I love wine. If not for the effects of the alcohol, I would likely drink it at every meal and most of the time in between. Wine has joined food, music and football in the pantheon of my passions. Compared to the other three it is a relative newcomer, but takes a backseat to none of them. In fact, it often complements them quite well. But in the same way that play-off hockey can engage me in almost the same way as football, or that in lieu of music I might listen to some Dave Matthews Band instead, I often enjoy other beverages than wine.
Okay, I lied. No, not about drinking other things, but about Dave Matthews Band. They are perfectly capable musicians whose family and friends probably adore, but I would never in a million years listen to their valiant efforts at making insipidity more acceptable. The rest of the above sentence is true, and here are a couple of my current favorite alternative adult beverages:
Gulden Draak Ale
Before I became totally enamored of wine my drink of choice was beer. There are many times that it still is. There are few wine/food pairings that are as natural and perfect as washing down an Asian-style salad with a delicious hoppy IPA. The sesame and citrus elements are perfect compliments to the bitter grapefruit-like notes in the beer. And nothing pairs better with Mexican food than a couple of icy cervezas. Despite my history and love for beer however, I sometimes think of beer as somehow less refined or complex as wine.
Gulden Draak Ale puts the lie to that in a big way. The first thing that sets this beer apart is that it has a distinctive white bottle that draws the eye and makes it almost leap off the shelf and into your hand. Then the second thing that sets it apart from the other bottles on the shelf kicks in; the price. At around $17.00 for a 4 pack, it is a fairly expensive beer. I always have to remind myself that I would consider that a bargain for a bottle of wine, and it makes the price of great beer a lot easier to swallow.
And what do we get to swallow for that price? Gulden Draak Ale is a dark Belgian triple beer that more than warrants the extra cost. Drink this out of a wine glass or tulip-style beer glass because you’ll really want to gather the aromas together for when your nose gets in there before taking a drink. The high alcohol, listed as 10.5 percent ABV and still fermenting in the bottle, is noticeable but doesn’t get in the way. Initially I noticed a malty sweet aroma accompanied by some fruitiness and brown sugar, but as the beer warmed in the glass notes of coffee and chocolate joined the party.
The taste is as complex as any wine, and like a great wine it provides an ever-changing experience with each drink. When the beer is cold it exhibits a light fruitiness typical of Belgian yeast, with the fruit ranging towards darker fruits such as fig and plum as it opens and warms. Add in a changing array of spices and the aforementioned coffee and chocolate, and the alcohol isn’t the only intoxicating quality this beer possesses.
I have seen some food pairings suggested for Gulden Draak, but to be honest none of them really appeals. This is a beer to be drunk alone and slowly savored. It needs no help, and in my opinion it has all of the flavors one could want in the glass that would only be masked by food. No, for me at least, watching the thick head becoming lovely Belgian lace down the side of the glass while I ponder the last sip and anticipate the next is quite enough.
Thanks for getting me to try this, Kevin. It is likely to be a mainstay in my house for a long time.
Buffalo Trace Bourbon
I do not claim to be a whiskey aficionado or expert in any way, shape or form. I don’t even drink it all that often, but do cook with it quite a bit. Nothing puts a chocolate pie over the top like a few tablespoons of bourbon, and once you’ve used it in a caramel sauce it will always have a place in the pantry. A good, quality whiskey works best, which is why I always buy bourbon. The quality available at an affordable price is amazing when compared to other styles of whiskey.
But cooking alone isn’t why I buy Buffalo Trace. There are other bourbons that would taste great for cooking, some even less expensive, but none that I enjoy drinking as well. It is the best tasting whiskey of any style that I have tasted in this price range and now that it is finally getting chilly in Houston, I will be drinking some now and then.
Whether as a quick shot, over ice, or best of all, warmed by a few drops of hot water, Buffalo Trace delivers fabulous aromas and flavors, without anything to get in the way of their enjoyment. Pour a little in a glass and give it a sniff and it will suggest childhood or almost primal memories. Mom baking cookies, or riding in the backseat on a long trip with Dad safely at the wheel as you drifted off to sleep smelling the leather seat against your cheek. Add a few drops of hot water and the room will come alive with vanilla and citrus aromas.
The flavors are much the same way. The citrus and vanilla tastes dominate, but are soon joined by buttery oak and nutmeg, honey and fruit flavors that seem to dance away just as they are almost identified. Buffalo Trace Bourbon is astonishingly complex, incredibly balanced…and best of all, priced at about half what the quality would suggest.
It is still morning as I write this, but I may have to have a little of both of these at lunch after waxing rhapsodical about them. Come on noon…