By Punch Pep Correspondent Elizabeth Fischer
National Geographic is one of my favorite venues in DC.Â As a child I used to page through the magazine, dreaming I was in the far off lands portrayed.Â I loved listening to the articles being read and would use the phenomenal pictures as backdrops for the games I created when I played with my cars and trucks.Â (Yes, I was a tom boy â€“ no time for Barbie â€“ I liked being outside in the mud and sand).Â But, what I didnâ€™t know as a kid and didnâ€™t even know until now involves a much more adult indulgence – did you know thatÂ beer and National Geographic go together?Â I didn’t until I attended NatGeo’s 17th Annual Beer Tasting Event.Â National Geographic has been hosting this event since 1995.
I must admit it was the perfectÂ treat and break from a very busyÂ week.Â And itÂ appears I was not the only one who needed such a break.Â While seating wasnâ€™t assigned, I somehow landed at a table with other â€œseriousâ€ writers and a funny, down to earth couple.
Beer is a rite of passage that means you have arrived at your college years.Â For some of us that was younger â€“ for others it may never have happened â€“ in fact my mother, still to this day doesnâ€™t understand how â€œweâ€ (my sisters and brothers) can drink the stuff â€“ well I understood this sentiment because letâ€™s face it â€“ American beer was just water with a taste and sometimes not a very good taste â€“ Milwaukeeâ€™s Beast comes to mind.Â But over the last decade, the landscape of American Beer has changed and can rival a number of European Beers.Â Did you know that when our beer lacked sophistication, and we were shunned by the Europeans, we had been exporting our hops to them for over 100 years?Â In fact, more and more American hops are being used in Belgium these days.Â (Wonder if there is any correlation to InBevâ€™s buyout of Anheuser Busch).Â America, today, has around 1,800 breweries, up from only 40 in the mid-’70s. Â ”We’ve gone from being a laughingstock of the world to being respected as the most creative and vibrant beer culture in the world.” Garrett Oliver.
Beer tasting events are no longer what you imagine if you headed to Munich for Oktoberfest, instead they can rival just about any wine tasting event.Â The beers featured are complex and intricate with the host, not only describing the beerâ€™s properties, but sharing the proper foods to pair with a particular beer and providing important information regarding the barreling and production process.
In our case, the beers were all that and more â€“ sophisticated, complex, intricate, and tasty with featured selections brewed on our own shores.Â Our host - Garrett Oliver – has been hosting this event for the past several years, since American craft beer champion (who invented the words â€œBeer Stylesâ€ to describe beer), Michael Jackson (no, not the one hand gloved MJ), retired, a year before his death.Â Garrett is perhaps best known as the head brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and as the author of The Brewmaster’s Table.Â His knowledge and experience extends far beyond 11th Street in Brooklyn.
Garrett lived in England nearly 30 years ago and developed a taste for beer (me too) – real beer â€“ not beer mass-marketed in American, or what he calls the â€œbeer facsimile, which tastes like fizzy water.â€Â Funny, not how I would have described it but much more appropriate and polite for the readers.Â When I arrived in England to continue my college studies, our RA took us on a pub crawl.Â My flat mate and I innocently asked for a â€¦ waitâ€¦ sorta funny nowâ€¦ bud light.Â As you can imagine, the bartender and his bar stool junkies laughed us almost out of the bar.Â But we held steadfast and asked him to give us something he would recommend.Â He took a liking to us and was kind and our first non-American beer was Fosters.Â Not bad â€“ eh.Â Later that evening, I am fairly certain we became the butt of someoneâ€™s joke being American and all, because our bartender claimed Fosters was no longer available and gave us something similar.Â Well folks, he gave us a Guinness.Â Fosters and Guinness (the European kind) do not belong in the same family.Â A real Guinness pint takes minutes to pour and is a meal due to its thickness.Â But as good troopers, we took a few sips, I worked hard not to prune my face and we politely walked away beer in hand.Â Well today that memory makes me smile because after my tour of the Guinness Brewery I became an aficionado of real beer.
