Posts Tagged ‘The Session’

Session #33 Roundup

Friday, November 20th, 2009

session_logo_no_friday_text_inside_200I have enjoyed reading the contributions to The Session #33. I appreciate the depth of thought that was put into so many of the responses. The overall impression I got was that (with one particular exception) people had a lot to say, and had to pick just one aspect. I thought this was good as it provided plenty of angles. But it is a bit of a shame, since I feel your submissions could have spoken to each other further given the chance. Anyway, it was a great Session. Next month is on the topic of Stumbling Home, hosted by Jim of Two Parts Rye. It will be held in two weeks, on 4 December.

Alan McLeod of A Good Beer Blog makes me wonder if I may have set off some sort of existential crisis in the beer blogging world. I have posted 1,865 posts here at A Good Beer Blog but still don’t know why I do it or what the heck I am talking about. This is pretty much the issue. What about styles? Alan’s conclusion pretty much hits the nail on the head. What is this beer in front of him? Who knows and, really, who cares? Its character is itself. You can only know what it is by having one, by consuming one, by destroying one and turning it into another wee bit of body fat and pee. Beer only exists in the mouth. Well said.

Jay Brooks, writing on the Brookston Beer Bulletin, really digs into the topic. First he brings up a relevant case of framing in the political arena. Take another example in the news lately: socialized medicine. Opponents of health care reform bandy this term around safe in the knowledge that people have a negative reaction to it. But it is almost meaningless. The term was crated by a PR firm on behalf of the American Medical Association in the late 1940s when Harry Truman had the temerity to try to reform health care then. The beer Jay discusses is one of my favorites, Unibroue’s Quelque Chose. I had never picked up the message that it should be served hot, always just serving it at room temperature. This reminds me of Liefmans Gluhkriek, another delicious beer made with wild cherries and served hot.

Mario at Brewed For Thought looks at the elaborate corporate frame given to Estrella Damn Inedit, particularly examining the videos produced for this campaign. The frame becomes a caricature if it is so much more ornate than the art within. Two quips worth quoting: While I’m no professional evaluator, I do play one on the internet, and Ignore the labels, drink the beer.

Jon at The Brew Site brought up the role of the web in the framing issue, in particular the beer rating websites. After observing that the undisputed best beers on these sites are the hard to get, extreme, barrel-aged, he confesses, I’m being a bit snarky, yes, but really: if you know nothing else about a beer at first other than it got high marks at BeerAdvocate, then that is definitely a “framing factor” that will influence your take on it. Jon introduces a concept of anti-framing after considering his experience with Widmer’s Cherry Oak Doppelbock. Despite a recognized affinity for Widmer, he is surprised at his low expectations for the beer. Jon says he has big beer fatigue, something I know I’ve felt. Talking about this anti-framing, he gets us in a quagmire of logic: Which brings to mind an interesting question: how many people experience something akin to anti-framing a beer? That is, the way they approach the beer is counter to how it would typically be approached? Of course, then we’d have to define “typical” with beer. Of course, there we go framing the beer again…

The pair behind Beer By BART, Gail Ann Williams and Steve Shapiro, had a lot to say about the primacy of flight sequence when tasting multiple beers. This is an issue my brother is constantly pestering me about. They get a hundred points for the simile, This is framing like that experienced by contrast in tempo or other characteristic in music or perhaps as in a novel, with foreshadowing to color the unfolding action. They point out the drastic impact this has on blind tasting flights (like those in competitions?). Through a few examples they then develop the awesome idea of beer pairing, certainly worth another hundred points. That moment of discovering contrasting beers that pair to frame one another perfectly is even more fun than beer and cheese pairing.

Derrick Peterman, the Bay Area Beer Runner, refused to limit his discussion to one aspect of the prompt. He gets fifty points for using the magic words as well as three gold stars for having a footnoted reference of a scientific study on framing. Derrick talks about the perception in the minds of many that craft beer is “too strong”, overly bitter, hops run amok, and simply not enjoyable. He observes that the wild art of Ralph Steadman on the Flying Dog labels which has turned him off for so many years has done so because it doesn’t appeal to his desire for the “unique local geography” of a brewery. Growing up, the standard was his father’s beer Rolling Rock, with the factory a stone’s throw away. The irony of InBev’s subsequent purchase and closure of that plant while retaining the slogan “Born Small Town” is not lost on Derrick.

