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Cafe D'AlsaceWhen it comes to fine dining, many establishments have a sommelier to help you navigate the often complex and confusing world of wine. Cafe D’Alsace on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is more than likely the first restaurant in America, perhaps the world, to have a dedicated Beer Sommelier. With 120 beers on hand, and styles ranging from French Bière de Gardes to Belgian Tripels to German Doppelbocks, the choices can be overwhelming. And when it comes to matching the wonderful Alsacian cuisine with just the right brew, Avi (a.k.a. Aviram Turgeman) is just the man for the job.

For our meal, he started me out with a snappy Tripel Karmeliet, a Belgian Abbey-style ale whose distinct character comes from the three grains used for brewing this beverage… wheat, barley and oats. It was served in a huge bulbous glass from the brewery itself that showed off its tremendous head and allowed me to get my nose right into the glass to appreciate the spicy, citrus hop aroma. A very nice appertif for cleansing the palate, that also went quite well with the appetizer of warm potato salad.

To find a beer that would compliment both my dinner of Choucroute Garnie (sausages, back bacon and pork loin) and my wife’s Trout in Riesling sauce could be a difficult task. But Avi’s recommendation of Trois Monts, a complex champagne-like Bière de Garde, was an excellent pairing for both dishes.

Of course, one true test of a beer sommelier would be finding the perfect beer for with dessert. As a chocolate-lover, I couldn’t resist the Trio of Chocolate (chocolate creme, chocolate tart, and an intensely-chocolately dark chocolate gelato.) My first choice would have been Lindeman’s Frambois, a delicious raspberry beer to complement the chocolate. But Avi said he had just the beer for my chocolate dessert, and delivered a bottle of Sinebrychoff Porter on the house, an excellent deep-roasted Finnish Baltic-style Porter that paired with dark chocolate better than I could ever imagine.

Definition: Baltic Porter (updated 12/29/06)

A Porter is a dark, richly roasted ale that originated in England and is the grandfather of what we know today as Stout.  English porters brewed for export were stronger and with more hops in order to survive the sea voyage from England across the North Sea to the Baltics, Scandinavia and Russia.  So when the Baltic states started brewing their own porters, their renditions reflected the English exports.

These Baltic Porters are a more robust, higher alcohol (7% or more) take on the porter style.   Scandinavian Baltic Porters are typically brewed as ales (with top fermenting yeast), while Slavic and Baltic breweries typically use lager yeast for their porters (bottom fermenting yeast, brewed at cooler temperatures).

For more information on porters, read my article found here.

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