For Dan Shelton, the world can be neatly divided into “good beer” and “industrial beer.”The good stuff is complex, while the industrial stuff is like water. The good stuff is made with passion by artisans, while the industrial stuff is made with greed by hacks. The good stuff is imported from Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain – mostly – by Shelton, while the industrial stuff is not.Maybe Shelton wouldn’t put it quite this strongly, but he does seem at times to be evangelical on the subject of beer. His opinions have only sharpened since he began importing beer in the mid-’90s with his company, Shelton Brothers in Belchertown, Mass.I’ve seen Dan Shelton at several events over the years, including a tasting Monday at d.b.a., and I’ve never seen the other Shelton who’s in the company. At d.b.a., there was yet another Shelton brother, musician Joel, who apparently convinced Dan to start his business with the amazing, complex, challenging beers made by Cantillon in Brussels, Belgium.Let me say to Joel what I should have said on Monday: Thanks. Shelton Brothers has a killer lineup of beers, and virtually all of them are wonderful. None of them is terrible. Some of them are quite expensive. I’m not saying that you should buy everything this company imports, but it wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
At the tasting, Shelton poured Drie Fonteinen Oude Kriek, a Belgian cherry beer in the lambic style, which means that it was spontaneously fermented by yeast that floats through the brewery near Brussels. Unlike most fruit beers – including many fruit lambics – this one is not at all sweet. But it does have the rich, round, full, dazzling essence of “cherry.”
Talking about this beer to the tasting crowd, Shelton made a comparison between wine and beer. “You don’t taste ‘grape juice’ when you drink wine,” he said, “and when you drink this beer you don’t get ‘cherry juice.'”
There were 10 other beers sampled at the event, including the wondrously hoppy Belgian tripel Slaapmustske, which is just coming to town. But I’ll never forget the Oude Kriek and what Dan Shelton said about it.
Not just “good” – “great.”