Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beer appreciation 101; Tour your local breweries!

In order to gain an even deeper appreciation of the world’s greatest beverage, touring a brewery (or twelve) is recommended. Fellow beer researchers, Larry Hallahan and Peter Seitz and I have co-produced and hosted around twenty five cable television ‘Beer Styles’ shows. Five of these shows were devoted to New England brewery or brewpub tours. A brew tour can also be an enjoyable experience without lights and cameras in your face.

Brew Tours are a great way to meet the brewers and find out what drives them to drink. But most importantly, you always get to sample several really fresh beers! And after sampling several more, you will feel the need to purchase T-shirts, hats and glasses to help you remember your brewery tour!

Wonder how beer is made? Let’s use an imaginary friend, “Brewster” to lead you through basic brewing. We’ve added some helpful suggestions to help guide you through the tour. First grab a beer!


How is beer made, Brewster?


Let’s start with a natural process and apply a bit of science to imitate that process. In nature, barley (or wheat) grain will begin to germinate and sprout when soaked with rainwater. At the point of germination when the root begins to form and a sprout rises up to greet the sunlight, is the exact moment of the natural process that the maltster will replicate to produce a malt suitable for brewing beer. The germination of the malt is halted when enzymes are being produced and complex starches convert into sugars.


But wouldn’t it help us to absorb the process better if we had another beer?


Of course! (sound of pouring beer) Here! Anyway, the newly formed sprouts are carefully removed, the green malt is dried and the cured malt is ready for the brewing process. The malt may be roasted to varying degrees of doneness after which it is cracked open and mixed with hot water in an apparatus known as a mash tun. The mashing process activates the malt enzymes, which break down complex starches into simple sugars. These sugars will be consumed by yeast during the fermentation process. There are different mash methods. The infusion method produces a thick, sweet, yellow liquid called wort. The decoction method boils a portion of the mash to quicken protein breakdown. The boiled wort is then put back into the mash tun. The temperature is slowly raised until the malt liquid reaches the desired thickened consistency. German brewers use this method to produce malty weissbiers and bocks. There are other subtle mashing variations, but let’s just stick to the standard brewing process.

When the mashing is completed, the wort is pumped or drawn into a brew kettle or the mash is pumped into a lauter tun (a sieve-like device used to help remove mash solids and clarify the liquid) and sprayed with hot water to remove the excessive sweetness in the malt. Now the grains have served their usefulness for brewing beer. Rather than simply throwing the grain away, many resourceful brewers offer the spent grain to farmers for livestock consumption. Talk about contented cows!


Ha ha, Brewster! That is funny! Say, this is the part of the tour where most brewers, offer us another beer!


You are obviously a genius! You should just pour yourself a beer whenever you feel like it.

Ok, now the wort is brought to a boil and the hops, either whole hops, pellets or extract are added. Next the wort is strained and whirl pooled to remove hop pieces and coagulated proteins, then cooled sufficiently before being sent to the primary fermentation container. Here is when the yeast can be added (pitched). If the yeast is pitched too early, before the wort has cooled, it will die and therefore not be able perform its primary function of converting sugars to alcohol.

The “green” beer will ferment for between five and twelve days before being pumped into a conditioning tank where it will age and clarify for up to four weeks.


Can we drink some of this now?


It’s not ready yet…Where was I? Oh, lagers tend to undergo longer fermentation and conditioning. This extra brewing time mellows and blends the flavors of the beer. Many brewers will add finishing hops to the final fermentation process to produce pronounced bitterness and a more hop aromas. While others develop bottle-conditioned beers by adding fresh yeast and priming sugars during the bottling process. High alcohol beers such as Barley Wines, Imperial Stouts, Baltic Porters and Dubbels, Tripels and Quadruples age much longer.


How can you tell how strong a beer is, and what are some of the beer-related measurement standards we should all know? Is that my beer?


Excellent questions! Alcohol is measured in two different ways. Alcohol by volume in beer is the measure of the amount of space the alcohol in a beer takes up as a percentage of total space. Alcohol by weight is the measure of the amount of weight the alcohol presents.

O.G. (Original Gravity) is the measure of fermentables in the beer’s wort prior to fermentation, expressed as a ratio as compared to the density of water. O.G. is a measure of the amount of solids in the wort. If you happen to notice an O.G. Plato rating number on the bottle of beer you’re drinking and would like to translate its meaning into ABV (Alcohol by Volume); multiply the degrees Plato by 4, and add a decimal in the center of the result for an ABV estimate.
Example: 14 degrees P = 14x4 = 56 = 5.6% ABV.