Nemesis, posting on, isn’t excited about writing on salesman talk. I’m a production guy, salesmen are mortal enemies. I’ll do my best. Thanks for the indulgence. A few stories about people looking all over and finding beer remind us sometimes it doesn’t take a frame. The thing is that both these people did it for themselves, I had almost nothing to do with it. After they decided they wanted to try something I could encourage them and maybe make some suggestions but they decided on their own that they wanted to try something and all the pretty packaging, outrageous names or overblown ad campaigns in the world wouldn’t have convinced them if they didn’t want to already. But even Nemesis admits to being subject to framing.

Brad of La Petite Brasserie hit on a few really good points about homebrew competitions. First he raises a point similiar to one in my own contribution, about the expectation of a style coloring your perception of a beer. It seems this is particularly important in judging, where the style is the only frame. A good hundred points for the following: Another amusing trick is to cross-enter the same beer in different, though similar categories in the same competition. (For example, Robust Porter and one of the Stout categories.) If the beer receives high scores in both cases, one has to wonder whether power of suggestion had prevailed or there was simply not enough daylight between the categories to reveal one entry as fraudulent. Perhaps a little of both. The only other thing I’ll mention is on the subjectivity of judging: I have been on judging panels where, once the score cards are compared, one would think we had sampled entirely different beers. (This makes it all the more gratifying when, in what itself is no rare instance, judges independently pick up on the same things.)

A couple of you went one step further and tasted a beer (or four) blind. To you two I award a Golden Growler for exemplifying the issue at hand.

ggsmHeath from Bottles of Barley tasted four commercial beers blind and tried to guess their identity. He did a pretty good job guessing the styles, but was notably unable to identify the Anchor Christmas (tasted after a Duck Rabbit Imperial Stout so we’ll forgive him) as well as pick out the oatmeal in his New Holland The Poet, figuring it to be lactose. Heath posits that it is easier to identify bold beers than mild ones (especially when they’re first). The same with ones from his own cellar, so he wonders, what would happen if I sent my wife to the local Whole Foods with $10 and told her to bring back 4 random single bottles what this exercise would look like. Hmmmm……..

ggsmLew Bryson of Seen Through a Glass also tasted a beer blind, though in this case it was an unmarked bottle from the depths of his beer fridge. It hearkens back to a few tastings I did last year of mystery bottles of homebrew. Anyway, Lew Bryson has no idea if this is homebrew, commercial beer sans label, or perhaps a one-off sample. But even after an undetermined number of years (>= 3) this beer is hoppy in aroma and flavor, and bitter too. Perhaps it’s better that you waited on this one, if even now it is so intense? What’s it tell me about blind tasting? It sharpens the senses and the brain. Not only do you not have the shortcuts that labels and styles deliver, you don’t have the work of trying to objectify those inputs, leaving you free to focus on the beer, and nothing else. It kind of puts “style” in the backseat — or the trunk — which is where it belongs when you’re drinking beer.

A good number of respondents tasted a beer they wouldn’t have otherwise, with varying results.

John Duffy, a.k.a. The Beer Nut, got right to the heart of the matter by bringing up Ron Pattinson’s view of the role of beer style, that it is a consensus between brewer and drinker, a shorthand to describe the essential features of a beer and its relative alcoholic strength. John puts it simply, Framing beer is a matter of practical necessity. He tastes the very strong French beer Belzebuth with no frame other than the label itself, and, despite a few shocks, is eventually convinced that another beer he had written off (Bush) may not be so bad if given a chance.

