Finishing up the last remnants of the day’s work, I glance at the clock and see that it is past 5:30. I walk over and tell my boss that I am leaving for the night. “Have a great weekend!” she remarks, as always. I laugh to myself as I walk away . . . if only she knew. I step outside in to a brisk and windy Friday evening. With daylight fading rapidly, I quicken my pace across the parking lot. The twists and turns on the back roads to Amherst aren’t much fun in the dark. Or is it anticipation of the night to come that makes me nearly run to my car? Whatever the reason, as I get in to my car and hit the road, the Péché Mortel at the end of the tunnel suddenly seems much closer.
The slow, but steady, anticipation continues to build as I drive the two hours to the Moan and Dove, for what would be the unveiling of Péché Mortel in the United States, replete with Dieu du Ciel brewers and many of their other concoctions. After a boring, but relatively uncongested drive, and a stop at a rest station for bad-tasting pizza (hey, I’m trying to save time here), I get off of Interstate 90 to make the last stretch of the drive. I can almost taste the beer at this point. By now, my nervous anticipation has turned in to adrenaline-filled anxiety and every correct turn I make is filled with fist-pumping and my own shouts of “Hell ya!” and “Ya, baby!”
Unfortunately, I make a wrong turn and lose about 30 minutes of time. I won’t tell you with what words my shouts were filled at this point. Finally, after driving at unsafe speeds, stopping for directions twice and phoning the Moan and Dove once, I careen in to their parking lot, jump out of my car and sprint to the entrance. At this point, it is 8:30. The Shelton Brothers website lists the event as starting at 8:00 and running out quickly (“So be there at 8:00 because by 8:15, you’ll be back to drinking that same old over-hopped pale ale”). So, enter one, frantic, out-of-breath beer-geek, fearing for the worst.
To my great, great, great relief (worthy of more than three greats, but I won’t bore you with repeating the same word hundreds of times), the Péché Mortel is here, and is not even ready yet. “Yes” says the bartender, “you’ve got time for a beer before it starts.” Well, hot damn! I think I’ll have me a Cantillon Jonge Lambik 2002! At that point, only five raters in North America had rated it, three of whom had it on draught at the Cantillon brewery, in Belgium. Being a lover of all things lambic, and especially Cantillon, I did not even look at what my other choices were. In fact, I had been tortured by the Moan and Dove’s draught list all week. Seeing that they had the Jonge Lambik on draught, by browsing their site on the Internet, I immediately wondered if it would make it until Friday night.
I had been close to this beer before (it was supposed to be on draught at the Belgian Beer Fest in Boston, last summer) and it had escaped me (they sent a keg of Lou Pepe Framboise instead, by mistake). A call to the bar, earlier in the week, helped assuage my fears that it would be there come Friday, but I was still uneasy with waiting. In my experience, when a beer of this rarity has been sighted, you drop what you are doing and go get it, or risk missing it, perhaps for good. But it was in the stars this time, and before long, I had this beauty in my glass (and only lightly chilled too!). Beer in hand, I take a much needed deep breath followed by an even more needed, deep drink. Elegant in its simplicity and tremendously refreshing, I am an instant fan. With a couple of years under its belt, the lambic is less sour, with a more mellow yeastiness. There are plenty of light cheese and barnyard notes, with an ever so slight hint of green apples on the end. The carbonation is low, but surprisingly, still noticeable. I had been expecting a flat lambic, as was the Bruocsella. As much as I try to accustom myself to the flatness of the Bruocsella, I can’t deny that I much prefer some carbonation. But in the end, I decide that they both have their time and place, and happily down the rest of my glass.
The bartender asks how the Cantillon is, and after chatting with him for a few minutes, I ask where the brewers from Dieu du Ciel are. He points me in their direction, and with nothing else to do at the moment (I couldn’t find Casey (DYCSoccer17 on Ratebeer)), I head over to introduce myself to the brewers. Sitting at their table is a woman who has a pad of paper out and is taking notes on what seems to be an informal interview with Jean François, one of the brewer/owners and the creator of that for which we are all gathered. I try to listen, but amidst the noise, I only catch glimpses of what she is asking him. I garner that it is a piece on the whole process that has brought Péché Mortel in to the spotlight. Soon, she wraps up her interview and I am left standing there with a table full of the Dieu du Ciel crew.
