Food & Drink, Libations

Dr. Booze switches to beer – fruit beer, that is

As you would expect I have spent many a happy hour with a mug of beer in my fist.  This may shock and horrify the wine purists in the crowd, but I actually don’t know many winos who don’t drink beer.  Moreover winemakers, wine writers, and grape farmers, all tend to have a beer when they get home.  The reason is pretty obvious – after a day spent spitting and tasting, you want something different.  Beer is, as everyone knows proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.

[related_content slugs=”inexpensive-french-whites,dr-booze-wine-sleuth,time-for-the-dr-booze-challenge” description=”More from James Romanow” position=”right”]

If you’re a serious beer hound you only drink Real Ale!  (This is always said with the kind of enunciation that makes the headline caps obvious. Who am I to criticize?  I’m a wine writer for crissake!) Real ale is homemade or, failing that, is available in a draft tap from a nearby brew pub.

I did my time as a home brewer, and am grateful for the time spent (not to mention the extra four inches of girth).  I learned an awful lot about booze and its fabrication in my kitchen with a giant pot of boiling grain.  However these days I don’t spend much time in pubs, and I’m too lazy to keep brewing, so I drink commercial bottled and canned products. (Gasp! Say it ain’t so!)

There are some excellent beers available due to advanced filtration and hygiene on the bottling lines.  With apologies to all the fabulous brew pubs across the prairies, here are a few commercial products I think everyone would enjoy exploring:

High on my hit list this summer is Stiegl Grapefruit Radler. (They also have lemon and raspberry versions available in some locations.) A radler is literally a cyclist, but also the name for a drink, the German equivalent of a shandy. They were invented in the first fitness craze days, back in the 1890s, when clubs of young men would go cycling in the country. They would naturally stop for a beer but a couple of pints and cycling can be an awkward mix, so the beer was de-alcoholised by watering it down with juice.

I’ve always liked radlers, but I had no idea how enthusiastically the rest of Canada would embrace them.  Then I took one on to CTV Morning Live.  This is a fairly regular gig of mine, suggesting seasonal drinks for viewers. I lend the show my glow of highbrow intelligence, the kind of scholarly, cultured persona so lacking in today’s morning television. (You can spot people like me by our Birkenstocks.) You can imagine my horror when having introduced Jeremy Dodge to Steigl Radler I watch the entire cast and crew spin out of control.

The cameraman seized my radler flute. Mike, the sportscaster was waving the can at the camera like a Riders fan at the Grey Cup. Heather is dancing a samba without music in the middle of the studio and Jeremy was the one note of suave stability. All this from a 500 ml can of 2.5 per cent alcohol. (And Heather didn’t even have any.) “Oho,” thinks I, “Stiegl has a winner here.”

Stiegl Radler is a mix of grapefruit juice and Stiegl’s Gauldbrau. Tremendously tart and refreshing it makes a great thirst quencher, especially on those hot days in the sun. I’ve never come across this mix before but I think it brilliant. The calories are low, and refreshment level exceptionally high.

Another fruit flavoured beer is Framboise, a Belgium beverage.  In case you’ve never been introduced to the vast array of beer made by this tiny nation, you need to start checking them out.  They view beer with the kind of reverence the French view wine.  Most serious beer guys know about their barleywines, and other monastic brews, but a surprising number of folks have never tried Framboise.

Way back before hops was added to beer, honey was the most common additive.  Both sugar and hops are preservatives to prevent the beer from going bad over the winter.  Another source of sugar was fruit juices and raspberry was a juice that fits with beer like a an 18 year old and a motorcycle seat.

The Belge serve the stuff in champagne flutes and it deserves it.  I’ve had lambics (actually almost all are misnamed, as a lambic beer refers to a beer fermented with wild yeasts) made locally and elsewhere but there is nothing like Framboise.  Watch for Mort Subite which is widely distributed and one of the finest made.  And don’t forget to serve it in a flute.

If you like the Belgium brewers love of latin, you must try Delerium Tremens.  Beer writers simply cannot award enough superlatives to this whimsically named brew.  I can’t disagree with any of them.  The stuff is fabulous.  It is made from a blend of Czech and Austrian hops, and several yeats.  It is also the reverse of a Radler, coming in at 8,5 per cent… you have been warned.  The name is not completely in jest.

If you’ve been seduced by Stella Artois you really need to try an Afligem. Belgium beers that are quite dark are usually from Trappist monks.  Often I find them too heavy for my palate.  The next stop is the Abbey breweries, beers made by non-Trappist monasteries, typically ales and much lighter in colour.  Think of a dark red ale and you’re on the right track.

They make a blonde, a duppel (double), a tripel (triple) and a Patersvat (St. Peter’s brew).  All of them are strong beers though I think the blonde and the Patersvat come in around 7 per cent.  Oh, and the famous ‘Stella’ beer glass is a slightly modified medieval chalice shape, which is traditionally what Abbey beers are served in.

If this entire article offends you, I apologize.  Local brew pubs are great and I frequent them when I spot one.  But if you live in some benighted place that either lacks such a brewery, or worse makes a knockoff of Coors, try the above brews.  Your taste buds deserve it.

Oh and btw, Rickards introduced a Radler this year.  I think this is a trend with legs…


James Romanow writes about Wine and all things boozy for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him @drbooze.