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The Cleansing Ale
When I was a young sommelier, one of the most serious wine dinners I ever served was the 50th birthday of revered wine author and critic James Halliday. It was a gathering of the secret wine society known as "The Single Bottle Club," attended by some of the biggest wine collectors and sophisticated palates in Australia.
With a roll call of wines like 1937 Bollinger, 1938 Ch Haut-Brion Blanc, 1938 Ch Latour, 1937 Ch d' Yquem, 1918 Ch Rieussec, and 1908 Vintage Port, I was somewhat baffled when the legendary wine raconteur and bon vivant, the late Len Evan's, approached me and bellowed, "Marsh! Where is the bloody cleansing ales, man? Call yourself a sommelier; we're all dying of thirst here!" To which I scrambled with much haste to disperse several Heinekens.
It was one of those invaluable lessons in wine service and wine industry idiosyncrasies that one never forgets. I have always made sure there is a beer of choice on hand.
Thus, when Blair Walter, winemaker at Felton Road, Central Otago, New Zealand (www.feltonroad.com) was in town last week, we rallied for a casual dinner at Praelum Wine Bistro (http://praelum.com.sg/) with some of Singapore's top Sommelier's. When Walter asked me what he should bring with him, I replied, "Beer." And I wasn't joking.
Having introduced me to Three Boys Brewery (www.threeboysbrewery.co.nz), Walter knew exactly where I was coming from. He packed some Indian Pale Ale (IPA) and Pilsner along with some Felton Road back-vintages to liberate with our sommeliers.
As you can see in the picture, our Singapore sommeliers had no problem grasping the concept of "the cleansing ale".
I would however like to point out that Three Boys is no ordinary brewery or micro-brewery. To be precise, making an IPA is a style of beer that was born when fresh hops were added to barrels to preserve beer quality when shipping from England to colonial India.
IPA is a gentle beer that can be consumed in quantity, as they did in the heat of India, and we do in compotation in New Zealand. The unique qualities in the Three Boys IPA are the purest water from the South Island, outstanding organic hops that give it a wonderful aroma and pleasant bitterness, and the all important traditional 'barrel conditioning'.
It is this bitterness and the savoury flavour of hops that makes Three Boys IPA the perfect after dinner 'cleansing ale'. Of course you don't have to wait until after dinner to drink IPA!
Another brew of merit is the Three Boys Pils which is a bottom-fermented style of lager, much "like the pilsners of old, balancing pale malt flavour and saaz hop bitterness or in this case modern varieties of saaz hops grown in New Zealand, which give it that little bit extra aroma and flavour."
I prefer IPA for evening/dinner consumption, but I would drink the Pils more as a thirst quencher, as they do at Felton Road during vintage. Actually, you'd be surprised how much beer drives the wine industry.
But above all, Three Boys beers are not filtered or pasteurised - they are small batch, artisan natural beers that are a living product - that is, real beer and not to be confused with commercial bilge water beer that is prevalent in bars and restaurants and the masses are corralled and suckered into funding their advertising campaigns.
Maybe I am being a bit harsh there, or not giving credit to those establishments that do have real beer, as there's a whole world of micro-brewing and artisan beer out there - all over this planet and its always, it is all about discovery. Actually I just discovered a beer blog, http://petebrown.blogspot.sg/, that grasps the cultural aspects of beer which I am enjoying immensely.