Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae.
–Julius Caesar, De Bello Gallico, Book 1
When beer and March intersect, it is often a flurry of pseudo-Irish cliches. Once again, I have decided to take the road less traveled this month; I’m sure that if you want information on Irish beers, you will just come see me. Meanwhile, let us also remember that March contains the Ides of March, the day when the Roman dictator Julius Caesar should have called in sick to work. As history tells us, Caesar ended up calling in dead the next day, which made governing Rome nigh-on impossible.
In the world of the Romans, beer was a constant. Both Herodotus and Aeschylus referred to the Egyptian consumption of ‘barley-wine’, which was near grape wine in strength and flavour. The Iberians and Thracians drank a fermented grain product, and the Romans, in their intermittent wars with the Germanic tribes, learned of beer drunk in honor of Wotan and the other Germanic deities. To the Romans, beer was cerevisia, which translates to ‘strength of Ceres’ – Ceres being the Roman name for Demeter, goddess of the grain. In honor of Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire, this month we’re going to take a look at some beers related to Caesar’s life and career. (Admittedly, some of these connections are tenuous, but work with me here.)
First off, let’s look at that barley-wine – or, as the legal powers that be would have us call it, barleywine style ale. (Apparently, calling something by its name is considered to be confusing. Insert your own joke about bureaucracies here.) Barley-wine, by definition, is a top-fermented ale with a minimum alcohol content of 9% ABV, and some of them can range up to 13% or even higher. Hop style varies on barley-wines; some are highly hopped, some are just barely hopped. I always find it good to support local breweries, which is why I recommend Sisyphus from Blanco’s Real Ale Brewing. Sisyphus is highly hopped for a barley-wine, with a rich sweet fruitiness in the malt. I suspect that Caesar’s loyal friend and eulogist Marc Antony may have had some Egyptian barley-wine while on campaign there early in his career, and Caesar himself may have enjoyed it.
As Caesar said in the above quote, ‘The strongest of all were the Belgians’. While he was referring to enemies during his Gallic campaigns, I like to think that perhaps he had enjoyed an ancestor to the Belgian Strong Ale, a style that includes dubbels, tripels, (check this month’s BVB for more info) and other strong, abbey-style ales. I’m a fan of St Feuillien Blonde, a tripel ale from Belgium. Big and assertive, St Feuillien has citrusy and earthy notes, and pours a hazy, unfiltered gold, then finishes with a bitter hoppy note. This is a great entry into the world of Belgian Strongs; I offer a 750ml bottle for $10.99 as of this writing.
Finally, in one of those weird moments of synchronicity, I whipped up a batch of my grandmother’s Caesar salad dressing last night. (I like anchovies. What can I say?) For a formal food and beer pairing, I can’t come up with anything better than a nice, hoppy India Pale Ale. I have recently become a big fan of Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo Extra IPA. Some extra-hopped beers are unbalanced; Torpedo is almost perfect, with assertive citrus and floral notes on the nose and a crisp and dry, yet balanced, taste. Chill some down, grab the olive oil and anchovies, and go to town. (Maybe I should post the recipe.)
As Caesar said when he crossed the Rubicon, alea iacta est – the die is cast. At Twin Liquors, the die is being cast constantly to get you the best beer at good prices. I hope to see you around; come visit me at the Galleria!
As always, keep your head up, your lace delicate, your malts toasty, and your hops snappy.
THIS MONTH’s BEER VOCABULARY BUILDER (BVB):
Tripel – This one isn’t easy to define. There are various theories as to why some Belgian strongs are called dubbel, tripel, or even quadruple, but in general you can make some generalizations. The terms are measurements of original gravity of the wort – in other words, how dense the fluid that will become the beer is. The denser it is, the more dissolved solids – the more dissolved solids, the stronger it is in flavor and ABV. This definition is correct most of the time.