Jimmy of Hop Wild tasted a bottle of Rogue XS Imperial Stout vintage 2008. He waxes on the subtleties of such a big beer, and seeks to find a way to share them with the uninitiated. His method is probably the best: relate the flavors to comfortable ones. So maybe the way to re-frame beer isn’t necessarily to dumb it down – but to equate it to a similarly enjoyable experience. Of course not everyone is going to “get it” and maybe that’s okay.

Jim at Two Parts Rye, host of next month’s The Session, tastes a beer he correctly expects to dislike, New Holland Charkoota Rye Smoked Doppelbock Lager. The only reason he mentions for his prediction is the pig on the label, but I wonder if it is an aversion to rauchbier? I suppose so: one of the most disgusting beers that I have ever drank. He sums up the beer with the words It’s a salty glass of liquid smoke and then gives it an F. I don’t eat meat but I love the bacony taste of a rauchbier. Well, to each his own.

Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer enjoyed a Great Divide Hibernation and made the poignant remark, Some days you frame the beer. Some days the beer frames you.

Erik of Top Fermented gets the Crown of Hop Vines (image pending) for picking the beer that I would probably never drink, ever. I mean never. Every little thing about this label bothers me: the art that looks like someone was trying to make a cover for a teen fantasy novel, the slogan, “You must be sure you wanna taste it”, oh, did I mention the stupid half-face picture? Wow. But now I’ve been shamed and if I ever see Werewolf I will have to drink it.werewolf-225x300 Erik actually seems to end up enjoying the Werewolf, even though it is not his usual kind of beer. He then observes the integral role of memory to the senses of taste and smell. I’d agree this is an even more powerful a force than simply framing. He then describes a situation I think we’ve all been in.

“I don’t like this.”

“Why not?”

“It tastes like beer.”

“Well… it is beer. What about the beer flavor don’t you like? Because it doesn’t all taste like that.”

“The beeriness?”

Finally Erik produces what I was looking for all along.

Each person’s experience is their own. I can attempt to frame things for them, but in the end I will most frame them with three or four words:

“I like it.”


“I don’t like it.”

Again I’d like to thank everyone who participated in this month’s Session. Don’t forget that The Session number 34 will be held in two weeks’ time on 4 December, hosted by Jim over at Two Parts Rye.

The Session #33: Framing Beer

Friday, November 6th, 2009

session_logoHow do you know when you’ve had a good beer? You’ve poured your glass, taken in the aroma and color and have a measure on your tongue. How is it judged and ranked compared with other beers? The single most important factor affecting this determination is how the beer compares to what was expected.

Example: you just got in a trade a bottle of a rare Bavarian hefewiezen. But even after the swirl, it is still brilliantly clear. The color is right but the aroma is flat, missing key yeast character. This sounds like a really bad beer! Except the brewery forgot to switch labels on the bottling run and in fact you’re drinking their world-class lager. I’d hope I would notice immediately that it’s a lager. But is it that easy? I can see myself simply chalking it up to a single yeast fault manifesting itself in the appearance and aroma. I might make some sarcastic remark like “this would make a great pilsner”.

Is it possible to drink a beer without making this sort of judgement? I don’t think you can become a truly blank slate. Even in competition judging the beers are framed by the style of the flight. Actually, especially in competition is a beer held to the standard of a particular frame. These frames are not the world however, even though we view the world through them. That means we should be working to remove the frame, to get closer to the world beyond.

What was the world like before 1977? What would it be like if we stopped using styles? Chaos? Modern beer competitions are so intimately tied with the definitions of style. We adhere to a few historic (or not) ideals for each kind of beer and shove everything else into a “specialty” category. But I can say with a good deal of certainty that, even after decades of weird homebrew experimentation, there are more kinds of beer that have never been made than all the kinds that have.

You still have about twelve hours by my reckoning to post your contribution to The Session #33. The prompt is located here, along with submission instructions.

The Session is a monthly beer blog carnival. I am hosting this month, #33. For more information about The Session inquire here.