I hadn’t really thought about how I was going to introduce myself to them, but seizing the opportunity to speak with Jean François, I blurt out, quite dumbly, “Hello, are all of you brewers at Dieu du Ciel?” Brilliant one, Clark, that’ll really get ‘em talking . . .. But J.F. (Jean François) responds very politely with what I already know: three brewers and two of their friends, one of whom is also a waiter at Dieu du Ciel. So I quickly add that I’m very excited to try their beer and, in fact, will be going up to Montreal next weekend to go to their brewery. I then ask if there is any chance that I could try a small sample of the Quintessence while there, and J.F. just smiles and says that is quite a rarity these days. Thinking back, this comment may have come across as ungrateful, in light of what I was already going to get the chance to try. Aside from the Péché Mortel, the brewers had generously brought down a small amount of Aphrodisiaque, Rigor Mortis Abt, Cuvée de l’Alchemiste Saison and Charbonnière. As I am talking to J.F., the bartender running the event comes over to ask J.F. to stand up and say a little about the beers he had brought; an introduction before the festivities commenced.
To make a long story short, J.F. happily obliged and gave a very informative speech about Dieu du Ciel and the beers they had brought. Before I knew it, I was standing at the bar with a full bottle (660mL) of Péché Mortel. I wandered back over to chat with the brewers and ran in to, of all people, Will Shelton, whom I had just emailed about the release of Cantillon’s Cuvée des Champions. Noticing the large bottle of Péché Mortel in my hand, he inquired as to how I was getting home. I hadn’t thought about it, but would have to take a cab to a hotel, the way things were going. Without hesitation, he said, “You don’t want to do that, the hotels are expensive around here, you can come and crash at my place.” Wow. The night was getting better and better. He introduced me to his brother, Dan and soon I was lost in pleasant conversation with Will, Dan, J.F., and Patricia (one of the three owners at Dieu du Ciel). I couldn’t get over how approachable, easy-going and down to earth all of these people were. I talked, for what seemed like an hour, with J.F. concerning saisons, his brewing, his visits to Belgium and the beer he had brought here. I talked with Dan and Will about the importing business, Cantillon, Fantome and many other breweries. I then talked with Patricia about her likes and dislikes of the American brewers (she was a big fan of Smuttynose; my kind of woman). I feel like I could have talked with these people all night and then some. It amazes me the sheer ease with which one beer-geek can talk to another. But enough, for now, about the conversation.
Over the course of the night, I would drink two bottles of the Péché Mortel and try a sample of each of the four draught beers, going back for seconds of the Charbonnière and the Aphrodisiaque (I would have gone back for thirds, and fourths, and fifths of the Aphrodisiaque, but it ran out quickly). I finally found Casey (dycsoccer17) sitting at the bar and, interestingly, we both had similar estimations of the beer. The Aphrodisiaque, without question, was the star of the show. The rich, silky, luscious body showcased a wonderfully balanced caramel and chocolate sweetness with just a hint of vanilla to dry it out. No dry, astringent cocoa powder notes here, just rich, creamy malt without being cloying. J.F. telling me that it was only five percent alcohol was almost too much to believe. This is, probably, the best example that I know of a full-bodied, rich, malty beer that doesn’t incorporate gobs of alcohol. The Péché Mortel was somewhat underwhelming. Was it all of the hype and the high expectations I couldn’t help but have? Probably, but as well, we both found it to be extremely heavy on the coffee with only a medium body, a bit thin at the end. Another gem of the night, J.F.’s saison was deliciously drinkable. Quite hoppy (but saaz hops, so I loved it) with a lightly sweet pilsner malt base and generous coriander notes throughout. As with the other three on draught, it had a fabulous, creamy, aerated texture.
I could tell J.F. was particularly proud of the saison, as he tried to downplay its quality before I tried it, saying it was probably too sweet. I think those things, which I am most modest about, are many times things of which I am most proud. J.F. proved to be extremely knowledgeable in saisons, it being one of his favorite styles. He told me that he preferred them fresh and young at the brewery, which brought me, quickly, to the defense of aged beers. I said that while some were no doubt wonderful fresh, one of my favorites was . . . and then I blanked on the name. Embarrassed that I couldn’t even remember my supposed favorite saison, I thought hard and told him it would come to me in a second. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of the damned thing. J.F., polite to the extreme, asked me to describe it. I quickly said, “Very cheesy flavor.” He thought for a second and the first beer he named was Pipaix. “That’s the one!” I exclaimed. Color me impressed with J.F. Another humorous moment in our conversation occurred when I asked him if he had a favorite saison. He said that he loves Saison Dupont. To me, however, his French accent made it sound as if he was saying, “Saison Spont”. I asked him to repeat it, and finally understood what he was saying. Saison Dupont indeed! What a fabulous brewery.
Later that night we would try the Saison Moinette, all agreeing that it was terribly good on draught. I walked over to talk with the Patricia, feeling I had taken up enough of J.F.’s time, though he is far too polite to ever admit it. The night was still young, with plenty more intriguing beer-talk to be had, and one of the best surprises left to drink.