Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Point of Brew: Extreme beers, extreme people


From page A11 | March 15, 2012 |

I have met some extreme beers and some extreme people recently.

Beers first.

Last week saw the end of Sacramento Beer Week. All over town, beer enthusiasts celebrated our burgeoning local beer market by attending special events; I attended two of them.

The first was an Art of Beer beer tasting and art exhibit put on by local photographer Rawi Nanakul and held at the rather grand Grand Ballroom on J Street. I have never previously been in this room, but it is really quite spectacular in an Art Deco sort of way.

I was able to taste a lot of beers on display from perhaps a dozen or more local small breweries, many of them quite excellent in the extreme way that these ale products often are, and renew many acquaintances in the industry. It was a pleasant evening and a fundraiser for the MIND Institute of UC Davis.

Later, I attended a very grand dinner at The Grange restaurant put on by J-E Paino, who owns the excellent and historic Ruhstaller brand (the beer is made locally under license). I would not normally consider paying $100 for a meal but this seemed an exception worth considering for several reasons.

First, in those elegant surroundings, I would experience beer and food pairings put together by an excellent chef imported from England. Second, the entertainment for the evening was my esteemed UCD friend and colleague professor Charles Bamforth and, third, the event was billed as a fundraiser for the UCD Michael J. Lewis Scholarship Endowment; it would be unthinkable not to chip in.

The beer and food pairings were rather unexceptional until we came toward the end of this five-course marathon when out came the extreme beers; we were served a sour beer with cheese. Now sour beer is anathema to me; after all, I’m an old-fashioned British sort of brewer. I see no redeeming qualities in such extreme products that have the overwhelming aroma and taste of diluted malt vinegar (which is, indeed, made by souring beer).

But, my goodness, with the cheese it made a delightful combination. It made those heavy artisan cheeses much brighter somehow, taste less egregiously fatty and made the whole thing slip down quite perfectly.

Another extreme type of beer, for which I can imagine few uses and with which I have little patience, are those highly alcoholic beers, barley wines really, that are aged for ages in wine barrels or bourbon barrels. But, sure enough, to pair with a monster chocolate pie concoction (and to my consternation), our chef trotted out such a beer.

Well, imagine my surprise when the two went together perfectly; I am quite sure that I could not have finished either the pie or the beer if they had been served alone. But both together were delicious and I sank the lot.

This rather splendid dinner reminded me not to be quite so extreme in my judgment. Though I have long understood, and written about it in this column, that beer goes splendidly with food, in fact, enhances food in ways that wine can never hope to match, I had not expected to find such appropriate matches at the extreme far end of the food and beer spectrum. It just goes to show even extreme, strange and abstruse beers have their uses.

Even extreme, strange and abstruse people have their uses, too. I’m thinking, of course, of Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh.
Rush has featured in this column before for a tirade that I characterized as treasonous. Now he is into slanderous. Since his treason carried no penalty, I cannot imagine his slander will.

Strangely, I had an opportunity to write to Clear Channel demanding (futile!) that Rush be fired; immediately after I signed and sent the petition I regretted it; we need those insights that Rush provides into the beating heart of the ultra-conservative movement.

Rush can help us to decide if that is the philosophy of life and quality of moral character we would want to guide our nation in these times. Rush is extreme sour beer and anathema to me, but put him with extreme stinking cheese and the result can be deliciously revealing.

In contrast, I have admiration for Rick Santorum. He is an extreme barley wine, barrel-aged in the medieval teachings of his church; he makes a delicious compote with the chocolate pie of righteousness. Time magazine this week published a profile of his life. He is a man with a strict moral, even papal, view of the world and he walks that walk in his family life. While the religiosity of this man as a presidential contender may take some by surprise, it is the central core of this man.

A famous speech by Sen. John F. Kennedy titled “The Religious Issue in American Politics,” given on April 21, 1960, was specifically identified by Santorum as deeply offensive to him. He means it.
Now I, and my intrepid best friend, arrived in these United States a few months before JFK was elected president and we remember perfectly well the religious issue this speech addressed; it mystified us at the time, arriving as we did, from secular Britain where Henry VIII separated the state from the papacy in 1534. We understand the issue now.

Santorum’s disgust with JFK sent me back to the text of that speech, which many have, until now, thought crystallized the issue of religion in American politics. JKF said, “Every presidential candidate, I am certain, is dedicated to the separation of church and state, to the preservation of religious liberty, to an end to religious bigotry and to the total independence of the office-holder from any form of ecclesiastical dictation.”

He continues, “I want no votes solely on the account of my religion. … I do not want any vote cast for me for such illogical reasons.”

I’m not sure which part of that Santorum finds offensive; I don’t think that matters, however, because his disgust teaches us all we need to know.

Now, while I admire Santorum’s religious convictions, and the courage with which he lives that life, I want him to keep it strictly to himself. Similarly Rush.

Extreme sour beers and barley wines and similar people are anathema to me.

— Reach Michael Lewis at [email protected] Comment on this column at



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