"Simple isn't the same as easy," someone once wrote about Luther Perkins' guitar playing. In any art where the craft of production is vital to the outcome - music, brewing, cooking ... - the prospect of stripping things down and going minimalist is exhilarating and risky. Uncluttered sparseness is kind of scary in an era of big, bombastic, over the top beers.
The challenge, I think, is knowing when to stand aside. Luther knew enough to let the sweet, sweet boom-chicka from his Fender flow behind Johnny Cash.
The monk-brewers of some of the Trappist monasteries make what are, to my mind, some of the most jaw-dropping beers on the planet from elementally simple formulations.
They achieve great complexity through great simplicity; they pick good ingredients, treat them well, and then get out of the way. Inspired by that ideal of brewhouse austerity, I made a Dubbel early this year based loosely on one of the ales of Westvleteren:
Westy Bleu 5 gallons, all-grain
- 12 lbs Belgian Pilsner malt
- 2 lbs D2 Candi Syrup
- 1 oz Tradition @ 60"
- 0.5 oz Saaz @ 15"
- Wyeast 3787 Trappist
(extract brewers: use 9.15 lbs of Northern Brewer Pilsen malt syrup in place of the Belgian Pilsner malt) ... basically just pils malt, a dark sugar for color and flavor, a great yeast, and time. At 11 months old, the 9% or so abv is entirely hidden, the body is chocolaty and malty (not knowing the grist you'd swear there was lots of Munich malt in it), the finish dry and spicy with fresh dark-fruit aromatics despite the beer's age.
And of course one of the great things about beer is how well it goes with food. Here's a main dish of matching simplicity I made with, and to serve alongside a bottle of, this beer for a weeknight dinner:
Oven Roasted Pork Chops with Onions and Dubbel pan sauce
- 2 lbs boneless loin chops
- 1 large white onion
- olive oil
- coarse salt
- 1/2 cup Dubbel, or another dark, malty beer (Bavarian Dunkel would be good)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Film a 12" cast iron skillet with olive oil
- Thinly slice the onion and line the skillet with the slices.
- Wash and pat dry the pork chops, then arrange them on top of the onions in the skillet. Sprinkle liberally with salt.
- Roast the chops and onions, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until onions are browned and meat is done to your liking
- Remove the skillet from the oven and move the chops and onions to a serving dish and keep them warm while you make the pan sauce: place the empty skillet over a burner and deglaze with the 1/2 cup of beer. Let the liquid reduce by about half, then pour over the chops and serve with a green salad, warm bread, and goblets of Dubbel.