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April 21, 2010

Mug Shots: The cycle of life

In the small town of Frasnes-lez-Buissenal, within the gently hilly area of Belgium known as the Pays du Collines, there is a municipal health and fitness center not unlike the YMCA, save for one crucial difference.

Ten years ago, my hearty band of budding beer-cyclists were limping wearily back to this clean, well-lit athletic hub, where earlier we had rented both mountain bikes and a sturdy guide, Etienne, who accompanied us for an exciting day of viewing assorted rural attractions, tasting the dust of the countryside and, on one occasion, witnessing me falling headfirst onto a pasture laden with cow patties. Not fun.

It was late afternoon, and the bikes were safely returned to storage. Etienne motioned us inside the gymnasium complex to reveal a triumphant, joyously European touch: a beer café and snack bar, right on the site. He bought the first round of five Hoegaarden Wits, and these otherwise mild, citrusy ales — served without a trace of orange slices, lemon wedges or any other redundant fruit parts — helped revive us.

Just last week, I was sifting through an unruly pile of credit card receipts and business cards jammed into my Che Guevera wallet, when a jagged piece of paper caught my eye. On it I’d shakily written these words: “A Short History of Restorative Beer.” Evidently, I intended to discuss the topic in this space, or perhaps was seeking to coin a title for my autobiography, but the phrase acted as an immediate reminder of that long-ago day when we were off road in Wallonia.

At the risk of inciting the cuckolding of eavesdropping health fascists, permit me to note that restorative beers are seasonable, suitable and periodically sessionable. After exercise and exertion, it’s always been best for me to rehydrate with a good watering, and then begin to consider the best choices for the forthcoming restoration. No particular style is best. Warmer weather suggests moderate strengths, although not always. On Sunday morning, fruit-based lambics are the freethinker’s equivalent of a mimosa. Pale ales and California Common (“Steam”) work often for me.

For those of a philosophical bent, aren’t they all restorative beers? Each beer you drink takes a little bit out of you, which implies an imminent need to put something back in to fill the void — hence, another beer as restorative compensation, and the cycle begins anew. Some beers restore better than others, and naturally, you’d best not drive during the process.

In 2000, after returning to our home in Tournai, we showered, had a bite of couscous and began more spiritual restoration work with the nourishing assistance of Belgium’s Trappist brewing community: Chimay, Westmalle, Orval and Rochefort.

•••

It’s time to depart Belgium and offer my annual local craft brewery overview for Derby. Louisville is a great brewing city with ample supplies of locally crafted beer, and five of our top-quality brewing companies are described here, in alphabetical order.

Bluegrass Brewing Company (BBC) is Louisville’s longest-tenured brewpub (founded in 1993) and remains a neighborhood institution at 3929 Shelbyville Road (899-7070). A second, non-brewing BBC pub and eatery is located at Fourth Street downtown (660 S. Fourth, 568-2224).

At the BBC Taproom (636 E. Main St., 584-2739), there is a full-scale production brewery with draft BBC beer that’s as fresh as it gets, but no kitchen, so bring your own food or have it delivered.

Even hardcore temperance fanatics always are impressed by the grandeur of the three-story brewhouse at Browning’s Brewery, situated inside Louisville Slugger Field (401 E. Main St., 515-0174). See it, and believe it.

Intimate and eclectic, Cumberland Brews anchors one of Louisville’s prime restaurant and entertainment corridors at 1576 Bardstown Road (458-8728). The tiny brewing kit has been augmented by a larger production facility nearby, with no loss of funky ambience.

The New Albanian Brewing Company has two locations in New Albany: the original Pizzeria & Public House at 3312 Plaza Drive (812-949-2804) and the brand new, completely different Bank Street Brewhouse at 415 Bank St. (812-725-9585).

 

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit potablecurmudgeon.blogspot.com for more beer.