the best beer you’ve never heard of
It has been said that the best beer is made in America. Looking for German, Belgian, or British beer? No need to buy a plane ticket. Instead, seek out the best craft beer bar you can find in an American city close to home. The United States, being the melting pot that it is, once adapted classic recipes and techniques from motherlands far and wide for use in the New World. But the post-modern wave of American brewing has improved upon those recipes in ways more innovative than foreign brewmasters could have imagined.
Believe it or not, America (not Belgium) is the biggest beer destination in the world.
This is a lucky fact to those for whom international travel is cost-prohibitive. As much as I would love to pursue a multitude of foreign beers at their source, it’s just not possible. That being said, imported beers — even those with the craft designation, rare status, or impeccable quality — seldom garner much attention from American craft beer enthusiasts. Rare exceptions exist, namely a certain Trappist beer that can only be retrieved with advanced notice from the monastery itself, in a process involving a monk unceremoniously plopping nondescript brown bottles into the trunk of one’s rental car. Or so I’m told.
Although I cannot strongly explain the reason for our lack of attention, one import recently reminded me of this collective blind spot in the best possible way.
The beer is called Inedit, made by Spain’s Damm brewery in conjunction with Ferran Adrià, the most decorated chef in the world. Created in 2008 with input from the sommeliers at elBulli, Adrià’s former three-Michelin-star restaurant, Inedit was meticulously designed to be enjoyed with food.
The style, which draws elements from Belgian witbier and Belgian golden ale, stands up to the haute cuisine of food like Adrià’s – refined, classic techniques with a bent towards molecular gastronomy – reflecting the same level of complexity and harmony. Much of the flavor is contributed by the yeast, including hallmark phenols like clove and black pepper. Coriander, licorice, and orange peel are added, but the wheat softens the entire picture and the effervescence causes the beer to linger in the mouth. It was engineered to work with sweet, savory, and acidic dishes equally well, while the clean acidity cuts through heavier meats and fats.
What’s more, the beer begs to be treated like a wine, with its sleek and simple bottle design. This was no accident; Damm suggests serving this beer in an ice bucket with white wine glasses filled no more than halfway to properly display aroma.
I encountered this singular beer while visiting the famous Columbia restaurant in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa. The restaurant opened in 1905 and remains the oldest restaurant in Florida and the oldest Spanish restaurant in the world. Classic Spanish and Cuban dishes are served throughout the 15-room restaurant which occupies an entire city block.
Though more refined options were filling the dining room at tables around me, it was a Cuban sandwich, made famous in Ybor City, that I was after. Enjoying the beautiful Inedit as though it was a secret treasure, I took in the historic confluence in front of me. This unexpected reminder of what food and beer should be was foreign and entirely American at the same time.
Imported beers can be challenging for consumers. The labels are often less than descriptive, and sometimes the importation process means the beer isn’t so fresh. But opting for a beer you have never heard of can have big payoffs in terms of palate development and simple enjoyment, even when enjoyed oceans away.