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Someone Else's Local: Imported Beers Star at City Center Wines Tasting

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According to beer importer of Rick Nickerson of Oregon-based Merchant du Vin, there's a big downside to the booming movement toward eating and drinking local: Top-notch imported beers are disappearing from American stores.

"The big grocers, they've gotten in bed with craft beer," Nickerson said, addressing a small group assembled at City Center Wines in Boise for a tasting of Belgian beers on Nov. 15. "If you go into a Fred Meyer, Safeway, the imports have been pushed out. That's just how it is."

Rick Nickerson (center, standing) discussed Belgian beers at City Center Wines Nov. 15. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Rick Nickerson (center, standing) discussed Belgian beers at City Center Wines Nov. 15.
A moment later, as he poured Blanche de Namur Belgian witbier from powder-blue cans into waiting wine glasses (which he prefers to pints because they offer up aromas more readily), he added that he likes to call his selection of storied European imports "local in a different locale." All of them come with their own histories.

"This is one of those beers that was made for farm working—it's low alcohol so that you can drink it after work and still get up and out in the fields," he said.

On flavor alone, Nickerson made a strong argument for imports with the five beers he offered guests to taste Nov. 15. The night began with the citrus and licorice-spiked Blanche de Namur, then moved on to a complex Trappistes Rochefort 6 with nutty caramel notes; a dense, boozy Westmalle Trappist Tripel (the strongest of the lot at 9.5 percent alcohol); a sweet, dessert-like Lindemans Framboise raspberry sour; and finally Lindemans Cuvee Rene, an Oude Gueuze sour blend with a bright, acid punch.



Of the five beers, only the Trappistes Rochefort 6 and Westmalle Trappist Tripel could be described as hop-forward. The other three were much brighter, with fruity notes of orange (the Blanche de Namur), raspberry (the Lindemans Framboise, which Nickerson described as "like candy") and lemon (the Lindemans Cuvee Rene). What they all shared, apart from Nickerson's enthusiasm, was a rooted tradition in their home country. The Trappistes, for example, was brewed in a Belgian monastery that first opened its doors in 1230 and started making its own beer in the 1500s. The brews were also all bottle-conditioned, which Nickerson said means they age like wine rather than having their hops "drop out" over time like many American beers.

Nickerson advised mixing the sweet Lindemans Framboise raspberry sour for mojitos, or pairing it with vodka or champagne. - LEX NELSON
  • Lex Nelson
  • Nickerson advised mixing the sweet Lindemans Framboise raspberry sour for mojitos, or pairing it with vodka or champagne.
While Nickerson didn't dismiss all American beers out of hand (he actually sold craft beer for 15 years before turning to imports), he said he worries about their longevity and authenticity, particularly as once truly local brands like 10 Barrel Brewing Co. and Elysian Brewing are snapped up by national companies (in those cases, by Anheuser-Busch) rather than passing down family lines to the next generation. At that point, he wondered, what does local really mean?

"[These Belgian beers], they were local before local was a thing—they were local out of necessity, it wasn't a marketing ploy," he said.

All five of the beers Nickerson poured Thursday night are available at City Center Wines, which offers a small selection of exclusively European brews in its reach-in cases. Price tags range from $3 for a can of Blanche de Namur to $12 for a 25-ounce bottle of Lindemans Cuvee Rene—which Nickerson poetically described as "about as balanced and as delicate as a sour beer can be without ripping your face off."