Several years ago, I was lured into a charming pub in Ottawa’s Byward Market by a hand-written sign which promised a Caesar salad for $9.95 Canadian. Since this was back in the days when a Canadian dollar was worth about 70¢ US, it seemed like something of a bargain even before I noticed the small print that mentioned that that the salad was served with a side of sirloin steak and fries. Sold!
Down I went, and I discovered one of those charming, warm, welcoming pubs that make you feel instantly comfortable in a new city. The food was tasty and the service friendly. But it was the beer menu that won my heart. Without question, it was the absolute best I’ve ever come across. It’s scope was amazing, and each brew was accompanied by long, loving descriptions that were almost poetic in their exuberance. Sort of like a beer lover’s J. Peterman catalog. I actually purchased a copy of that tome to take home. What they call a menu, I call a shopping list.
My friends and I sent a happy afternoon sampling quite a few from that list (old hard-to-find favorites and wonderful new discoveries) before we realized that we were reaching our limit, and decided it was time to stagger back toward our hotel. But just before we left, one last brew caught our eye. The last line of the description said, “quite possibly the best beer I have ever tasted.” Well. How could we pass that up? Happily, we did not. That beer was called Aventinus. I can say without hesitation, the beer menu poet did not exaggerate.
Aventinus is a Doppelbock, but don’t let its darker amber color fool you. It’s sweet without being syrupy, full-flavored without being bitter, and complex without being overpowering. I’m honestly not sure I know how to describe the taste, except to say that it’s like drinking a loaf of Christmas spice bread. If there was such a thing as a comfort beer, this would be it.
Most pubs serve Aventinus in its own glass. When poured, it has a medium golden brownish color that reminds you of harvest time and autumn wheat. It is slightly hazy, and about an inch or so of frothy head caps it off. Take a sniff. The aroma is soft and gentle, sweet and wheaty with hints of yeast, but also complex. I’d swear that there is some light presence of brown sugar, along with clove and some ripe dark fruit, almost like raisin or plum. The first glorious sip leaves rings and a pretty lace of foam. The flavor is amazing, mellow and complex with hints of subtle dark brown sugar and, again, raisin and plum, with no real trace of hops or alcohol. Not surprisingly the flavor opens up more as the beer warms, leaving a very subtle, faint aftertaste of that’s almost like (I swear) banana and chocolate. Like I said, it’s like drinking a loaf of the very best Christmas spice bread.
And yet, surprisingly, it’s not as heavy as you might expect. The feel on the tongue is medium-bodied with a soft, silky feel and gentle carbonation. Aventinus is definitely a sipping beer, but one that goes down easily. The rich, complex flavor makes you want to savor it slowly, and one a night is plenty. If you happen to live in the Atlanta/Decatur area, it’s easy to find on tap at the Brick Store (of course), the Grange, the Book House, The Porter, and others. If not, well, it’s well-worth hunting down wherever you happen to be. Sip it by the fire with good friends, warm and smiling, and think of crisp, longer nights as the year rolls from autumn to the winter holiday season. It’s terrific all year ’round, of course, but it’s best right about now.