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New Belgium Brewing

Beer GeeksNov 06 '14

At New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colorado, one of the first American breweries to produce Belgian style beer, host and master brewer Michael Ferguson helps master blender Lauren Salazar create a new beer from a dozen different 20-foot tall barrels. Also, brewing 1554 black ale, making shrimp and grits with beer sauce, and food and beer pairings.

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Episode Recap

One of the first American breweries to brew true Belgian-style beer, New Belgium Brewing Company is a craft beer pioneer.

Michael’s visit here began with a visit to the barrel room, which houses twelve giant barrels, called foudres. Here, Michael met up with sensory scientist Lauren Salazar, a legend in the business for her incredible talent at blending — a crucial part of creating consistent brews, as no two beers fermented Belgian-style with wild yeast ever come out exactly the same.

Lauren showed Michael the process of blending New Belgium’s famous La Folie, a sour brown ale. First, they took samples from a dozen different foudres. Each beer was tasted, then classified as a waiter (needs more time to develop), a blender (a filler brew), or a user. And Michael found that her unique record keeping system is heavily dependent on hand drawn emoticons in her notebook – smiley face, frowny face, or neutral face. Then, without even a pause, Lauren began to mix the samples, combining five different beers in various proportions to create a fabulous beer Michael described as offering the promise of sweetness with great drinkability.

Next, Michael headed for the brew house to help brewer Grady Hull create a batch of one of Michael’s favorite beers, New Belgium’s 1554, a Belgian dark lager. Key to its flavor profile were black and chocolate malts, which Michael and Grady milled in by hand, while correcting the common misconception that chocolate malt is made with chocolate. It isn’t, but it tastes that way. In order to get the sweet, smooth qualities 1554 is known for, Grady set a fast mash time at high temperatures. This technique leaves more sugars that are non-fermentable, which makes the beer sweeter. Hops and spices were added from a special hop-dosing machine - target hops for bittering without adding much flavor or aroma, and a secret spice blend.

Heading down the road a few miles to Jax Fish House, Michael met up with chef Kevin Grossi to cook with New Belgium beer. They whipped up one of Michael’s favorites, shrimp and grits, using New Belgium’s Hoppy Bock Lager.

At dinner, blender Lauren Salazar paired the dish with New Belgium Blue Paddle, a Czech-style pilsner with toasted malt flavor and herbal, spicy hop aromas. The match was actually backed by science. Lauren informed the table that chemical compounds cause lagers to pair exceptionally well with shellfish and crustaceans. The malty characteristics of the Blue Paddle and the hoppy tones from the dish offset each other perfectly.

Chowder, made with Nantucket Bay scallions marinated in basil pesto, was paired with New Belgium’s Trippel, a Belgian-style ale with clove and banana flavors. The beer’s fruity notes complemented the earthy, herbal basil of the dish.

Last on the menu was wild steelhead trout on a black-eyed pea cassoulet with duck sausage and apple butter. Lauren said there were so many flavors going on here that deciding on this pairing was far from easy. Ultimately, she went with New Belgium Rampant IPA, an imperial IPA with citrusy, piney, and grassy notes. The piney notes of the dry hop pulled everything together without adding too much to the symphony of flavors.

From blending to brewing to cooking to pairing, this was a great trip to one of the most iconic breweries in the entire world of craft beer.