IBU’s (International Bitterness Units) is the measure of hop bitterness. SRM (Standard Reference Method) is a measurement of Beer color.

Ok? Well that’s about it. We’ll skip the bottling process today. Let’s all have another few samples and then I’ll lead you into our little retail shop.

From USA Today;

Quote: “Blessing of your heart, you brew good ale” – William Shakespeare – from ‘The Two Gentlemen of Verona’

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Innis & Gunn Rum Barrel Aged Wee Heavy

12 oz clear glass bottle (that's just wrong!) No freshness date.
Served in an Allagash fluted goblet.
It pours a dark amber/cola color with a fast-fading beige head. Not much in the way of lacing.
It might have had a perfect aroma, except for a slight sulfuric smell likely caused by the fluorescents radiating through the clear bottle. Otherwise a nice peaty malt smell lays the foundation for an earthy wood smell, followed by floral hops and a bit o' rum.
A big taste of caramel malt carries the citrusy and tea-like hops. Sweet dark rum notes slide in behind and lasts throughout.
It gets better as it warms and all the flavors mingle and mix.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

New England; A beer lover’s destination paradise?

A recently published survey in Travel and Leisure magazine, ‘America’s Best Beer Cities’ (re-published and tweeted by blog.seattletweeted) reveals the Top 20 Beer cities in America.

Surprisingly, 3 New England cities rank in the top 20 (actually 3 in the top 10). Boston rolled in at #7, Portland, Maine came in at #5, and Providence, Rhode Island ranked #4 (Is the Trinity Brewhouse really that wonderful?).

But, that’s not the surprising news. What is, is that true Beer Cities like Portsmouth, New Hampshire (check out the Old Seaport Downtown area), Bar Harbor, Maine, New Haven, Connecticut, or Burlington/Stowe, Vermont didn’t make the cut, while cities such as Nashville, Phoenix (Strip Mall Capital of the US), Houston (HOUSTON??!!!??) and Savanna (a nice town, though) did.

Now it might make more sense when we understand that Portsmouth, New Haven and Burlington weren’t even choices on the survey form, but when we see New York, NY, Asheville, North Carolina and Grand Rapids, Michigan miss the top 20, that’s mystifying. San Diego is #18? Huh? Consider the breweries of Green Flash, Stones, Lost Abbey, Ale Smith and Pizza Port. Along with tons of Pubs and Beer Bars, that city belongs in Top 5…at least!

All in all, The ‘America’s Best Beer Cities’ survey should be celebrated, not criticized, because while America’s Mass mega breweries continue to show continuous decline in sales and interest, despite the billions they waste in the mindless bombardment of idiotic advertising, the “Craft” beer industry enjoyed a 12% profit increase in 2010. And that’s not a new trend. The craft market continues to grow each and every year. That the editors of Travel and Leisure chose to include a beer destination survey article tells us clearly that the craft beer and pub scene is very popular in the US of A. That’s good news for us!

As with any survey, there are faults to be found. Anyone can list their favorite beer cities or towns, so here goes…New England represented in Bold

1. Portland, Oregon

2. Seattle, Washington

3. Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts

4. Denver, Colorado

5. San Diego, California (distance between beer is vast)

6. Portland, Maine

7. Grand Rapids, Michigan

8. Portsmouth, New Hampshire

9. Austin, Texas

10. Burlington/Stowe, Vermont (close enough when you’re in Vermont)

11. Asheville, North Carolina

12. New York, New York

13. San Francisco, California

14. Amherst/Northampton, Massachusetts

15. Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota

16. Milwaukee, Wisconsin

17. Bar Harbor, Maine (there are lots of beer options in one small area…YA!)

18. New Haven, Connecticut

19. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

20. Providence, Rhode Island

There was/still is a lot of self-debate going on while making this Top 20 up. My friend Bob who lives in Tucson, Arizona is quite happy with the beer options in that ol’ town. The folks of St. Louis or Kansas City, Missouri probably feel their cities should be included in any top 20, and maybe they’re right. If that’s how they feel, they should make up their own damn top 20 list. What are your favorite beer destinations?

Drink up fellow New Englanders! There’s plenty of great beer nearby!


Quote: “Come, my lad, and drink some beer.” – Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beer Style of the Week - A somewhat reluctant nod to "Euro" Lagers

Week 24

In US beer lexicon, Euro Lager is sort of an insult or slur towards the mass-mega-breweries of Europe (they brew massive quantities of good, but not great beer). They are the European counterpart to America’s own “Adjunct” Lagers (Mass-mega-brewers of swill). But upon closer inspection and reflection, along with a bit of hazy nostalgic recollection, maybe the Euro Lager ain’t so bad after all.

