In beer, as in life, there is good and there is evil. And since brewing began, the temptation has been strong to indulge in delicious sinfulness, even as one tries to be saintly.
Two excellent beers from Belgium are emblematic of this duality: St. Bernardus Abt 12, a quadrupel brewed by Brouwerij St. Bernardus (whose dubbels, Prior 8 and Pater 6, are also well worth a taste), and Satan Red, a potent pale ale from Brouwerij De Block (which also brews a Satan Gold).
The former is glorious — “the absolute top quality in the hierarchy of St. Bernardus beers,” its brewers proclaim — pouring gorgeously copper-red into its holy chalice, crowned with a beige and bubbly halo. The aroma (raisins, a pungent whiff of sweet tobacco) gives way to a lusciously carbonated sip, the flavor of which is as airy and layered as a Gregorian chant: long-lingering hints of candied fruit and brown sugar, with a subtle snap of black pepper. It is divine.
And the latter is devilishly delicious. It’s an ale meant “for those fine, beautiful moments of life,” write Satan’s brewers — an indulgence, apparently, to savor before the inevitable eternal perdition. In fact, its ruddy color bears some resemblance to flames of hell: a deep, orange-y amber. But instead of the acrid smell of sulfur, this one rewards with a pleasantly spicy waft of sugar and citrus. The flavor is similarly complex, both dry and sweet, with definite notes of anise and cloves. (Not cloven hooves.)
Saint or Satan? Why not both? After all, you’re only human.
St. Bernardus Abt 12 and Satan Red are available for $11.95 and $8.45, respectively, for a 750-ml bottle at Downtown Wine & Spirits, 225 Elm Street, in Somerville. Call 617.625.7777.