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Nelson Leung, the behind-the-scenes proprietor at Söntés, has long been known as the  in-house beer epicure. While the complexities of wine make Tessa’s eyes light up, it’s beer that really gets her husband going. The guest post below is Nelson’s first; read on as he gives us a bit of the history of beer, and shares both his enthusiasm for brewing and the diabolically simple concept behind the upcoming BBQ & Beer dinner on May 25th and 26th.

When Tessa approached me about writing an article for the blog, I have to say I was less than enthusiastic. I was already behind on three scientific papers, two book chapters, and  lectures, and the last thing I needed was another project. But before I could turn her down, she told me it was about beer; the decision was obvious. Modern medicine has been around for a few hundred years but man has been making beer for well over 3,500 years—medicine will have to wait.

I must admit my fondness for beer only came in the last few years. Drinking beer in college and medical school was more for socializing than for the enjoyment of it. Nothing made you more popular than a pitcher of cheap beer. My attitude would have probably had stayed the same had it not been for a dinner Tessa took me to where my beer blinders were forever lifted by brews the likes of La Fin du Monde and Rochefort #8. I had no idea how little I knew about a drink that is a right of passage, conversation starter, friend, and sometimes foe. Aside from a silver train shaped like a bullet, a cute bulldog, and the Swedish bikini team, the only thing I knew was that I preferred taste over filling. I had no idea that beer is classified into ales and lagers, not just light and dark. Who knew there were as many varieties of beer as there are wines, and that beer brewing predates wine making?

Now, while wine may have been the muse for many artists, beer is credited for creating the first science: mathematics. I’m not kidding! Archaeologists (beer drinkers I’m sure) now believe that mathematics was created to calculate field size and crop yield for the purpose of brewing beer. You could say that if it wasn’t for beer, Newton would never have figured out why the apple hit him on the head.

Another advantage beer has over wine is the pleasure of homebrewing. You can make wine at home, but great wine is highly unlikely. For that, you need excellent grapes and oak barrels. I’m sorry, but wood chips are for your garden or barbecue; real wine requires barrel aging. On the contrary, homebrew beer is often as good or better than most of what you find at the store, and can be as good as some of the best beer in the world. That’s because the ingredients and equipment needed to make great beer are accessible to all of us.

Aside from being able to create something wonderful, homebrewing also excites the science geek in us. It’s fun to tweak and tinker with the ingredients in order to change the complexity and characteristics of the brew. Recently, my dear friend and fellow beer aficionado brought back four beers from a brewery; each beer was made with the same grains, but with different hops and yeasts. It was amazing to see how one change can make such a difference in the final product! If chemistry was this much fun, I would have never graduated high school. (Just kidding, just kidding!)

As part of my endeavor to spread the joy, Tessa and I are happy to announce the annual beer dinner at Söntés. Last year, without my knowledge, Tessa gave a Belgian style triple ale I made as a surprise sampler. Needless to say, I was not as happy as the few lucky ones who attended the dinner. This year, we decided to have all the beer brewed in-house. Let’s see who among us has the potentials of becoming a cicerone… 

I am brewing a blonde ale which I tasted during the transfer from brew barrel to bottle (and I’m delighted that it’s already showing why blonde ales are the preference of many gentlemen). Tessa is brewing an IPA that she doctored. Trevor is brewing an imperial stout. His first batch underwent vigorous judging and critique, and as much as we tried, we couldn’t find much fault with it. He thinks he can make this stout even better. Steve Finney, who taught Tessa and I how to brew, is making a honey kolsch. He has wowed us in the past with his coconut porter, and we’re expecting nothing less from this one. Mike Vanderboom is brewing an English pale ale that is sure to wow.

With all the excitement about beer, I almost forgot to mention the food! Food is the essential complement to great beers, and, just as it can with wine, it can make or break the beer. So what are we pairing the beers with? Barbecue, of course. Can you think of anything that would go better? Using her superpower (supertasting), Tessa has carefully choosen the beer to go with each course of sweet, salty, meaty deliciousness. We will be fortunate enough to be feasting on the famous beef briskets by Paul Sims and Chef Bryce Lamb’s spicy Preacher’s Tongue sauce, just to name a few delicious menu tidbits. If you’re interested, the full menu is currently available on our Happenings page.

Needless to say, this event is going to be a BBQ & Beer spectacular. Hope to see you there!