Archive for October, 2008

Bud American Ale, or What is Craft Beer?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

There has been alot of discussion recently on two posts on Beervana about Budweiser American Ale that has led to a discussion of the definition of craft beer.

The can was opened by Alison, in a comment on the first post, when she provided her own (via BeerAdvocate) definition of craft beer: “Beer brewed in limited quantities often using traditional methods”. She goes on to ask Jeff if he equates craft beer with microbrewed beer, but that seems exactly what the BA definition is doing!

To determine exactly where the line is, several people raised the question of Blue Moon. Jeff says it could be credibly judged against other white ales, but I think that’s a stretch. Maybe if the flight is only Mothership Wit. But I would agree that it qualifies as craft beer.

Regarding Fat Tire, Jeff says, “I find it so substandard, and so perniciously commercial, that I have a hard time thinking of it as craft beer. To me, it’s the economic engine that allows New Belgium to brew the more interesting, niche beers in its lineup.” This is a tough area to get into. Most (successful) microbreweries brew a compromise beer. Think of most amber ales or American wheat beers. Some places (Goose Island, New Belgium, etc.) brew two or three. It is these compromise beers that sell well that are the “economic engine” for the brewery but does that mean they are no longer craft beer? What about it isn’t craft? Is it simply the fact that they sell alot of it? Don’t get too white on me now.

Fundamentally I think it is dangerous to try to exclude certain products from your definition of craft beer simply because you don’t like them. This is especially true in a case like Fat Tire where most of the uninitiated would consider it craft beer. It is simply not productive. It reminds me of the efforts of the Bush administration to redefine all sorts of words.

I would agree, Bud American Ale is a craft beer. I would also say that Fat Tire and Blue Moon are both craft beer. I would argue that PBR is not necessarily so easily written off either, but that is a discussion for a later date.

One last thing. I would echo Ryan Hirscht’s comment that it is good to see them finally not trying to hide their affiliation with this beer. Respectable actions at long last. Take note SABMillerCoors, as you move into your new offices.

Moerlein Barbarossa and Emancipator

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

I got these two bottles of Moerlein beer in a trade way back on Dark Lord Day. To the stranger that gave them to me, I’m sorry it took me so long to try them!

First up: the Barbarossa Double Dark Lager. The bottle points out that it is named for Holy Roman Emperor “Barbarossa” Frederick I of Germany. I can only assume that by “Double Dark Lager” they mean a double, or heavy, version of a German black lager, or schwarzbier.

It pours an almost clear, deep caramel with a creamy khaki head. The aroma is delicately malty, with a sweet caramel character and notes of fresh biscuits. There is also something of a metallic tinge to the aroma, probably because these are twist-off caps and the beer has been slightly oxidized.

The taste: remarkably clean. Dry, with touches of caramel malt flavor and toast. Again, there is the slightest bit of oxidation, likely my fault for treating this beer badly and drinking it old. The palate is wonderfully dry, with a smooth but not overpowering carbonation. I could easily have another. By the way, this one has left thick rings and serious honeycomb lacing on my glass.

On to the doppelbock. Here, Emancipator refers to the “emancipation of America’s honorable brewing tradition” in 1933. Emancipator pours a dark auburn with a similar creamy tan head. The nose is pretty strongly metallic, which again I will attribute to cap-related oxidation. I can still get a strong roast malt and burnt coffee aroma.

The first taste is thick and very creamy. Later, I can pick out some of the roast flavor, but it is much too sweet. I feel like my mouth has been coated, and not in a good way. The metallic character cuts through the sweetness more than the malt flavor. Very cloying.

+Moerlein Barbarossa

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

+/-Moerlein Emancipator

RateBeer: 3.0 (3-6-6-2-13)

Goose Island Imperial IPA

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Pours an opalescent rust with a luscious, creamy, long-lasting, wheat-colored head. It leaves a thick lacing on the glass and heavy rings. You can smell this beer from a mile away, with it’s thick aroma: a sharp spicy hops fade into citric and pear fruity hops. Thick and sweet, with a note of alcohol coming through. I could sit here and smell this all day.

Right up front is an earthy hop flavor and prominent sweetness. It is definitely bitter, but not too intense. There is an earthy hop flavor and the bitterness and sweetness dance. It is just a bit cloying.

Quite a good brew, intense yet well-balanced. I would only ask it to be a little less sweet.

++Goose Island Imperial IPA

RateBeer: 4.1 (5-9-7-3-17)

Bottle an Alt, Drink a Bitter

Saturday, October 25th, 2008

Tonight I bottled my altbier. “Alt” means old and that is relative to lager, the “new” style. Alt is a North German beer, originating in Düsseldorf. It, along with Kölsch, is one of the few remaining German ale styles.

An altbier is amber to brown with more hop flavor and bitterness than any other German style. There is still a balance between malt and hops, though. Fruity character from the ale yeast is present, but it is relatively clean and crisp due to extended aging.

I made mine a dopplesticke. In German “doppel” means double and “sticke” means secret, as in a secret recipe. This is the strongest altbier a brewery makes. It should be strong and sweet but also quite bitter. It is usually dry hopped as well.

When I opened the fermenter I noticed a layer of something growing on top. I’m pretty sure it’s not mold.

Here’s what I think happened. On the day I transferred the alt to the fermenter to age in, I was also working on my Oud Bruin. Description of that project in full will have to wait for another post, but suffice it to say I am aging that one with Brett, which tends to form a pellicle. I must have gotten just a little cross contamination, enough for the Brett to build up a bit in the almost two months this alt’s been lagering.

Anyway it still tastes great so I’m bottling it and hoping for the best. Recipe below.

