This Friday I feel like toasting the single greatest thing to come out of Canada since the
Avrow Avro Arrow: Unibroue and their stellar stable of damnation-themed beers. I have no doubt these beers are a prime reason why the rest of Canada will never allow Quebec to secede.
Try La Fin du Monde if you’re too snobbish for Hooegaarden, but beware the 9% alcohol. Order one 20-oz. bottle unless you plan on wobbling home.
Seven reasons to drive north for the weekend
Maudite fits the bill if you prefer red ales, and La Terrible may be one of the best trappist-style ales made by somebody who doesn’t speak Flemish. I can’t speak for their other ales, but I’m sure that folks will be happy to share that and report any other Canada-related finds in the comments.
For your Friday non-beer alternative, let’s take a moment to meditate Gary Snyder-style on the joy to be found in mold and rot.
Not working? Can’t figure out why someone would want to put in their mouth grapes infested with the bane of damp-climate fruit growers, Botrytis cinerea?
The answer looks something like this:
If you’re lucky enough to have old, robust vines in a relatively dry climate, the grey bane of fruitgrowers also represents an opportunity to make some of the most difficult and rewarding wine in the world. Botrytis preserves the flavors of a grape, concentrating it to a rich, explosively-flavored essence of its original self. Many growers consider the ways that Botrytis concentrates and deepens grape character practically magical, if you luck upon a moist summer and a dry fall and you have the nerve to play chicken with an early frost. The longer you wait the more legendary your bottling will become, but also the more likely that a wet spell or an early frost will leave you with nothing but mold and dead berries.
If you find a good late harvest, save it for an exceptional occasion and serve it with dessert. Many are rich and complex enough to constitute a dessert on their own.
Among the great late harvests that I’ve found in my travels: Vendanges Tardives gewurztraminer, from Hugel et Fils on the famous Alsace Wine Route in France, stands out as an excellent reason to visit this corner of Europe. When you smuggle this back from Europe make sure to find room in your contraband suitcase for a tin of foie gras, with which it goes perfectly. The Gewurtztraminer, a rich dessert wine for which eastern Alsace is famous, makes a perfect fit for the royal Botrytis treatment. The general term for Botrytis wines from this region is Sélection de Grains Nobles/SGN.
As Gewurtz is to Alsace, Sauvignon Blanc is to New Zealand, and one of the best-regarded bottlers of that variety is Isabel Estate, near Renwick in Marlborough. It should go without saying (but having tried it, I’ll say it emphatically) that their late-harvest Sauvgnon Blanc, Noble Sauvage, would be a prize for anybody who can find a bottle.
Any region that makes decent whites will have a few wineries that try their hand at a Botrytis bottling, and you won’t be disappointed across the Rhine in Germany. The rare Beerenauslese, for example, is made by selecting individual Botrytis-affected Riesling grapes by hand. Trockenbeerenauslese is rarer and even richer, a true challenge for the masochists who insist on locating a bottle.
In my experience, anywhere you find it a bottle of Botrytis wine is a prize. Get friendly with the wineries in your area and you might find that they have something ‘under the table’ that they won’t even let the tasting crowd know they have.