A young man peered through the mist, catching the soft green patina of The Statue of Liberty. He was one of thousands of immigrants to file through Ellis Island with newly-woven ideas of freedom, women, revelry, success. Prohibition would fall into place only a few years hence, interrupting some of that youthful revelry, but his broken English, “Mees-ter Boss, gimme zhob,” would put money in his pockets for the time being.
Never could he imagine, at that point in his life, that he would eventually have a granddaughter, nor that she would share his summer birthday. Nor could he have ever imagined that this little girl, whom he flung onto his shoulders with giggling delight, would develop into a beerwriter forty years after his death. As a child, my fascination at the unfamiliar style of their Roaring 20s wedding photo would linger, embedded as black-and-white imagery in my adult mind. Who were they, really?
During Prohibition, those tiny Philadelphia basements regularly emitted aromas of beer, in various stages of brewing or fermentation … waiting for a celebration or a game of pinochle. My mother recalls stealth missions to the dimly-lit cellar, where a magic hose held mysterious liquid, tasting of bread and hints of fruit. She and her sister would gingerly unhook it, sucking little bits of the happy juice, careful to suppress suspicion about their not-so-innocent escapades.
By the time she was a teen, the 21st Amendment would grant liberation, and her mother would share an occasional Bock Beer with them. In later years, Mom’s friends, whose only experience had been with overly-chilled, modern American lager, would deny the existence of Bock Beer. “You must be dreaming. I never heard of such a thing as bock,” they would scoff. When my Beer Fox kitchen began sourcing recipes using distinctive beers from across America, Mom and her friends discovered there was, indeed, bock beer, historically brewed and celebrated at the abbeys in Europe … and blessed by the church on St. Nicholas Day – her birthday.
Summer or winter, birthdays call for the clink of the glass, the joy of the toast, the warmth in the throat. True celebrations start with good beer and well-paired food. What would a Beer Fox recommend for your birthday celebrations? I would be remiss to think that everyone likes the same style of beer, but a short list of selections may suffice as a start.
Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock from Privatbrauerei Franz Inselkammer KG / Brauerei Aying, Aying, Germany heads the list as a true classic. Originally imported into the U.S. by Merchant du Vin in Washington state, it is a Doppelbock with 6.7% abv. Its burnt sienna hue glimmers with hints of cranberry red, topped with lumpy, tan foam. The nose is that of liquefied bread, with hints of smoke and dark fruit. On the palate, honeyed bread covers the tongue, mixed with roasted nuts and molasses. Warmth paints the throat, and dries out with immediacy. Pair this with a steak, dripping with natural juices.
Rodenbach 2007 Vintage Oak Aged Ale (Barrel No. 230) by Brouwerij Rodenbach N.V. in Roeselare, Belgium is another classic, not to be missed. Deep dark mahogany-toned jewels dance within the body, with oak acidity held gently beneath a creamy yellow-tinged head. Fruitiness is reminiscent of a late summer orchard, the branches, densely green and drenched in cherries. Farther up the hill, granny smith apples drift into your nose, with sour grapes adding a wine-like layer, blanketing the maltiness, and subduing the wood aromatics. At 7.0% abv, this Flanders Red Ale works well as a before dinner aperitif, or paired after dinner to balance a crème brulee.
Consecration by Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa California comes to us as an American Wild Ale with 10.0% ABV. Be careful with this one. The alcoholic warmth hides within this quenching body, merging subtle Brett and fruit with oak and vanilla. Visually, the ruby-orange glow lives as eye-candy, sucking you into a gentle high. Its palate cleansing qualities work well with creamy shrimp and bacon wrapped scallops.
The Abyss by Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon drenches the tongue with dense flavors of African chocolate and coffee, mixed with licorice, tobacco, ash, treacle and roast. Intensely black with a moussy tan head, this American Imperial Double Stout brags 11.0% abv, and may lead you into a black hole before it lets you out again. Although most beers have a "best before" date, Abyss is meant to be aged and bears a "best after" date for those connoisseurs who really care about their beer experience. Pair with Osso Bucco as a main dish, or finish off a meal with Black Forest Cake and Abyss.
Sierra Nevada Estate Brewers Harvest Ale by Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California is an American IPA with 6.7% abv. The nose is full of fresh hops, dripping with citrusy orange and grapefruit, with hints of flowers feathered in the background. A firm malt body stands firm beneath. Both barley and hops are grown on the Chico property, a display of the commitment Sierra Nevada has to local pride. A fluffy off-white head cups over the body of luminescent amber. Paired with zesty Thai or a spicy Mexican dish, the fresh hoppiness seizes the palate and cleanses so completely that you are ready for more.
Whatever your choice, reach for something a little different from the status quo. Do it in style.