Bottoms Up

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Beer of the Week: De Glazen Toren Saison, Marin Brewing Amber

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Beer for a summer barbecue

By William Brand
Staff writer

De Glazen Toren Saison. Hard to find, worth the search.

BARBECUE AND BEER are as American as fireworks on the Fourth of July. But this year, why not try something more profound than light lager? Here are a couple of suggestions:

De Glazen Toren Saison d’Erpe-Mere ****, a modern re-creation of a very traditional Belgian style and Marin Brewing Albion Amber Ale ***½, an excellent version of a very traditional craft beer style – together, they’re our Beers of the Week, and they can make your backyard barbecue sparkle.

De Glazen Toren Saison D’Erpe-Mere re-creates of a beer style once popular all across Belgium. Before refrigeration, saisons, French for “season,” were the last beers brewed in spring before it was too warm to make beer. They were fairly high in alcohol, often served to farmhands at the end of a day in the fields.

De Glazen Toren means the glass tower in Flemish. The founders, a lawyer and a mathematician, began as homebrewers, then chucked their careers to enroll in a three-year brewing course in Ghent. They opened their brewery in Erpe-Mere in 2004, and have since made waves with a string of striking beers. Saison was their first.

I took one sip of this beer at the Trappist in downtown Oakland a couple of months ago and understood why they’re becoming famous. It’s just a beautiful beer: pale gold with a spicy nose. Taste is initially slighty sweet with delicious malt complexity and a long, dry finish with a most interesting rising, mild sourness. It’s unusual; worth a desperate hunt to find it.

The first amber ale I remember was Mendocino Brewing Red Tail Ale ***½. At that point, I was mostly used to drinking stouts and porters and the occasional German lager. I was shocked and pleased by Red Tail’s soft malt and the zip in the hoppy finish. In the last two decades, ambers have become ubiquitous in America. Every brewpub has one; even Anheuser-Busch makes Michelob AmberBock, and Miller is introducing an Amber Lite — can’t wait for that one.

Albion Amber has been a mainstay at Marin Brewing in Larkspur almost since it opened in 1989. But head brewer Arne Johnson has tinkered a lot with the original recipe created by craft brewing legend Grant Johnston.

“Almost everything in it has changed,” Johnson explains.

If you think you know craft beer ambers, Albion Amber will shock you. It’s a beautiful copper color with a big, lively head of creamy tan foam and a spicy, mildly hoppy nose.

Taste is full and mouth-filling, but not sweet. This beer is never sweet; it finishes dry, with the hops and malts dancing around each other. That’s not hyperbole: I know hops can’t dance, but there’s a subtle, understated interplay between the several barley malts in the beer and the hops.

Johnson says Albion Amber is made with a portion of English Maris Otter pale malted barley; Munich — the malt used in Oktoberfest beers; crystal, which provides some of that full taste; and a tiny bit of chocolate malt — barley kilned to the color of chocolate.

Yeast, which also provides some of the spice and complexity, is Marin’s house yeast. Whew. A nice amber indeed.

They’re both substantial beers that can stand up to just about anything you toss on the grill. The amber works well with chicken and steaks, ribs, even grilled portobello mushrooms. The saison’s about a perfect match for seafood — grilled, marinated shrimp to salmon filets — or even chorizo.

They can both be served quite cold, but don’t serve them freezing cold and blunt the flavors. Save freezing for Amer-Euro light lagers, which are basically tasteless anyway.

Can’t find these beers? E-mail me and ask for our 2008 Retail Beer Store List. About De Glazen Toren: It’s imported by B. International, friends found it at Ledger’s in Berkeley and at City Beer in San Francisco. I got mine at The Trappist in Oakland, paid $20 for a bottle, drank it there on Father’s Day and left a happy camper.

RATINGS
***** World classic.
**** Don’t miss it.
*** Very good.
** Good beer; no defects.
* Demand a refund.