Monday, January 31, 2005

Huzzah of the day

Moose Drool Brown Ale. The Big Sky Brewing classic (along with at least one other member of the line-up, Scape Goat Pale Ale) is finally available in Northern California. Go now, get thee to a BevMo.

Just don't try this with PBR

Beer and aging. This was the subject of a recent discussion prompted by the purchase of a four-pack of North Coast Brewing's Old Stock Ale. It's rare, to say the least, to pick up a pack of beer at your local grocery store with a label reading, "We suggest a year's cellaring to let the complex flavors develop, but the longer you wait, the greater the drinking enjoyment. " Certainly not appealing as Super Bowl fare, for sure, but not terribly surprising from a brewery that's brought us Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, PranQster Golden Style Belgian Ale, and Anniversary XVI.
Whereas something along the lines of a vintage beer tasting isn't what most people have in mind, it's still worth considering the value of aging robust beers with the aim of achieving unique taste profiles unattainable through standard brewing practice.
It seems the two major arenas for aging are with British barleywines and "old" ales, and high gravity Belgian ales. Beers like Fuller's Vintage Ale and O'Hanlon's Thomas Hardy's ale are prime candidates for "drink one now, save one for 2010" in that the heavy maltiness in these big British beers is initially offset by very high hopping rates - hence, a very bitter initial brew. Over time, though, hop bitterness fades, and the end result is something wholly other. Plum, sherry, port, and dark spice notes all crop up over time and take over what was once a much more one-dimensional taste profile.
Same goes for the Belgians, with one exception. High gravity Belgian ales tend to lean on the sweeter side, rather than trying to maintain that essentially British concept of sweet/bitter balance. Typically, it's the maturation of the esters produced by high-temperature fermentations and phenolic yeast strains, along with the use of spices and peculiar adjuncts which generate the mysterious flavor profiles of aged Belgian ales. Duvel's Laurent DeMuynck commented at the 2003 International Beer Festival in San Francisco on his fascination with seeing how a case of Brewery Ommegang's Three Philosophers Quadrupel which he had stashed under his desk after the first bottling was changing over the years, commenting spcifically on how the cherry profile from the blended lambic was receding into a whole new flavor that he couldn't quite explain.
Of course, I'm generalizing quite a bit here - not to mention just scratching the surface of the potentials of aging beer in the same way one would age wine. Given similar circumstances - cool, even temperature, dark, and moderately high humidity - there's no reason not to put some bottles away for a future tasting. Just be sure to keep some sort of log to see how they all compare in the end. Of course, you'll want to have something on hand to drink while you're waiting...

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The hop crown will be mine!

I have a soft spot for Belgian beers. A very soft, very squishy spot that demands a decent percentage of my paycheck to indulge.
It takes three years for the children of Poperinge to shake themselves free from the nightmares of the Hop Festival and its viciously exacting parading technique (the total length of the pageant is 3 540 m; participants marching at 2 km per hour, are thus on their way for 1h52' and give you an uninterrupted show piece of 56', etc.). Nevertheless, this coming September, those little tykes will once again transform into "a survey of the friends and enemies of the hop plant: hundreds of cheerful children, disguised as caterpillar, butterfly, red spider, dragon-fly, ladybird will provoke a spontaneous applause." I, for one, am always eager to be provoked into do something spontaneous, so this autumn we're off to Poperinge so that I may claim my hop crown at the 2005 Hop Pageant.
Anyone who's had a fresh glass of Poperinge Hommel ale would understand the urge to run headlong into the very fields of pre-harvest hops which add their noble characteristics to a vast array of Belgian and German beers. But truly, it's travel tales like this classic from the Alström brothers that really set my sights on spending one of those "big" birthdays so far from most people's idea of a fantasy vacation. Not that I expect to see the flying Chouffe. But at least I'll have the theme song on the car stereo while I'm cruising through Wallonia.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Ooh la la saison

Seems like the next wave in craft beer trends may be upon us. Maybe it's just good marketing on part of the Belgians, or maybe the Americans who've embraced the craft brewing movement are finally tired of the "bitterer is betterer" trend in mega-IBU domestics. Excellent farmhouse ales have been slowly making appearances not only in specialty stores, but on the menus in more adventurous restaurants, brewpub "seasonal" specialties, and the press. What better time to get my grubby little hands on the newly minted book by Phil Markowski, Farmhouse Ales. It's surprising though, that although it gets a nod in the book, Brewery Ommegang's Hennepin isn't mentioned in the above NY Times article, as Cooperstown's own saison is easily a world-class contender in the same league as Saison DuPont or Fantome.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Who doesn't like their Corona with limestone?

Another fun article from the NY Times on beer and the effects geology has had on defining the world's great beer styles.

"Burton-on-Trent sits on sandstone rich in minerals like gypsum from water that had percolated through the rocks long ago. The waters had a pH of 5 to 5.5, ideal for extracting sugars from malted barley steeped in warm water, an important step known as mashing."This is why the Burton waters were so good for brewing," Dr. Maltman said. "It turned out they had a very high mineral content, but just in the right balance to get the right acidity for good leeching, good mashing. The balance of fermentable sugars has everything to do with the flavors and the kind of beer that results. The mashing stage is crucial."

The water was also rich in sulfates, which acted as a preservative, allowing the beer to be shipped to distant locations, even India - the Burton beers were called India pale ales, or I.P.A. for short. "The I.P.A. style came about because of the geology on which Burton was sited," Dr. Maltman said."

Of course, this is the point where all the brewers pee their pants that there's a brewing academic named Dr. Maltman.

Funny words, pt. III

Ah, yes - cyser (see below). Like perry and melomel and pyment, it's one of those arcanely labeled beverages which ought to have a place in every homebrewer's arsenal of seasonal recipes, but generally gets left by the wayside purely on the basis of it's icky name. Most people's first experiences with mead - the artificially sweet, commercially bottled hangover-in-a-bottle you occasionally find in specialty stores - generally puts them off fermented honey drinks for good. And I imagine that other homebrewers out there have shied away from making straight honey mead simply because of the price tag of using that many pounds of high-grade honey (c'mon, when you're used to paying for malted barley, it seems like a heck of a price jump). But as I said before, we've been making cyser for years when the fresh apple crop comes out in autumn, and it's easily one of our hands-down audience favorites.

Some people need proof that cider's even worth drinking, let alone making. Again, feel free to blame it on the jolly rancher preservative tinge of the majority of commercially produced ciders out there. But I dare anyone to spend an afternoon drinking apfelwein in Frankfurt or a bol of Breton cidre in Paris without thinking at least once, gee? could I make this at home?

And what, pray tell, is...

Pfiff? Well, it literally translates from German as whistle, but it's more appropriately an onomatopoeia for the sound of opening a beer bottle. For example, take the slogan for my family's hometown brewery: Darmstädter Privatbrauerei - Das Bier mit Pfiff! Dorky, yes, but quite fun to say. And not as rude sounding as Plopp.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Yes, it's only appropriate that a disorgazined fool like myself would have, as it were, the very first post on a blog about beer be about... cider? As a yearly brewer of cyser, it makes sense. But in a beer blog? Guess that's what you get.