The cuisine and libations are the highlights of, both, any Crystal luxury voyage and the Thanksgiving holiday. When the two come together, you are presented with one of the most delectable vacation experiences imaginable. Such is the case with Crystal Serenity’s “Flavors of the Caribbean” voyage, aptly named and appropriately, sailing round-trip from foodie heaven New Orleans on November 22. Enhancing the flavors of the island destinations on the itinerary is our popular Wine & Food Festival theme programming, featuring a special focus on the art of craft beers.
Stephen Beaumont, one of the expert guests set to share his vast knowledge of the world of beer with entertaining lectures and delicious tastings and menu pairings, joins the Crystal Insider to extend some of those insights to you. Stephen has immersed himself in studying and writing about the craft of creating and enjoying the world’s best beers for more than 25 years.
Crystal Insider: Those familiar with the world of wine tasting know to look for the five main components of a wine. What are the key components to assess when tasting craft beers?
Stephen Beaumont: The essentials of beer tasting are pretty much the same as those of wine tasting, but there are elements that people tend to overlook. Color is an important one, since brewers do go to great lengths to bring just the right hue to their beers, and if you drink from the bottle or can directly you obviously miss out on that. I always suggest a pour down the side of a clear and clean glass, resulting in about one or two fingers of foam at the top, for a truly lovely looking beer.
Aroma is likewise often overlooked, and likewise necessarily missed when drinking from the bottle or can. There is no end to the wonderful aromatics that emanate from various styles of beer, from chocolate or coffee notes to soft florals, spicy aromas or various levels of fruitiness.
Where beer does deviate from wine is in aftertaste, which is considered incidental to wine but is essential to beer. (That is why wine tasters can spit whereas beer tasters must swallow when they sample.) The lingering flavors on the tongue and in the back of the throat — bitterness, nuttiness, a taste of chocolate cake or a soft lemony note — all contribute to how a beer is perceived and, for the pros, evaluated.
CI: Your “Pocket Beer Guide” book discusses beer and food pairings, and also highlights beer for breakfast. What is your go-to favorite pairing?
SB: I can’t point to just one pairing, as I am always finding new ways to deliciously match beer and food. (I review many of them in my recent book, The Beer & Food Companion.) But I will say that a relationship which is often overlooked is that of hoppy bitterness with spicy, salty or fatty foods. Bitterness is often palate-cleansing, so where flavors tend to build up on the tongue over time, as with salt and fat and spice, a hoppy beer such as a pale ale, German style pilsner or IPA will refresh the palate and have you tasting the food afresh with each bite.
CI: Should Crystal guests be ordering a microbrew with their morning waffles in Lido Café?
I wouldn’t counsel beginning the day with a beer — I much prefer coffee, myself — but for a late breakfast or brunch, a German style wheat beer, known as a hefeweizen, can be a delightful partner to egg dishes or pork or veal sausages, and try an oatmeal stout with Belgian waffles for a surprising treat!
CI: Like Crystal, your expertise takes you all over the world. Where, in your travels, have you been most surprised by the quality of the beer, or the brewing process? Where have you found the greatest array of craft beers?
SB: The wonderful thing about brewing today is that great beer is being produced the world over. In researching out new, second edition World Atlas of beer, my co-author, Tim Webb, and I discovered over 60 countries with viable craft beer cultures, and an additional 20 or 30 with the first stirrings present. So almost anywhere one cares to travel these days there will be decent beer — if not at the ready, at least within relatively easy reach for those willing to look for it. Having said that, however, I’ve been recently quite excited by what I have found in such traditional wine countries as Italy and Spain as well as the Latin American nations of Mexico and Brazil, which are typically places known more for light-bodied lagers than serious beers.
CI: What, if any, is the difference between a craft beer and a microbrew?
SB: Time. We used to refer to these new, upstart breweries as microbreweries because they were tiny relative to the regional, national and international brewers, and we called the beers they produced microbrews. When these operations started to grow larger, however, that name didn’t seem quite so appropriate, so although even the largest of these breweries is still pretty insignificant when compared to the majors, we now call them craft breweries and their products craft beers.
The 14-day sailing cruises the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River and the Caribbean Sea, calling island gems like St. Barts, Tortola, Grand Cayman and other tropical locales. Book now and prepare to feast on food, fine wines, craft beers and more stunning panoramas than you can imagine.