Announcing Session #33: Framing Beer

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

My sister once told me a story she had heard about a sculpture exhibit: on the winter day it opened, the artist placed a coat rack next to the door. Predictably, the patrons hung their coats on it. Each day the artist moved the rack a bit closer to the rest of the exhibit, until the day came when the visitors chose not to use the “piece of art” for their coats. That day the artist placed a sign on the coat rack that stated simply, “Art begins here.”

session_logo_no_friday_text_inside_200Imagine persuasively describing craft beer to someone who has until now entirely missed out, maybe in a sales situation. Perhaps it’s a brown ale and you can can describe the caramel and toast flavors, or it’s a pale ale and you have fruit or herbs from the hops. You might start having to defend yourself if it’s an IPA and those hops taste earthy, resiny, or particularly bitter. You’ll definitely meet some resistance if your favorite is an imperial anything, brimming with intensity and a sharp kick, or if you’d like to convince a person of the credibility of a sour beer or anything for which you must use the word ‘funky’. Each of these descriptions is inevitably an attempt to ‘frame’ the beer, putting the consumer in the proper state of mind to drink it.

For better or worse, in everyday situations beer comes with a label. This label very really ‘frames’ the beer inside. The fact that the beer comes commercially-produced signals the presence of investment (if not skill). A style name or tasting notes indicates the general characteristics to expect. If you know the brewery the beer is framed with your past experiences. Even the label art will affect your expectations for the beer.

What role does this framing play in beer tasting, especially for ‘professional evaluators’? Relate an amusing or optimistic anecdote about introducing someone to strange beer. Comment on the role a label plays in framing a beer or share a label-approval related story. I have not done much blind tasting, and I would be intrigued to hear about this ‘frameless’ evaluation of beer.

And drink a beer. Ideally drink something that you don’t think you will like. Try to pick out what it is about that brew that other people enjoy (make sure to properly frame the beer!). The Session #33 will take place here 6 November 2009. Leave a link to your post as a comment here or else e-mail it to me at couchand at gmail dot com on or before that day.

Extra credit will be given for specific mention of the Post article prompting this topic, or for use of the phrase “priming the pump”.

For more information about The Session inquire here.

The Session #32: Eastern Beers

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

session_logoThe Session is a beer-themed blog-off occurring the first Friday of every month, featuring articles on many different beer styles as well as numerous tangential topics. Look here for more history or information on participating. This month’s session, Eastern Beers, is being hosted over at Girl Likes Beer. The prompt is located here and the roundup is here. After pondering the western sources of many of the beers she has tried, Girl Likes Beer directs us to have a beer from a country EAST of our own. She asks simply, “why do you like this beer?”

I spent a while pondering what to drink. It seems the prompt would allow me to drink any European (or African or Asian…) beer, but in keeping with the spirit I’ll have Grieskirchner Weisse, an Austrian wheat beer from Brauerei Grieskirchen. At just over five percent alcohol this is pretty heavy for a weissbier. It is interesting to note that wheat malt is listed before barley malt in the ingredients, indicating to me that the grist is over 50% wheat, a ratio uncommon but not unheard of.

The Weisse pours a moderately hazy old gold. A bone white head is never particularly big but it does linger.2009-10-02grieskirchenweisse The mild nose is fruity – bananas mostly, some apples and lemon. There is just a bit of alcohol tingle.

The taste is mild as well, with biscuit flavors from the wheat malt and the same fruit as the nose. As it warms a flat metallic taste comes out. Quite sweet, but doesn’t leave too much of a mouth coating. The very low carbonation (for a weisse) probably makes this beer more nondescript than it could be.

Girl Likes Beer requested we include the flag of the country of origin of the beer we drink. Sorry, I don’t have an Austrian flag. She also asked that we share the “coolest stereotype associated with the country”… I guess maybe some people think they’re Australian?

+/-Grieskirchner Weisse

2.8 (3-6-5-3-11)

Session #31: Summer Beer

Friday, September 4th, 2009

session_logoThe Session is a monthly beer blog carnival. You can read about its origins here. This month (Summer Beers) is hosted by Peter Estaniel of Better Beer Blog. The prompt is located here and the roundup is posted here. Peter waxes poetic about having a beer after a summer bike ride, then asks, “what was your favorite beer of the summer?”

