Some of the best beers in the world are brewed by small breweries in Europe. These brews are world-renowned and, upon seeing the size of their breweries, one might wonder how such a small place could produce a beer so beloved around the globe. But, some of these breweries have done just that and have been around a very long time.
On Thursday, November 17, I had the opportunity to taste an extraordinary collection of fine brews presented at Total Wine in the St. John’s Town Center by Merchant du Vin beer importer. Merchant du Vin has been in the business of importing beer for nearly 35 years and has collected an impressive portfolio including beers from Samuel Smith, Traquair, Ayinger, Zatec, Pinkus, Lindemans, Orval, Westmalle, Rochefort, and Green’s.
On hand to guide us on our beer tasting was Rob Nelson, Southeast Regional Manager for Merchant du Vin. His presentation took us on a journey around Europe and into some of the oldest brewing facilities in the world. His stories and photos enchanted the audience and truly brought to life the history of the beers we tasted.
The first brewery we tasted from was Samuel Smith’s. The Old Brewery in Tadcaster was established in 1758 and is Yorkshire’s oldest brewery. It adheres to the old ways of brewing and maintains it’s own copper kettle and cooper for making and repairing barrels.
Beers we tasted from Samuel Smith’s included:
Organic Cider – Bright in color, light in body, and clean in flavor are the descriptors on the marketing materials and they are absolutely correct. The apple flavor is sweet without being cloying.
Organic Strawberry Ale – Sweet and refreshing with just the right amount of strawberry flavor in a medium-bodied brew. This is a beer for a lazy afternoon in a hammock somewhere.
Oatmeal Stout – This stout is possibly the standard on which all other oatmeal stouts should be judged. Indeed, it was the very first commercially produced ale that combined oatmeal and malted barley. This brew is rich and thick with sweet and bitter notes.
In a recent column I discussed Ayinger as one of my favorite Oktoberfest beers, but Ayinger also produces several other very tasty and satisfying brews. The brewery was founded in 1878 in the small Bavarian village of Aying. Today the brewery is an automated testament to German engineering that does not sacrifice authentic and traditional flavors for mass-production.
We tasted several from Ayinger including:
Ur-Weisse – An interesting treat, this dark brew is very malty in character, yet maintains the clove and spice profile of a wheat beer brewed in the German style.
Orval is another of the evenings offerings that, though I had had it before, I was truly looking forward to. As a brew with a Trappist designation, Orval is still brewed within the walls of the Abbaye Notre-Dame d’Orval in Belgium. Monks still work to produce it, but with some help from lay people. The brewery is still owned and operated by the Catholic Church for the express benefit of Catholic charities. There is evidence of brewing and beer consumption on the grounds of the Abbaye as far back as 1628.
The word orval means “golden valley” and is an appropriate moniker for this outstanding brew. When poured into a glass the brew is hazy and golden. It reveals fruity, hoppy aromas that are a result of the dry-hopping process used. The taste is complex, fruity with a fair amount of hop kick.
The final Trappist brew we tasted that evening was Westmalle, another complex and wonderful Belgian beer that truly makes me long to head back over to that country.
With enlightening stories and wonderful slides, Rob from Merchant du Vin truly made the evening an experience to remember. Given the opportunity to attend one of his presentations you should run, not walk. This is a man who loves his beer and has a true appreciation of the art, love, and talent that goes into making it.
Until next time,
Long Live the Brewers!
- Samuel Smith’s Imperial Stout (distilledopinion.wordpress.com)