The first time I heard the term “budbreak” being bandied about by people in the wine industry, I thought they were talking about taking a beer break. Budbreak, also known as “budburst,” actually refers to the first emergence of shoots in the spring that will eventually grow to bear grapes and signifies the start of the growing season. Budbreak, therefore, is a big deal in winemaking.
“Bud breaks,” however, are also a big deal in the wine industry. Akin to fine dining chefs who blast their taste buds with spicy or greasy food after tasting and adjusting the flavors of their menu all night, there are few things cherished by wine professionals more than a slightly bitter, foamy, cold beer after tasting and spitting the flavors of cherry, plum, oak, tobacco, cocoa, and cassis all day.
The Kitchenless Cook and I have long agreed that next to Champagne, the best universal food and “wine” pairing candidate is beer, which has the added benefit of being much kinder to your pocketbook. Burgers, oysters, pizza, sushi, and even steak all work magnificently with beer. Chef Sang Yoon of Father’s Office in Los Angeles, arguably home of the country’s best burger, firmly believes that beer can be just as sophisticated and as finely crafted as a great Burgundy.
Not all beers, however, are created equal. Serendipitously, I discovered one of my all time favorite beers in wine country, on 4th Street in downtown Santa Rosa. Brewer Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company started creating Belgian-style ales in the late 1990s, with memorable names such as Damnation, Salvation, Consecration, Perdition, Temptation, Redemption, Supplication, Procrastination, and Sanctification. Not to denigrate President Obama’s choice of beverage, but the only time I crack open a can of Bud is for a beer braise for pork belly. The beers at RRBC are seasonal. As such, not all varieties are available at all times, and while it is difficult to get them outside the brewery, a tasting wheel of shot glasses with all their selections is available for sampling on-site at the brewpub.
Damnation, a dry golden ale with hints of pear and ginger at 7 percent ABV (alcohol by volume), Temptation, a blonde ale aged in Chardonnay barrels with a tart lemon and sourdough bread finish, also at 7 percent ABV, and Consecration, a dark ale aged in Cabernet barrels at 10 percent ABV, are currently available for sale at the brewery (and also online at www.klwines.com) in 750 ml bottles with corks in aluminum cages like Champagne bottles. My favorite, Perdition, a spicy, caramely, copper ale with a bready, malty finish coming in at about 6 percent ABV, is only available on tap, but if you buy a growler at the pub, you can bring it back and get a discount for refills.
Try Damnation with fish and chips or with lobster rolls. The sharp flavor profile of Temptation works beautifully with barbecue or any fatty pork dishes. Perdition is perfect with a cheeseburger. These beers are so tasty that you might just forget about the rest of the wineries you were planning to visit in wine country.
Russian River Brewing Company: 725 4th Street, Santa Rosa; Sunday–Thursday 11 a.m.–12 a.m., Friday–Saturday 11 a.m.–1 a.m.; 707-545-2337, www.russianriverbrewing.com