What was my favorite beer of the summer? What a difficult question. I need to determine exactly what is meant by this.

I remember being a kid and riding my bike everywhere I went. Nothing was more satisfying to me back in the day than to come home from a long, summertime bike ride and putting back an ice cold glass of milk. It seemed to hit the spot time and time again.

I know exactly what you mean. It was a sense of unlimited refreshment. I especially liked it with a bit of chocolate syrup.

Fast forward back to the present and things have changed. I still try and get a good afternoon ride in whenever I can but I’ve upgraded my old BMX wannabe for a plush touring bike. Milk and I have since had a falling out. We’re still amicable but I’ve moved on and traded up to a chill pint of beer.

Milk and I are amicable, too, but I usually drink soy. That stuff really hits the spot. But you’re right, beer is better.

2009-09-04-porchThis summer I have done a lot of biking. It’s all still on my old wannabe. When I get home, I usually sit out on my front porch and have a beer. If my timing is good I can watch the sun go down.

With the summer coming to a close, what was your favorite beer of the summer? It doesn’t even have to be from this summer. Is it a lager or maybe a light bodied wheat ale?

Oh, sure I’ve had plenty of those on the porch. PBR, Milwaukee’s Best (*thanks, friend*), Michelob Golden Light (*thanks again*). Oh, and Millstream, Boulevard, Summit, Hub City, Sierra Nevada, Three Floyds Gumballhead, Bell’s Oberon, and probably a dozen other wheats, though I don’t know if any of them are really “light bodied”.

Maybe you’re drinking anti-seasonally and are having a barleywine or Russian Imperial Stout.

Oh, yes. Dark Lord! And also Schlafly’s barleywine and imperial stout. Mmmm….

Why is this beer your favorite? Is there a particular memory associated with this beer?

I live very close to downtown, and across the street from a park, so you see all sorts of strange and interesting people from my porch. This summer has been oddly mild, making for particularly good porch weather. That is, except the several torrential rainstorms/tornado scares. And those are also pretty great to watch from the porch, beer in hand.

How about a city?

Iowa City. More specifically my porch in Iowa City.

Maybe there was a particular dish that made this beer memorable? Spare no detail.

Oh, I’ve had a lot of curry while sitting on my porch drinking beer. Also on occasion the last month I’ve indulged myself and had beer ice cream with my porch beer.

So what was my favorite beer this summer? I guess none in particular. Just whatever I was drinking with friends on the porch.

Session #28: Think/Drink Globally

Friday, June 5th, 2009

session_logoThe Session is a monthly beer blog carnival, that is, a beer-themed blog-off. This month is hosted by Brian of Red, White, and Brew. The prompt is located here and the roundup is here. He asks that everyone honor “Global Craft Beer Forever” and describe “the farthest brewery (including brewpubs) you have visited and specifically the best beer you had there” and then have that (or a similar one).

I believe that by great circle distance Munich is farthest. So Andechs monastery brewpub it is. This monastery not only makes some of the best beers in the Munich area, they also make amazing artisanal cheese. Taking the train from Munich, you walk through the quaint village of Herrsching and up a footpath through wonderful foliage. After a little while you come to the back wall of the monastery on top of the mountain.2009-06-05-church Continuing along the wall, eventually you make it to the original chapel and courtyard, complete with maypole. If you are able to hold your thirst, you’ll stop in and see how beautiful it is. If not, you’ll keep going to the beer garden that features a breathtaking view of the city 35 km (about 20 miles) away. Fortunately, there is a shuttle back to the train station because you’re going to need it after all the cheese and masses (that is, liters of beer).

My best story about Andechs is of my first visit. I had heard that it was at the end of the S5, but didn’t realize it was near Herrsching not Holzkirche. All I had heard was that there is a sign for the footpath right by the station. So my Aussie friend and I set out for a day trip.2009-06-05-us We rode all the way out to Holzkirche and walked around looking for any sign, finding none. So we inquired of the nice English-speaking clerk in the station café where the brewery was. It was quite fortunate that she realized what we were talking about, and even more fortunate that my buddy wasn’t really angry at me. After walking around the village waiting for the next train, we rode for about an hour and a half back through downtown Munich and out the other side to Herrsching. But it was more than worth the wait. The footpath up Andechs mountain is remarkably pastoral and the beer and cheese and sauerkraut are unmatched.

