You’ve probably seen the term “grand cru” in the wine world to denote wines from favorable terroir. Although the same concept of terroir can also be applied to beer, in the beer world the term is loosely applied to special release Belgian-style ales — it’s not a specific beer style. Why? We have no idea, but it appears to be mostly an “American brewing Belgian-style beers” thing and we’d have to guess it’s partially due to France’s influence on Belgians. Oh, and because it just sounds cool.

Allagash Brewing Company has been brewing in Portland, ME since 1995 and is one of the few breweries in the US dedicated to brewing Belgian-style beers (and is most famous for its witbier, Allagash White). This week’s tasting, Allagash Grand Cru, brewed with spices for the holiday season, follows the brewery’s Belgian roots, acting as their winter ambassador. What spices? They don’t say, so the best way to find out is to take a sniff and a sip.

The Taste

Pours turbid, dark and dirty amber, with a slightly off-white foamy head — nice stickage. Very aromatic with soft and powdery spices (cardamom and nutmeg come to mind) and a splash of orange and fresh grainy malts. Smooth, medium-bodied and creamy on the palate thanks to a lively carbonation. Zesty smacking of hops. Fruity and sweet with a solid malty base; suggestions of citrus fruits (more orange), bready malts and hint of smoke. Spicy with a dusting of black pepper, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and yeast. Apple and pear flavors hang in the back with some alcohol and mild esters, with some green banana towards the finish. Biscuity and a bit doughy with a coarse, somewhat dry finish that’s tannic and yeasty.

Final Thoughts

Though it’s a bit rough around the edges due to bottle-conditioning and spices, Allagash Grand Cru is delicious, full of character and a nice change of scenery from the typical winter seasonal releases. For a cleaner experience we recommend that you store this beer cool for several days, allowing things to settle, and decant slowly in order to leave as much of the sediment in the bottle as possible — if you want a spicier experience, decant the sediment.

Weighs in at 7.2% alcohol by volume and is available in 750mL magnum, 12oz bottle and keg formats. Allagash suggests pairing with full-flavored spicy entrées (seafood diablo or curry), but we like their recommendation of carrot or spiced cakes. We’ll throw in apple pie; or a nice raw milk cow cheese, slice of salami and pear cremonese on a fresh baguette.




Beer Events

Welcome to Winter Beer Dinner

December 9

Join Harpoon Brewery and Grendel’s Den for this Sunday dinner, featuring four courses each paired with a Harpoon beer. After the meal, everyone is invited to enjoy a performance by Matt Rusteika of Naked Folk with sea shanties and merriment.

[Grendel’s Den, 89 Winthrop St., Harvard Sq., Cambridge. 617.491.1160. 6:30pm/$30 adv/$35 dos.]

3rd Annual Brew Year’s Eve FestivALE

December 31

Looking for something different on New Year’s Eve? Join Cambridge Common for an evening of beers and food as you welcome the New Year — three rounds of multiple beer samplers each paired with tasty comfort food. The night is topped off with a toast of Cisco Brewers Celebration Libation Ale.

[Cambridge Common, 1667 Mass. Ave., Harvard Sq., Cambridge. 617.547.1228. 5:31pm, 7:31pm or 9:31pm/$37.]

Extreme Beer Fest

February 15 & 16, 2008

Heads up for all of you Digsters: Tickets for the BeerAdvocate Extreme Beer Fest are on sale! On Friday, Night of the Barrels features 100% wood-aged beers (only 500 tickets), and Saturday’s Sessions One & Two features 100+ Extreme Beers (1,000 tickets per session). For more info and to buy advance tickets now, please visit:

[Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. 617.426.5000. Friday: 6pm-9:30pm/$50; Saturday: Session One/1pm-4:30pm/$40, Session Two/6pm-9:30pm/$40.]