States and Europe have produced additional styles for the beer cellar, with personalities dripping with heat and assertiveness. Kentucky Bourbon Barrels are limited to a one-time use for aging, due to restrictive laws in America. Befriending experimentation, the beer industry embraced the practice of flavor development using these spent casks. Scotland’s BrewDog introduced Paradox in 2007; Fuller’s Brewers Reserve No. 1 came on the scene in 2008; and California’s Firestone Walker released Velvet Merkin in whiskey barrels that same year, followed by Parabola soon after. These gems are generally high in alcohol and take on a sweetness that adds fire as a digestif or zing to a gelato smoothie.
Explore the world of liqueur with special glasses that highlight the most subtle nuances of drink
Luigi Bormioli Michelangelo Masterpiece 2-1/4-Ounce Liqueur, Set of 4
Looking for Brandy Snifters to showcase those special cellared beers?
Schott Zwiesel Tritan Crystal Glass Stemware Mondial Collection Brandy Snifter, 17.3-Ounce, Set of 6