2009-06-05-aventinusAndechs makes every standard Bavarian style and one interesting beer: a weiss with apples that you can only get there. Note that this is acceptable because the Reinheitsgebot (the German beer purity law) does not apply to wheat beer. But my favorite was their Dunkles Weissbier. As far as I am aware you can’t find it outside Germany, so I’ll have a bottle of another Munich dark wheat beer, the masterful Schneider Aventinus made by G. Schneider & Sohn. In 1907, disturbed by what she saw as a troublesome proliferation of light beers in Munich, Mathilde Schneider created the first strong wheat beer, the dark wheat-doppelbock Aventinus.

The Aventinus is a lightly hazy bronze-caramel color with a thick, honey-colored head. The aroma is big with bananas, strong malty caramel, and some toast.

The flavor is also strong with caramel and banana. It is somewhat sweet, but sufficiently carbonated so it is far from cloying. Light and playful, the Aventinus is somehow sessionable, even at 8.2% alcohol. This is what caused me plenty of trouble over in Munich.

+Schneider Aventinus

3.8 (4-7-7-5-15)

The photos at Andechs are courtesy of my beer school friend Matt. Thanks Matt!

Session #26: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

The Session is a monthly beer-themed blog-off. This month is hosted by Lew Bryson of Seen Through a Glass. The theme is smoked beers. The roundup is hosted here. Lew writes, “Because I’m not going to tell you that you have to like them, how you have to drink them, or whether you can have an expensive one or where it has to be from. But I do insist that if you blog on this Session, that you drink a smoked beer that day.”

I can follow simple instructions. Today I am drinking a smoked beer.

2009-4-3-spezialAs Lew points out smoked beers are “not just rauchbier lagers from Franconia”, though that is the original and most venerated style. Nowadays these beers are centered around Bamberg, home of the Weyermann malt company, producers of fine beechwood-smoked (as well as smokeless) malts. The popular Brauerei Heller, producers of the famous Schelenkerla smoked beers, is found in Bamberg, with an unassuming pub on a street you’d call an ‘alley’ in the US. I imagine many people will be rating one of these, as they are pretty easy to get ahold of.

I somehow found a bottle of Spezial Rauchbier from the Brauerei Spezial, also located in Bamberg. I spent way too long trying to translate the phrase written at the bottom of the label: “Mindestens haltbar bis: siehe Datumsstempel”. I’ll give you a hint: you can find the same phrase on a can of Bud Light.

The Spezial pours a deep ruddy brown with a bit of off-white head. The aroma is strongly malty: with the usual suspects like strong caramel and toast notes, but a strange bread aspect as well. There is just a hint of smoke to the nose.

On the sip, you are initially overtaken by caramel flavor, but that quickly falls behind a mellow but significant smoke flavor. This beer is definitely smoky, but is not the bacon-wrapped smoke brick of some other rauchbiers. I would suggest this beer to anyone that, while interested in the style, is somewhat unsure of their desire to totally destroy their palate for the evening. A mild flavorful smoke is noticeable but not insistent, as it is effectively balanced by the malt sweetness.

+Spezial Rauchbier

3.4 (3-6-7-4-14)

edit: Somehow I repeatedly incorrectly spelled “Bamberg” as “Bamburg” and didn’t notice it until June. I sincerely apologize.

Session #25: Love Lager

Friday, March 6th, 2009

session_logoThe Session is a monthly beer blog carnival. This month (#25) is hosted by The Beer Nut. His prompt comes down to a single line: “For millions of people the word “beer” denotes a cold, fizzy, yellow drink — one which is rarely spoken of among those for whom beer is a hobby or, indeed, a way of life.” The roundup is available here.

The Beer Nut asks “is there a time for some thoughtful considered sipping of a cold fizzy lager?” My answer is yes. Right now.