Garrett Oliver had an abstract beer tasting in mind when he named our event â€œThe Power and the Glory.â€Â He told us the name came from a recent beer tasting event in Brooklyn where he paired beers to clips from movies and television shows.Â It involved images of King Henry from Henry V & Darth Vader from Star Wars to an IPA course feeling a bit like Joan Crawford from Mommy Dearest to Pepe Le Pew seeking his â€œlâ€™amourâ€.Â Here, he promised â€œbig but beautiful” – high-powered beers, such as Imperial India Pale Ales, Quadrupels, Barleywines and Imperial Stouts, while combining brawn with true elegance and an ability to age well.”Â And, he delivered.
1.Â Cigar City El Murcielago – fondly dubbed “the bat” beer.Â Cigar City is a relatively new brewery, having started in 2009.Â The name of the brewery is a nod to Tampa Bay’s status of having been, at one time, the largest cigar producing city.Â This beer was a double cream ale aged by Cigar City in tequila barrels.Â The brewers call the beer, “El MurciÃ©lago” or “the bat”Â because bats are responsible for the pollination of blue agave plants, which are used to make tequila.Â The brewers did not stop with using tequila barrels.Â They also added cumin and lime peel during the brewing process.Â The added flavors really shine through this beer, with the cumin and lime peel clearly being present.Â However, it is the barrels that add the interesting note of coconut to the flavor of the beer.Â This beer can be paired well with Thai food and Cuban food.Â The beer has an 11.5% ABV.Â Â It has a spicy kick.Â I enjoyed the beer, so too did my bench mate but Jon described it as â€œbody odor.â€Â Donâ€™t let the smell deter you from a good beer with a nice kick.Â As Garrett said, â€œit is strong with Elegance and not silly.â€
2.Â La Rulles Grande 10- from Rulles-Habay, Belgium.Â The name makes me think of the canals of Venice, Italy or the Seine in Paris France.Â The beer comes from Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles that was founded by Gregory Verhelst in 2000.Â This beer commemorates the 10th anniversary of the brewery.Â Verhelst chose the small town of La Rulles for the water from the forest L’Anlier.Â This beer is a Belgian Strong Pale Ale.Â Although the brewer may use the water from the L’Anlier, the La Rulles Grande 10 uses American hops such as Warrior and Simcoe with pilsner malts.Â These ingredients provide the beer with an interesting mix of hoppy flavors that gives it the requisite bitterness one would expect from a pale ale, and a sweetness that typifies Belgian ales such as dubbels and tripels.Â This beer has an ABV of 10%.Â It comes across with a warmth â€“ not sweet â€“ and drinks well without the perfumary taste (starts good but ends bad).
3.Â Russian River Pliny The Elder – crafted in Santa Rosa, California.Â The third beer in the tasting comes from Russian River Brewing, which was originally owned by Korbel Cellars (yes, the champagne/sparkling wine company).Â Korbel sold the company to the brewer, Vinnie Cilurzo, who has made Russian River what it is today.Â The brewery is perhaps best known for its Pliny the Elder.Â This beer is brewed in the style of an India Pale Ale, although some would characterize it as a double IPA.Â The brewer uses Amarillo, Centennial, CTZ, and Simcoe hops in this beer, all of which contribute to an India Pale Ale that has 75 IBUs.Â The beer that we sampled had only been in the bottle for a couple of weeks, which fits with the brewer’s recommendation that this beer be enjoyed while “young.”Â It is meant to be fresh.Â This copper colored India Pale Ale is perhaps best paired with Thai food, spicy Mexican food and, generally, foods with cilantro.Â It has a floral development allowing the citrus & grapefruit flavors to shine.Â This is a perfect summer brew.Â Â It has an ABV of 8%.
