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Friday, September 29, 2006

New York City - Night 3: Union Beer Trade Tasting

NYC - Night 3 - Tuesday, September 26th:

A couple of weeks before my trip, I was poking around for info about any beer events that might be happening in NYC during the week of my visit, and I stumbled across a short announcement about a free tasting event for the bar and restaurant trade that Brooklyn's Union Beer Distributors would be hosting at The Puck Building in downtown Manhattan. I figured it would probably be a small event with some local brewers on hand, and maybe a few imports being sampled as well - a nice way to spend a few hours and try some new beers, assuming I could get in.

I dropped them a line mentioning my "credentials" as news editor at The Bar Towel and writer of this blog, but wasn't holding out a lot of hope as it seemed to be a NYC-centric event based on the description. After a week with no response, I pretty much wrote it off as a "not gonna happen", but then I got the following email:

Dear Greg:

On behalf of Union Beer Distributors, I cordially extend the invitation for you to attend the most extensive craft beer Trade Tasting in New York City history. On Tuesday, September 26 from 5 until 10 PM at the historic Puck Building on Lafayette and Houston, 85 breweries from around the world will serve their libations to an exclusive audience in an intimate setting. Complete with live jazz music, hors d’oeuvres, and speeches from some of the industry’s most influential figures, this will be an event not to miss.

Among the dozens of internationally acclaimed brewers in attendance will be:

Matthias Trum – Owner, Head Brewmaster, Aecht Schlenkerla, Bamberg, Germany
The sixth generation brewer of the world renowned Brauerei Heller Trum produces the world’s most popular rauchbier (smoke beer) style.

Etienne Dupont – Owner, Cidermaster, Domaine Dupont, Normandy, France
The fifth generation Cidermaster from Normandy is one of the world’s foremost calvados producers, however he earned his place in the world of craft cider when the New York Times voted his cider as the best in the world in a 2004 blind tasting.

Hans Peter Drexler – Head Brewmaster, Schneider Weisse, Kelheim, Germany

Toshiyuki Kiuchi – Owner, Brewmaster, Hitachino Nest, Kounsosu, Naka-shi, Ibaraki, Japan

Chris Beauwarts – Owner, Brewmaster, Brasserie d’Achouffe, Achouffe, Belgium

And many, many more.

Looked like it was going to be a little larger than I'd expected.

I arrived at the Puck Building soon after 5:00 PM and was ushered into a good sized room with beer being poured by a variety of brewers both familiar (Rogue, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, Ommegang) and not-so-much (Mercury, Cape Ann, Butternuts). A fantastic selection - but all American micros. What happened to the imports?

Then I noticed the passageway to the other room. The spacious, ornate, gorgeous ballroom with dozens and dozens of brewers and beers from Belgium, Germany, Italy, France, Japan and beyond. Not to mention a spread of bread, cheese & dried fruit, countless wait staff serving hors d'oeuvres, and a live jazz trio providing some elegant ambiance.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I almost wept a little.

Seriously, this was the most refined and well-organized beer event I've ever attended. Seeing beer being presented in such a civilised and respectful environment was a great thing indeed. Although since the event was being held by a distributor trying to flog their wares in one of the most competative bar and restaurant markets on earth, I suppose I should've expected it. I guess it's hard to shake the jaded nature I've developed from living amongst the backwards beer culture of Ontario for so long.

So after walking around with my mouth hanging open in disbelief for a few minutes, I started in on the tasting. I haven't gone through my notes to do a full count, but I'm sure I sampled somewhere around two dozen beers over the course of the evening, and enjoyed almost all of them. Here are a few highlights:

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
A new beer from Japan's Hitachino Nest brewery that they were pilot testing at the event. It has a still, deep brown body with no head, and an amazing aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee. The body is a little thin, but the flavour is fantastic, with lots of coffee backed-up with some cocoa and malt notes. Hopefully, it'll be added to their official line-up soon.

Troubadour Blond & Troubadour Obscura
These beers from Belgium's Brouwerij The Musketeers were completely new to me, but I'm glad I stopped at their small table, as both of them are very good. The Blond is described on RateBeer as a saison, which seems to be an appropriate style, as it has a bright golden colour and aromas & flavours that encompass yeasty, fruity and spicey notes. The Obscura is self-described as a stout, although it's also undeniably Belgian, so it holds a very interesting combination of sweet roastiness and tangy spice that I really enjoyed.

Aecht Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier
I was very happy to have a chance to try this rare treat from smoked beer specialists Aecht Schlenkerla, as I'm a big fan of their more commonly available Märzen. Unlike the other Schlenkerla beers, there is no smoked malt used in this golden lager, but it picks up a delicious smokiness from the brewery's filters. And it helps that even without the smokiness, this is a very nice lager, with well-balanced malt and hop flavours and a crisp, subtle body.

Thomas Hardy's Ale
This famous vintage ale is descibed by the brewer, O'Hanlons, as "the beer enthusiast’s equivalent of rare cognac". A little hoity-toity, perhaps, but having finally tried it, I'd say that it's a pretty apt description. I sampled the 2004 vintage, which is considered somewhat young - it's said to improve with age for 25 years or more - but I still enjoyed it. It has a huge, sweet aroma of toffee, fruit cake and whiskey, and a complex flavour of port, whiskey, sweet orange, chocolate and much more, all leading to a warm, tingly, lingering finish.

Aventinus Edelbrand
One of my favourite beers is Aventinus, the standard-bearing Weizenbock from Germany's G. Schneider & Sohn. So when I walked by their table and saw a smaller version of the distinctive purple Aventinus label on what looked like bottles of icewine, I was intrigued. I asked and discovered that it was Aventinus Edelbrand, a brandy-like spirit with 42% abv that is created by distilling Aventinus rather than water. This rarity is generally available only in Germany, but several bottles of a special barrel-aged version were brought over especially for this event. The samples being doled out were understandably small, given the potency and scarcity of the beverage, but I got enough of a taste to appreciate the flavours of oak, port, whiskey and grapeseed. Not the best hard booze I've tried, but good enough that I'd be happy to own a bottle of it.

There were lots more, but that's a good sample. Full notes and ratings for the whole night will end up on RateBeer soon.

2 comments:

rudy said...

A tasting with Thomas Hardy's. Wow. Had you ever tried it before? That is one of the richest, most wonderful beers I've ever had.

-rudy

Greg Clow said...

First time I'd had the Hardy's. Agreed - it's a beautiful beer.