The one I have selected is from Millstream Brewing Company in Amana, IA. Released just this week, the reformulated Millstream Pilsner gets back to their Bavarian roots. The past few years this pilsner has been a little more towards the Czech interpretation, with plenty of Saaz hops, and last year it wasn’t even brewed because of the hop shortage. Now it’s back with a vengance.

Millstream Pilsner BeerThis pilsner, like any, pours a brilliantly clear straw – requisite for inclusion in this month’s Session. There is only a bit of white head, but it lasts – much stronger than many of the yellow lagers people think of as “beer”. A rich floral and earthy hop aroma is surprisingly strong for a beer this light. The nose dances between a sweet flowery character and a dry, earthy, herbal one. Some robust but clean malt aroma is there as well. See? It is possible to have a light colored beer with a strong aroma.

And taste as well. This one is a good example. A penetrating hop bitterness greets you immediately and lingers on the middle and sides of the tongue. A strong earthy and herbal flavor backs it up. The bitterness fades a bit to give way to the noble hop flavor, lasting for a moment before receding behind the still present green bitterness. A bit of sweetness provides counterpoint, maintaining a quaffable balance. Like most fizzy yellow beers this one is highly carbonated.

Once again demonstrating the depth and breadth of lagers, Millstream’s Pilsner is a quality brew you can share even with the uninitiated.

+Millstream Pilsner Beer

3.3 (2-7-7-3-14)

Session #23: Old and New

Friday, January 2nd, 2009

This post is a contribution to The Session, a beer blog carnival conceived by Stan Hieronymus, that is, a monthly beer-themed blog-off. This month, Session #23, is hosted by Beer and Firkins. The roundup is available here.session_logo

Beer and Firkins asks, “What will you miss most in the beer world from the past year and what excites you most about the beer world in 2009?”

I will go ahead and answer both of these questions with “the hop situation”. That is, I appreciate the effects that the hop crisis has had on microbrewing but also look forward to the end of it.

Let me clarify: the hop shortage did not start in 2008 and certainly will not end in 2008. However it seems this year will have been the largest shortfall.

The ultimate effects of the hop crisis are threefold. First, directly: loss of availability of hops has caused brewers to be more careful about their use. Hoppy beers are being tamed. Don’t get me wrong: I love hoppy beer, but most of the time I’d rather have a fragrant and flavorful pale ale than a bitter punch to the face. Brewers are responding to the crisis by moving bittering hops later in the boil, focusing on flavor and aroma qualities. More than just that, however, American brewers are discovering styles they never knew they could brew. Balanced and malty beers are surely back in, but the real darling of this new flavor renaissance is sour beer. Just look at the growth of breweries like Jolly Pumpkin and Russian River as well as all the recent press on this minuscule group of styles (Lew Bryson’s First Draft, BeerAdvocate articles, etc.). If these trends continue, 2009 could well become the year of the sour.

Second are the indirect effects of the crisis. Lowered hop supply has drastically raised the price of hops, which has contributed to the increased price of beer in general. Again, don’t mistake me: I don’t want to pay more for a bottle than I have to. However, as the increase in hop price has caused brewers’ respect for that plant to grow, so too will higher priced craft beer increase respect for those beers.

These first two effects are painful but temporary. Already farmers are seeing growth on fields planted since the crisis started, so you can be sure that the supplies will be back up to a reasonable level soon enough. The third effect is lasting and quite positive: it has helped us on our course to return to a community understanding of beer.

Since Prohibition made us all switch to cocktails and mass-marketing made us all start shopping in supermarkets in the suburbs Americans have been getting further and further removed from our beer. A craft beer would have been unrecognizable to the general populace in 1979. By 2006, though craft beer had become generally hip it was still entirely as a product. It took the hop crisis to get the agricultural basis of beer back into the collective consciousness. And then, all of a sudden, we saw coverage in a range of outlets such as The Economist, FOX News, NPR, and Wired. Media coverage of beer has always been as watery as the beer covered, but no longer.