We appreciated the noticeable upgrade in taste and quality when we sampled our first Euro Lager (that is if you really like the aroma and taste of beer) and once that door was opened there was no turning back. We thought, “So, this is what real beer is supposed to taste like. Ummm good!”

The Euro Lager was, and still is in many cases, the gateway beer away from the Americanized Adjunct Lagers and into the wonderful world of “Craft” beer. For the most part, the Euro lagers beat the Adjuncts in their beeriness, because they tend to use more and often better quality hops. They use real barley malt, instead of rice, corn and other mealy adjuncts. Oh, some may use a little rice or corn in the brew process to “clarify” the beer, but it’s not meant to be a barley malt substitute. On the other hand, most of the Euro lagers, and let’s reveal some brand names here, share a common and stupid, if not unforgiveable “marketing” mistake; they use green bottles to sell their beer in. Ever smell a sun or light-struck Heineken or Beck’s, or Stella Artois? SKUNKED!!! The head brewers at these breweries must suffer a degree of depression at the end of the day, knowing their efforts will eventually run afoul in the green-bottled death of beer.

He or she must feel a little sense of relief on the days they can or keg their product.

Another common trait of the style is that they (the beers) have neither a strong malt nor hop presence. With a few exceptions, they do not reveal any easily identifiable hop types (Kronenbourg’s Alsatian hops are noticeable to some). You might say, drinking a Euro Lager is akin to drinking a Blended Scotch Whiskey as opposed to drinking a German or Czech Pils which is more like drinking Single Malt Scotch.

Who are these Euro Lagers?

To name a few of the Green Bottle Gang: Heineken from Holland, Grolsch and Oranjeboom from Netherlands, Beck’s and Lowenbrau from Germany, Stella Artois (my mother-in-law’s favorite) of Belgium, Menabrea Birra of Italy, and Kronenbourg 1664 from France. If given a choice, go with the canned or tapped options of these beers, unless you’re absolutely certain they are cool, fresh and have been kept out of any sun or fluorescent lighting.

Others, not in green bottles representing Scandinavia are: Carlsberg and Tuborg Gold from Denmark, Lapin Kulta IV and Koff III or IV from Finland, and Ringnes Pils from Norway.

You can also find loose representations of the Euro Lager style in such faraway places as: Japan (Sapporo Reserve), Brazil (Antarctica Original), Thailand (Singha) and New Zealand (Steinlager).

So, while all of above beers may be different in their own way, they are the same in that they tend to be easy drinkers. Never bland, yet never remarkable. No spectacular hop, yeast, or barley characteristics. They are the quintessential, tapping the palette, gateway beers to the wonderful world of the craft brews of the world.

Hurry down to your local packie! There’s more than likely a 12 pack on sale; doesn’t matter much, which brand. Get those dogs and burgers on the grill or pop your favorite frozen pizza in the oven! It’s Euro-time!

Cheers and Skol!

Quote: “Beer was not made to be moralized about,

but to be drunk” – Theodore Maynard - (1890–1956)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy Bastille Day!

la tweet on Bastille Day! Saison, Biere de Garde, Biere de Champagne, Biere de Mars. Viva la Biere!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Beer style of the week: Roggenbier-Rye BeerWeek 23 When it comes to flavorful (without going over the top) beer styles, a well-made Rye (roggen) Beer

Week 23

When it comes to flavorful (without going over the top) beer styles, a well-made Rye (roggen) Beer is hard to beat. Originating in Germany, as far back as the 14th century, perhaps earlier, Roggenbier have a wide varying percentage of malted rye in the brew kettle (generally 20% - 60%).No rye beers are made from 100% rye.

The often misunderstood, German Beer Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot (1516) actually went into effect as a result of a few poor grain harvests in Germany. The bread makers needed the surviving wheat and rye grains to bake bread. Barley wasn’t a grain suitable to bread baking, so the government stepped in and decreed Reinheitsgebot; only the use of water, barley and hops could be used for brewing beer. Notice that yeast wasn’t even mentioned? That’s because they didn’t fully understand yeast’s contribution to the brewing process at the time. Anyway, as a result of the law, Roggenbier (Rye beer) went into an almost 500 year hiatus. Thank God, America has never suffered a bread-makers lobby! Yeah, well prohibition sucked, but that asinine law only lasted 13 years.

American Rye Beer and German Roggenbier are similar to each other in that they both use rye in the brew process. They are separate in that the American versions tend to be hoppier and generally have a bit higher alcohol by volume (ABV) rating. The Roggenbier tend to use a higher percentage of rye in the mix, allowing the natural tart sourness of the rye to edge forward, while the hop bitterness is a bit more subdued.

