Valerie Martin is a dedicated wine drinker. An employee for a business phone system company (you’ve may have heard her voice if you’ve called an automated line recently), she’s studying to get her sommelier certification and was once in charge of the wine tastings at the Trader Joe’s in Kansas City.
“I like wines that are big and bold and juicy,” Martin says. “Give me big and oaky chardonnays – more butter is better — and heavy, spicy zinfandels and big, jammy cabernets.”
Those bold flavors have helped guide her into the world of whiskey – her dad was a Maker’s Mark man – and dip her toe into the beer universe. But she’s never found that one brew or beer style to call her own. So, last Wednesday night, she sat down at the Bier Station bar so owner John Couture could help her ‘Find Her Beer.’
First up was Schneider Aventitus (8.2% ABV), a Weizenbock (a German brew with malt and fruit notes) that Couture picked for “it’s spicy, boozy, grape-y quality.”
“It has a banana, chardonnay note that I do like,” Martin says. “There’s a really malt finish that’s light. This would be big enough for me, but light enough to drink on a hot day.”
The end of the world comes next. Couture opens a bottle of Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde (9% ABV) and suggests she might get hints of coriander and orange peel. Tripels often have a higher alcohol content, but a balanced hop and malt profile that make them surprisingly drinkable.
“I like that I can pick out a citrus note. I could drink more of this, but I would enjoy the [Aventitus] more,” Martin says.
Couture then pours a taste of Brasserie Dupont’s Moinette Brune (8.5% ABV) – a full-bodied Belgian beer with a bit of sweetness in the finish.
“This is an Abbey Dubbel. You’ll get some green apple in the finish,” Couture says. “Everything’s on a spectrum, you might be leaning toward something vinegary rather than stronger.”
“It smells like a French white,” Martin pauses. “Like cat pee. That’s a smell I’m used to with wine.”
The finish is a bit bitter for Martin, although she notes that the “afterbite,” goes away in the second and third sips.
“I don’t know if beer opens like a wine?” asks Martin.
“Sometimes they warm up,” Couture replies. “That’s why we give people a sample that you can take two or three sips of.”
His next pick is also from Belgium – Gouden Carolus Easter Ale (10% ABV). Couture compares the Belgian Strong Dark Ale to tart candy, which tastes of both bubble gum and licorice.
“The bubble gum is very odd, but it’s kind of tempered by the licorice. It’s weird, maybe a bit too sweet.”
“See this is good,” Couture replies. “I think we can switch you to the funk.”
“I like funk,” Martin says. “But not sweet funk.”
Somewhere George Clinton is smiling. Dieu du Ciel! Rigor Mortis (10.5% ABV) is without question funky and is just back to the Kansas City market.
“I like the name,” Martin says before dipping her nose in the tasting glass. “It’s got a funky smell like gym socks, which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad.”
She takes another sip.
“There’s a zing on the finish that is very nice. And it’s the most interesting thing I’ve had yet.”
“Oh, just wait until the next one,” Couture says. “That’s my curveball.”
It’s everyone’s curveball. Mikkeller Texas Ranger – a chipotle porter that is as complex as the relationship between the beer brewing twins that run Mikkeller and Evil Twin.
“It smells like a marinade, which it probably could be,” Martin says.
The smoke flavor – which is more on the end – proves to be too much for Martin. It’s a swing and a miss.
The final beer – Couture’s leading candidate – is a Flemish Sour: Duchesse De Bourgogne (6.2% ABV). It’s the lowest alcohol by volume that Martin has tried, although it’s still about one-and-a-half times as strong as a Bud Light.
“Yeah, this is amazing,” Martin says smiling. “It’s got a zing to it and a tang.”
She does a small, seated dance atop the barstool. “John, you have chosen correctly.”
Couture goes back through the beer list with Martin – and suggests she order quadrupels (quad for short) and spicy sours in the future. He pulls a trio of bottles from the fridge – Petrus Oud Bruin, Oude Lambik and Oudbeitje Lambic – that could go on her next shopping list.
“Some of these can border on tart. You want funk rather than tart,” Couture says.
“I could see how La Fin du Monde could be a good gateway for white wine drinkers. It’s light and fruity and not too hoppy or carbonated,” Martin says. “But if you like a big wine, you’ve got to go for that Flemish Sour.”
Find Your Beer is a monthly series on The Recommended Daily that is sponsored by Bier Station. A reader, who may normally be a spirits or wine drinker, visits the tasting bar and bottle shop for a one-on-one session with a Bier Station bartender. And together, they’ll sit at the bar as long as it takes, to find their beer.Chris Mullins]