Picture this — a sunny garden, flush with flowers, in France at the eve of the 19th century. Sunlight illuminates the blooms, bringing forth their brilliant colors, bathing the entire garden in a golden glow, while above, pearly white clouds float through a gentle blue sky.
This scene, and others like it, were what Dillon Dam Brewery brewmaster Cory Forster studied while planning his latest beer creation. Following the success of the French-style Dam Gogh de Garde, created in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum for its “Becoming Van Gogh” exhibit last year, Forster has once again put his brewmaster’s knowledge to work for the museum.
This time, his mission was to envision a beer to complement the museum’s “Passport to Paris” exhibit. This proved a challenge beyond the first. While the Van Gogh exhibit followed the famous artist’s journey from charcoal sketches to iconic Impressionist masterpieces, “Passport to Paris” encompasses 300 years of French art, separated into three distinct sub-exhibits — The Drawing Room, with intimate drawings and sketches from the private collection of Dr. Esmond Bradley Martin; Court to Café, a collection of French masterworks dating from the 1600s to the 1900s; and Nature as Muse, 36 Impressionist paintings, including such masters as Monet, Cézanne and Pissarro.
To take all of that and condense it into a single pint glass was no easy task. So Forster got into it the same way he did for the Van Gogh exhibit — with research. He learned about the styles of beer favored during those times in France and when and where people drank them.
“Lighter beers were popular in France even back in the 1600s,” he said. “As the black plague came to Paris and killed over half of their population, … there was literally a time when drinking beer was safer than drinking water.”
As the Dam Gogh de Garde beer was darker and heavy, Forster liked the idea of doing a lighter beer this time around. It also seemed to fit well into the theme, not only because of its popularity, but also because of the way it matched the displayed artwork.
“When we looked at these paintings and drawings, we saw a lot of light, a lot of sunshine, a lot of light blue skies, so instantly I thought of a light beer,” he said.
The resulting brew is what Forster calls a steam beer, a hybrid toeing the line between ale and lager. He used a variety of yeasts, including a Belgian farmhouse yeast, “to take it even further and give it more of a hint of the different personalities of all these different arts, all these different artists, through all these 300 years.” He was also sure to add subtle hints of lemon and coriander, also popular additions during the time period in France.
A naming contest dubbed the beer La Seine Shine, playing off of the name of the famous French river and “sunshine,” an element Forster saw as essential to many of the Impressionist paintings in the exhibit. His favorite way of describing his new brew is to call it “sunshine in a glass.”
The beer debuted at a special event held at the Denver Art Museum on Oct. 30. Art lovers and beer aficionados mingled, discussing the finer points of French art while sipping on pint glasses of the golden brew. The crisply carbonated beer danced on the tongue through the delicate strokes and intricate details of the Drawing Room; sustained through the dark, formal paintings at the beginning of the Court to Café exhibit; and rejoiced at the bright, everyday scenes at the end. The brew really hit its stride in the midst of the rich and varied Nature as Muse landscapes, for which it was specifically designed.
“(Forster) completely encapsulated that into a glass,” said Ashley Pritchard, communications manager for the museum. “He did the research and he created this light sunny beer that our curator said she could imagine Renoir or Monet sitting on a patio and drinking.”
Outdoor settings were important to Impressionist painters, not only as subject matter but also as impromptu art studios, Pritchard said. With the invention of the paint tube, artists began painting their canvases outside, or en plein air, right in front of those bright sunny blooms they chose as their subjects.
Pints of La Seine Shine can be enjoyed at the Dillon Dam Brewery and in Denver at the Rackhouse Pub. The “Passport to Paris” exhibit will run until Feb. 9, so there’s plenty of time to “come on down to Denver and take a trip to France,” as Forster put it.