Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Last night was the weekly free tasting night at Bierkraft, a veritable wonderland that up until now I'd managed to miss, despite the fact that it is right around the corner on 5th Avenue from a cooperative writing studio I joined when I first moved here. Come to Brooklyn and I'll take you there, whoever you are. You'll love it: they've got 900 varieties of beer, arranged by country, region, and style; 250 kinds of artisanal cheeses (& sausages too), from a hunk of Gouda aged to the color of papaya to cheeses infused with honeycombs of dark, creamy Porter; and fancy, largely local chocolates with Deco blue stencils or intriguing savory ingredients. It's the kind of place where you realize that there are people all over the place sufficiently fired up about beauty to devote their lives and livelihoods to churning out their own idiosyncratic expressions of that ideal.

Anyhow I was so amped up when I got home that I called the husband (who's traveling this week) to testify to the astonishing beauty and grace with which I'd just parked the car in a tiny little space. (In retrospect I'd probably better take the subway next time.) He is accustomed to these sorts of calls and let it go to voice mail. Then I fried up a bunch of mushroom and sourkraut pierogis with bacon and red onions (& am heating up the leftovers now, which I'll eat with a glob of artichoke dip) and sat down to write but it just didn't work. I have a hard time wrestling words into place without adequate sleep.

So with bright eyes and a clear head I'm now ready to report that the tasting was held in the basement in a narrow corner of the storeroom lined like a chapel or a jetliner with six rows of two seats on either side of a snug center aisle. We were led in the beer discussions by Tim Esnor, the storeroom manager, a skinny guy in a Sonic Youth t-shirt with round glasses and a shock of composer's hair that made me suspect he plays in an alt-Klezmer band in his free time. He'd chosen 6 oak-aged brews with more or less subtle overtones of bourbon or whiskey to complement 6 liquor-infused chocolates from the Brown Paper Chocolate Co., selected and described by Garvin Mitchell. Garvin was another classic Brooklyn type, a kid whose slow and sultry island voice was set off beautifully by the exacting joy with which he spoke about the confectioner's method, the attention to detail that he extended even to the '1960s classic style stamp labeling' of the packaging.

I expected nothing but porters to pair with the fudge-textured chocolates, but in fact had just two stout porters, an Arcadia Shipwreck Porter from Battle Creek and a Weyerbacher Heresy Imperial Stout from Pennsylvania. Both had derived a syrupy smoothness from their aging, which in the case of the Weyerbacher had been in Jack Daniel's barrels that gave the beer a soft whiff of a paper bag, as opposed to the harsh nail polish remover overtones that can plague the style. One of only two imports on the bill was Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil from Scotland, a whiskey barrel aged brew with the salty smack of soy sauce. Garvin paired this one with milk chocolates made with caramels steeped in Jack Daniel's and punctuated with bits of raw cashews. He said that was his favorite chocolate per se, but the best duo, he agreed, would come later with the pairing of dark raspberry-and-macadamia-nut chocolate and the other import, a Belgian sour called Rodenbach Gran Cru ('funky, funky stuff,' cautioned Tim, 'so don't pound it. It's like carbonated vinegar and cherry juice.') I loved the combination and will undoubtedly think of it next time I need a great birthday gift.

My favorite beers? Always, it seems, the sometimes cidery, sometimes creamy Belgian styles. According to Tim, the 'biggest, baddest, nastiest beers possible'--and he meant this in the kindest possible way--are all coming out of the States, thanks to the American penchant for taking a traditional style like a Belgian ale and blowing it out by doing something like aging it in liquor casks. The Weyerbacher Prophecy, for instance, was essentially a fruity Belgian Tripel that had been put into bourbon barrels ('I mean, who does that?!' remarked Tim with obvious appreciation). Best of all was the strong (10% ABV) but very smooth and creamy Allagash Musette from Portland, ME with a mild scent of apples and a nice bit of head.

OK, I've got to get to work now. Tonight I'll be switching gears and knitting and drinking with the lovely ladies and occasional gentlemen of Booze & Wine. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Great post! Bierkraft sounds awesome, especially in the detail with which you describe it. I will have to join you sometime, maybe one night when they do cheese pairings. Yum.