The BBC has a show called Desert Island Discs, where people talk about what songs they would bring along were they to become castaways. At this moment, I would pick Stardust by Artie Shaw and La Vie en Rose by Sophie Mills, but if you asked me on a different day, my choices might transmogrify into the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun and Pete Townshend’s Pure and Easy.
So it is with beer. Over the past few days, I asked myself what I would choose if I could only have one type of beer, ever again. I don’t know why I torture myself with such hypotheticals, but perhaps being forced to clarify the reasons something is delicious and indispensable helps me appreciate what I have all the more.
I’m very fond of Boddington’s Pub Ale, in those cans that have the capsule of nitrogen to make them taste like a draft ale. Here is what Michael Jackson (the late lamented Beer Hunter, not the megastar Diana-Ross worshiper) had to say about these ersatz drafts in a can:
Not only does the nitrogen make the beer more creamy, and produce a better head, it also protects against oxidation. The brewer can therefore permit the beer to be less carbonated. The “canned draught” products have levels of carbonation similar to those in cask-conditioned ales, and less than half those in some bottled beers.
With regard to Boddington’s, he said:
When I tasted these products alongside one another, it was clear that the technique used by Murphy’s and Boddington’s creates the creamiest result. I felt this enhanced the overall character of the toasty-tasting Murphy’s Stout, though I am not sure that creaminess is appropriate in a dry, austere ale such as Boddington’s.
I must interject here that, much as I defer to the vastly greater wisdom of Mr. Jackson, I adore Boddington’s in a can. And I adore its creaminess above all. I suppose creaminess would be out of place in some beverages (IPAs and Sauv Blanc come to mind) but even there I can imagine exceptions (dedicated creaminess fan that I am).
Now, Boddington’s may be my normal tipple when I’m not drinking wine, but I also cherish a passionate love for Trappist ales, most especially anything made by the monks of Chimay. Here is the Beer Hunter on Chimay:
After World War II, Chimay’s great brewer Father Théodore worked with a famous Belgian brewing scientist Jean De Clerck to isolate the yeasts that identified Chimay’s beers as classic Trappist brews. These yeasts, which work at very high temperatures (up to 30¡C; 86¡F), impart a character reminiscent of Zinfandel or Port wine, especially to Chimay’s 7.0abv and 9.0abv beers, which have a colour to match. Between the two is a drier, paler, hoppier version at 8.0abv. In ascending order of strength, the standard bottlings are identified by red, white and blue crown tops. There are also larger, corked, bottles as Première, Cinq Cents and Grande Réserve. The strongest will mature in the bottle for at least five years. It makes an excellent accompaniment to Chimay’s Trappist cheese (similar to a Port Salut) and is even better with Roquefort.
Mmmm. They say that beer is often better with cheese than wine is. This happens to be true, in select cases. I don’t know why, but from the moment I pulled the champagne-like cage and cork from my first big, winelike bottle of Chimay (a bleu as I recall), I fell in love. It also comes in single-serving bottles with caps, but they aren’t as much fun.
And then there’s good old Stella Artois, another Belgian brew with a rather different aura. I became fond of it at home because I was exploring Belgian products, and it is surprisingly inexpensive here. Then I went to a conference across the pond where I was informed by an Englishman that it is valued for its high alcohol content, and known as “Wife Beater” because it is thought to contribute to episodes of violence and binge-drinking. Quelle horreur for this avowed feminist. Yet I still enjoy it. Especially with french fries and onion rings. My local even serves it (on draft, natch) in those lovely Stella goblets with gold on the rim.
So many beers to appreciate, and so little time. My final desert island choice is an irresistibly creamy Guinness on draft (the real thing, not the can). Not quite sure how the desert island will manage to supply it at cellar temp, but I have faith. After all, it’s an island brew. This virtual meal in a glass is meant for a cold, damp climate and its charms bloom best in the winter, with some hearty bread, a tangy Irish cheddar, and a bowl of potato-onion soup. Just looking at the dairy-smooth head on this pint makes my mouth water and my thoughts turn to all things Irish, delectable, and male…
I am very fond of Leffe too, even though it didn’t beat out Chimay for the desert island.