Sun King + IMA + Matisse = Biere de Fauve 

click to enlarge The label for Sun King's Biere de Fauve, created by a design department headed by Michael Atwood, makes use of Matisse's colorful palette.
  • The label for Sun King's Biere de Fauve, created by a design department headed by Michael Atwood, makes use of Matisse's colorful palette.

"Matisse's soul," quipped a craft beer regular when I asked what he expected to find in Sun King's Biere de Fauve, created by the brewery for the Indianapolis Museum of Art's new Matisse exhibition. "But I'm more than half serious," he added, as he reached for a sample at the IMA Final Friday Matisse preview event Sept. 27.

"It's very earthy; it made me feel at home," said Maxwell Ainsworth, a first time IMA visitor equally new to Sun King and craft brews. His friend took a few sips and reflected on what was coming through to him. "Layers of flavors," offered John Meek.

"Both of you have delightful ways of expressing yourselves," I commented. Ainsworth beamed. Meek smiled shyly. They'd come from Anderson, Ind., for Ainsworth's sister's birthday. "She wanted to celebrate here."

As a community partner with the IMA, Sun King's Dave Colt researched Matisse's life and art before formulating a recipe honoring Matisse's wildly vibrant palette and bold lines. Matisse grew up in a region known for a rustic farmhouse ale (or biere de garde) that's as likely to be fermented with lager yeasts as with ale yeasts. That might well have been the seed for thinking outside of constraints, mused Colt: "Matisse was a hard worker, obedient to his family, and when he found his destiny he applied himself with fervor."

After all that research, Colt went to work to answer the question he posed to himself: "How do you make a life come alive with a beer?"

Choosing to represent Matisse's seminal turning point, his embrace of Fauvism — translating to "the wild beasts" because Matisse and like-minded artists veered from the realism of Impressionism to represent his personal expression of "Luxury, Calm, Pleasure" — Colt created what he calls "a fruit cocktail in a glass with texture and flavor to capture Matisse's vibrancy."

"Matisse was drinking a beer that invades all the senses," Colt said. "I'm looking at his art and recognizing he painted ordinary things and made them extraordinary, particularly fruit — bananas, pears, apricots, apples. These are the flavors that come through in Biere de Garde. Yet their sweetness is complemented by the acidity of plums. That's what I latched onto—the tastes, aromas, the balance—the rich odors of fruit conjured up in Matisse's paintings have a staying power as they do in the Biere de Garde style. "

Biere de Fauve's layers of tastes reveal hints of apricot, pineapple, banana, apple, pear and spices and this led Colt to try something daring — a tasting event with four batches of Biere de Fauve colored with Matisse's primary palette to determine if our palates are swayed by the visual effect.

Rebecca J. Long, curator of the Matisse exhibit, offered an snippet from Matisse's philosophy that relates to Colt's desire to present Matisse with a beer that balances all of its ingredients for a pleasant effect. Long quotes Matisse as writing: "What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject matter, an art that could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair that provides relaxation from fatigue."

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