Friday, October 16, 2009

With Susanne, a Beer Sommelier

If Susanne Hecht’s husband hadn’t pushed her, she may never have taken the course which certified her as a beer sommelier, and got us to meet her on a balmy Saturday evening @ the Shangri La, New Delhi. We’re glad he did. Passionate about beer and cooking he is, he took a beer sommelier course, and then got Susanne into it also! Susanne of course was already working in the beer industry, with Schneider Weisse of Bavaria, and the course came in quite handy professionally also.

As we waited for other guests to gather, a Jenlain was served. Jenlain Blonde, a classic French farmhouse style ale, so called, because these beers were originally brewed on farmhouses and meant to be served fresh to the farmers and the workers in the fields. While we drank the Jenlain, I spoke to Susanne about beer culture in Germany, and whether people were actually pairing beer with food, as a Sommelier would advise. Not yet, was her reply. The Reinheitsgebot, or the German purity law of 1516 (try saying that thrice quickly!), stipulates that beer can only be made from Malt, Hops and water. Until recently, only Barley Malt was allowed, but the law was relaxed to also allow wheat malt, which is how Schneider Weisse came into being, as they do a very palatable wheat beer.Until recently, even beers imported into Germany had to be produced according to the purity law, but that’s been relaxed.

As a result of the law, there are not too many styles of beer prevalent in Germany, as opposed to neighbouring Belgium, where there has been an explosion of beers and beer styles, and as Jean Deboutte, the Belgian ambassador told me, “We are the beer country”! As a result, Germans are fairly traditional in their beer drinking ways.

We moved on to the Schneider Weisse, the wheat beer, which some believe saved the wheat beer category from extinction when it was developed in 1872.

“It’s got banana in the nose”, said Ankur Jain, the owner of Cerana Imports, whose passion for beer got him to import beers from all over Europe (aspis Cerana is the Latin name for the Asiatic Honey Bee, so I’m not quite sure of the connection between bees and beer).

And right he was, it did have banana in the nose. It’s also not bitter, and I can quite imagine women taking to it. Saison dupont, another farmhouse ale followed, “Best Beer in the world” as per Mens Journal magazine, and it was nice, although I’m not sure about the best beer part!There are only 7 Trappist Beers in the world, 6 in Belgium and 1 in the Netherlands. So-called, cause they’re brewed in a Trappist monastery. Chimay is one of the 6 from Belgium and we were drinking the Chimay Red that evening. At 7% alcohol, it’s still lighter than it’s siblings, the Chimay Blue and White (at 9 and 8% alcohol respectively). That’s the thing with all the beers we were drinking, they’re most definitely, the anti-lager. You can have one or two of them. They need contemplation.The evening ended with a tasting of the Winterkoninkse, a beer perfect for a chilly Delhi evening, and very reminiscent of a London porter, with notes of coffee and chocolate.