4.Â J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2011 – from Middleton, North Manchester, England.Â This beer is a barleywine brewed in the English style, as opposed to the American style.Â The principal difference between an English and an American Barleywine is that the former emphasizes the malts while the latter emphasizes the hops.Â Given this is brewed in England, it is not surprising that it is brewed in the English style, and, true to English barleywines, the malts are the principal aroma and taste element in this beer.Â It tastes like a malt beer and smells like a port wine.Â This Ale was typically made for the British Aristocracy.Â The Harvest Ale is the 25th Anniversary Ale.Â It is brewed with Champagne yeast, not the regular J.W. Lees yeast, as well as Marris Island yeasts.Â This barleywine has an ABV of 11.5%.Â It pairs excellently with goat cheese.
5.Â Brooklyn Black Ops 2010 – was a bit afraid of this beer (ok not really but you must admit the name alone piques & arouses your curiosity).Â You do not want to mess with this beerÂ - instead just enjoy it!Â But do note it is also known as â€œthe beer that does not exist.â€Â (I am happy to say no one disappeared).
Black Ops is a strong stout, in style, brewed using Champagne yeast.Â The beer is then aged in Woodford Reserve barrels for four months at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.Â It is then refermented in the bottle.Â The end result is a beer that is clearly influenced by the whisky barrels.Â The barrel-aging contributes vanilla undertones to both the aroma and the flavor of the beer.Â Those vanilla flavors are paired with the chocolate flavors provided by the roasted malts used in making the strong stout.Â The hard liquor sense of alcohol, which is reinforced by the whiskey barrels, makes this beer seem like a liquid dessert.Â Drink slowly and enjoy.Â It has an ABV of 11%.Â Only 1500 cases are produced each year.
6.Â Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Engineer’s ReserveÂ - from Alva, Clackmannanshire, Scotland.Â Harviestoun is best known for its Old Dubh, a pitch black stout-style beer aged in barrels and akin to an old scotch whiskey.Â Old Engine Oil Engineer’s Reserve happens to be the base beer used to make the Old Dubh.Â But it is not aged in barrels and that allows you to taste the chocolate flavors of the original beer brought out in this dry beer from the use of roasted malts and oats.Â It also has a surprising hop intensity for a stout.Â Unfortunately, the smell leaves little to the imagination â€“ per Jon it smells like â€œDry Cleaning.â€Â But the taste is enjoyable â€“ starts out light and finishes with a solid â€œclaw likeâ€ aftertaste/kick as it settles.Â This is a winter beer to be enjoyed in front of the fire.
7.Â Evil Twin Even More Jesus – wasn’t sure if the Pope was frowning.Â Another dark beer and one of my favorites.Â It is an imperial stout or as some say a double imperial stout.Â It is described as having characteristics that are sugar and spice â€“syrup, tar, licorice, and sugar laced with bitterness because of the roasted malts.Â The aromas of the beer include chocolate, dark fruit and muscavedo sugar.Â Reminds me of a vanilla ice cream float.Â The principal flavor of this beer is not just coffee, it is espresso.Â Garrett suggested a good pairing would be a panna cotta with a burnt sugar sauce or gelato affocato (ice cream & espresso).
The beers were amazing.Â I suggest trying every beer listed â€“ it will be worth the tasting adventure.Â In addition to the great beer choices and the lively atmosphere (as is always the case when people are enjoying high caliber beverages), Garrett Oliver put on a hell of a show â€“ his commentary was insightful, funny and afforded interesting anecdotes, facts and explanations with each beer.
The event was held in Washington DC at National Geographic’s headquarters.Â When visiting or attending an event – besides the metro – there is parking right under the building.Â Look for this event next year around the same time – middle of May 2013 – it is worth the cost of the ticket.
Sponsors of the Event were Geico & BURP (Brewers United for Real Potables).Â The distributors were B. United International and 12 Percent Imports.
Interesting fact â€“ the stainless steel keg is a product of 1940.Â Have a good holiday weekend.
Attorney Elizabeth Fischer is Punch Pep Correspondent. She is working as an Entrepreneur, Lawyer and Student (environmental studies), covering events for Pamela’s Punch as a generalist correspondent. When she is not working, studying or playing soccer or tennis, she is walking her pups, traveling the globe, running marathons, and enjoying all DC has to offer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.