One of the oldest beer styles in the world, Finnish Sahti is a rye ale brewed with wild yeast and juniper branch as a bittering agent. The shelf life of Sahti is rather short, so I suggest you fly to Finland and get it fresh from the source. But at least finish this article first.

German Roggenbier

Wolnzacher Roggenbier – Wolnzacher Burgerbrau – Wolnzacher, Germany – 5.5% ABV

After a nearly 5 minute pour (seemed an eternity), due to overly enthusiastic carbonation, the bartender at the wonderful Publick House in Brookline presented my beer in a tall matching mug. Bits of yeast and unfiltered rye goodness continued rising in the still slowly cascading tannish head. The color mutated from an almost clear rusty amber to a completely cloudy and opaque rust. The aroma is very much like rye crackers with just a hint of lemons and whiff of malt. Rye dominates the flavor department. A faint clove and spicy taste mingles and blends with mild lemon and orange zest. The body is a bit grainy and edgy, but not altogether an unpleasurable experience. I hope to find this locally in order to present it at our small tasting group. This is an interesting brew!

Thurn und Taxis – Furstliche Brauerei – Regensburg, Germany – 5.3% ABV

16.9 oz. dark brown bottle. Freshness date on label.

Served in a 20oz nonic tumbler.

It pours a cola-shaded dark amber color with a fast-foaming, yet fast-fading off-white head. Some sticky and webby lacing last halfway through the glass.

The aroma is at first wet malty, then the smell of rye crackers push through. The light smell of mixed fruit with a little citrus and dried flowers fades in and out. A faint whiff of white rum is noticed, as is a little fresh cut grass.

Tastes of fresh rye, dried malt, caramel, figs, peppery spices, ripe pear and resinous hops (in that order) come through separate, yet balanced nicely. Just a touch of metallic tang is revealed in the aftertaste. A hint of dark rum comes out in the breath.

This a is very nice summertime beer. It starts out dry in the finish, then more full and wet as it warms.

Great BBQ beer!

Austrian Roggenbier

Schremser Bio-Roggen – Brauerei Schrems – Schrems, Austria – 5.2% ABV

On tap at The Draft House Tower Bridge, London. Served in a fluted Schrems glass.

It pours an orange-hued tannish color with a medium-sized off-white head. Some trailing and patchy lace clings all the way down.

A smell of dry rye cracker crumbs comes to mind. Smells of peat and cut hay mingle with whiffs of floral and resinous hops.

The rye flavor seems a bit subdued for the style. The flavor profiles, in general are mellow and pleasant. Light marbled rye, dry malt, caramel, resiny and metallic hop and a touch of mild citrus tartness blend quite nicely. A little sourness is noticed in the finish.

The dryness diminishes and the sweetness becomes more prevalent as it warms.

Truly a nice likeable beer!

American/New England Rye Beer

Harpoon Rich and Dan’s Rye IPA – Rye Ale – Harpoon Brewing – Boston, MA – 6.9% ABV 22oz brown bottle. No freshness date. Served in a standard pint glass.
It pours a brassy yellow color with a firm white head and tons of sticky lacing.
The smell is very much like Harpoon's IPA with a dry resinous hop hit along with dried hay, mixed citrus and a bit of alcohol fuminess. A faint smell of spruce is noticed in the background.
Rye and caraway spice tastes cuts through the resinous and citrusy hops and dried malt clearly and cleanly. The hop resins have a somewhat minty and piney taste that fills the mouth.
Very good cookout ale, especially with game meat.


Mayflower Summer Rye

Willamantic Mail Rail Rye

Samuel Adams Revolutionary Rye Ale (Limit Seasonal)


Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye – Bear Republic Brewing – Healdsburg, California – 8% ABV

It pours an old worn leather with a solid beige head and loads of lace. A strong floral hop aroma dominates while strong smells of rye crackers and whiff of alcohol creep up. This potent brew is just bursting with unrestrained flavors. Wild malt (6 row?) and edgy rye flavors are completely separate from sharp grapefruit, zesty orange peel, light lemon and a hint of metallic tanginess. A touch of toffee sweetness does little to counter sharp flavors, but that's ok. All of these sharp edged flavors are accompanied by a constantly noticeable alcohol kick. This beer is unrelenting in its wild character and never mellows or sweetens further, even when it warms. I love this stuff!

Summer heat is Roggenbier weather. Cool summer evenings on beach beg for stronger a bit stronger versions of Rye Ales.


Quote: “Do not cease to drink beer, to eat, to intoxicate thyself,

To make love, and celebrate the good days” – Egyptian saying