Pizza Port - Cuvee de Tomme
- ABV: 11.1%
- Malts: Pilsner, Caramunich, Dark Caramunich, Special B, Chocolate, Roasted Wheat
- Hops: Challenger, Styrian Goldings, Sterling, East Kent Goldings
This month we are excited and honored to bring to you two simply remarkable beers by the reigning Great American Beer Festival Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year, Tomme Arthur. The Mother of All Beers, bottled for the first time ever for the Rare Beer Club, is Pizza Port’s Belgian Style Dark Strong, an Abbey “Quad” ale that slips in at 10% alcohol and with an OG of 1.092. It is a stunner by any standard, and the base beer used for the Cuvee de Tomme.
Cuvee de Tomme has for some time been Pizza Port’s most widely known experimental offering, inspired by the numerous sour ales of Belgium with a classic Pizza Port twist – the alcohol level of 12% by volume. Allowed to age for 9 months in American oak whisky barrels and with the addition of a healthy dose of sour cherries and 3 strains of Brettanomyces yeast, the perennial medal winning result is a blend of creativity, Belgian inspiration, and a wee bit of alcohol.
The following is taken from a recent tasting that Michael did with Cuvee de Tomme, while near home in London.
You know, I’m kind of fascinated by this one. You get a lot of these wine designations on Belgian beers, like cuvee, grand cru, reserve, that kind of thing.
The Belgians quite often call their beers “The Burgundies of Belgium.” And that’s more than just poetic license, because there was one point, for quite a long time, when Belgium was a part of Burgundy. And Burgundy is famous, obviously, for pinot noir wines, but also for great cheese, butter, beef – great things to eat and drink. And the Burgundians eat and drink in pretty large quantities.
But this is called Cuvee de Tomme because it’s made by a guy named Tomme; Tomme Arthur, who brews at a couple of breweries owned by a company called Pizza Port in Southern California, very near the city of San Diego.
It’s a beer broadly in the style of Rodenbach, the red and somewhat sour Belgian beer that I’ve categorized as one of the world’s greatest beers. This is arguably more complex than Rodenbach, made by a more complicated process.
This beer is actually quite a bit darker than Rodenbach. It’s going from dark cherry to black, I would say, in color. Not quite such a musty, sour cellar character as Rodenbach on the nose.
This is good, very distinctive beer. An incredible interplay of sourness and sweetness, dryness, crispness. There are peppery flavors at the back of the
mouth. Does this sound unpleasant to you? If it does, you’re leading a sheltered life; you’ve got to get out there and taste some beers.
I think I’ll try some Stinking Bishop cheese washed in perry, which is made from pears, served on a Bath Oliver biscuit. This cheese is very, very creamy. It needs a sharp, tannic beer to cut it. This is a fantastic combination.
So how do you make a beer taste this good? Well, you put a lot of stuff in it, like a lot of Belgian malts. You put in some pilsner malt, which is high quality every day beer malt named for the town and beer style in the Czech Republic, but in this instance made in Belgium. Some caramunich, a caramelized version of a dark malt made in Munich. Again in this case, produced in Belgium, so Belgian caramunich malt, and Belgian extra dark caramunich malt. A Belgian malt called Special B, which is a very aromatic, honeyish malt. Chocolate malt from Belgium and a conventional, roasted wheat malt.
That’s a lot of different types of malt for one beer. And Belgian candy sugar. Candy sugar gives that sort of rummy characteristic. Dark and amber Belgian candy sugars, raisins, sour cherries, there are a lot of fermentable materials in here, and it’s really in the Kriek family.
The hops are Challenger hops, from England, which to my taste have a slightly sort of lemony flavor. Styrian Goldings from the Czech Republic. And Sterling hops. One day soon I’ll be in a brewery and they’ll say, “I use Sterling hops,” and I’ll say, “Why do you use Sterling?” And they might just say, “Well, because we like it.” But I’ll try and beat it out of them, using subtle techniques that I learned in the beer secret service, why they use that particular hop. Tomme also uses East Kent Goldings, the most famous English hop, which gives an oily, earthy character.
The yeast is an abbey ale yeast from White Labs, in the Southwest. But he also uses three strains of Brettanomyces. Brettanomyces is a kind of semi-wild yeast. How can a yeast be semi-wild, isn’t it either wild or not? It’s a bit like a dog, which is definitely domesticated, versus a cat. Brettanomyces is the cat, and it’s the best known in the family of semi-wild yeasts. It occurs in several Belgian beers, particularly in the lambic family of beers. It was traditionally held to occur in British porters and stouts. That’s why it’s called Brettanomyces, because the term Brettano-myces means British yeast, essentially.
Very few people use it, but those that do make very interesting products. Some people say that it is supposed to taste of wet dog, but a lot of people say a sort of musty cellar character. That doesn’t sound too great either, but I think that a beer with a lot of Brettanomyces in it does taste great.
It’s just so complex, I could go on exploring this beer all afternoon. I am very proud indeed to offer this beer in the club because by making it available, I’m giving you the chance to taste it, the chance to share my pleasure. You don’t have to write me a thank you note, or send your name on the back of an open check or anything like that. But I really enjoy sharing my pleasures with other people. I hope you enjoy Tomme Arthur’s beer, and Stinking Bishop cheese if you can get some. Cheers, Tomme. It’s about time I went to San Diego.
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