The immortal words of Charlie Papazian, to all homebrewers nervous about that next batch: “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a Homebrew.” In that spirit I will try one of the last bottles of my last batch, Flood Water Bitter. I brewed this way back on June 14, the first day the Iowa River flooded over the bridge to my house.

It pours a very hazy mahogany with a creamy tan head. There is a light fruity nose, some caramel, and a little metallic tinge. The flavor at first seems sweet, then quickly dry and a strongly bitter. A spicy, slightly earthy hop flavor is present throughout. Flavors and bitterness linger.

I have a couple bottles left so let me know if you want one.

Double Plus Secret – Doppelsticke (for 5.5 gallons)

8 lbs Munich malt
4 lbs Pilsner malt
1 lb CaraMunich 60L
1 lb CaraPils Dextrin malt
4 oz Chocolate malt

I wasn’t lazy and so I did a double decoction mash.

Protein rest: 25 min @ 122F
α-amylase rest: 15 min @ 150F
β-amylase rest: 30 min @ 154F

I did an 80 minute boil. Hop additions:

1.25 oz Mt. Hood (5.2% aa) @ 80 min
1 oz Mt. Hood @ 60 min
2 oz Glacier dry-hopped in the secondary

The original gravity was 1.068 and the final gravity 1.008, making the alcohol about 8%.

+Flood Water Bitter – Special Bitter (for 5.5 gallons)

RateBeer: 3.1 (3-6-7-3-12)

4 lbs Pilsner malt
2 lbs Munich malt
2 lbs Wheat malt
1 lb CaraMunich 60L
12 oz Caramel 120L

1.5 oz Northern Brewer @ 60 min
0.5m oz Mt. Hood @ 15 min

Hop Fest!

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Last night Trevor and I sampled a few hoppy beers. We were too tired to get to the fourth (Goose Island Imperial IPA) but I’ll rate it eventually.

First off, Bell’s Hopslam, an Imperial IPA made with honey. I’m told this ages better than any other hoppy beer. We won’t really know because the bottle I have is from January of this year.

It pours a beautiful orange-tinted gold, lightly hazy. The head is creamy, lasts forever, and laces brilliantly. The aroma is strongly of fruit: peaches, orange blossoms, and grapefruit. It is a thick, somewhat sweet nose.

Immediately you get a strong floral, slightly fruity hop flavor. I note roses, orange blossoms, and apricots. The bitterness slowly grows to overpower the delicate flavor, and lingers. This beer is ever so slightly cloying, which actually balances the lingering bitterness. However, these long aftertastes do not get in the way of another sip. That’s dangerous at 10% alcohol.

Next up: Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton, an Imperial IPA aged in oak barrels. At first this seems like it must be more authentic to the history of India pale ale. Note that while Ballantine’s infamous IPA was aged in uncoated oak barrels such as the ones used at Dogfish Head, IPAs actually shipped to India were probably sent in pitched barrels to prevent any influence from the wood. Just saying…

On to drinking it. Burton, an almost clear copper, pours a good straw head. It has a light sweet aroma, somewhat herbal hoppy. There is also a significant caramel note and a little biscuit. I can also detect a bit of alcohol on the nose. Ethanol itself is not volatile, so you cannot smell it. A beer smelling boozy indicates the presence of fusel alcohols, a byproduct of warm, high alcohol fermentation. It is fusels that cause really painful hangovers.

Right at first you notice both a prominent bitterness and a strong sweetness. This beer is thick, and its sweetness is cloying, probably from the use of a large percentage of caramel malt. The oak certainly also adds sweetness and vanilla. The hop flavor is herbal and grassy.

I think perhaps the oak and the hops are competing too much in this beer. The hop flavor is too earthy. They would be better off using a lighter, more delicate flavor hop.

Last we have a bottle from the Tyranena “Brewers Gone Wild” series. This is Hop Whore, their Imperial IPA.

The appearance of this beer is not entirely appetizing. While it is a wonderful copper red color, there are some little chunkies floating and the head is somewhat soapy. The nose is great, though. A strong fruity hop aroma, peaches and some grapes.

Quick sharp hop bitterness, a little fruity and a little sweet. Notes of hop spiciness, reminiscent of cilantro. While it is pretty bitter, this fades and it lingers balanced. Very drinkable.

++Bell’s Hopslam

RateBeer: 4.0 (4-8-8-3-17)

+Dogfish Head Burton Baton

RateBeer: 3.2 (3-7-6-2-14)

+Tyranena Hop Whore

RateBeer: 3.2 (1-7-7-3-14)

Eric Warner!

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

Flying Dog ‘Lead Dog’ Eric Warner, regarding the yeast swirl:
“Oh, shit man, let me have a try. Just a dose. Perfect.”

From this video.

Women and Beer

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

I just read through the October/November Ale Street News and was disappointed to discover that Ms. Mug (Lauren Clark) is moving on to “other pursuits”. I wish her well in them and hope they continue to involve beer.

Her final column attempts to answer the question, as posed by Lew Bryson, “Why is craft beer so male-dominated: brewers, retailers, consumers? Do women not get craft beer, do they get the impression that they shouldn’t get craft beer? What’s up?”

The explanation Clark arrives at is fourfold: a history of male dominance since the industrialization of brewing, that male alcohol consumption tends to be more socially acceptable, the “really geeky, insider-y” nature of craft beer, and differences in tastes between young women and everyone else.

For the most part this explains things, but I’m not sure it adequately shows why brewing is different from law, engineering, or other fields that have a history of male dominance.

Is male alcohol consumption more socially acceptable now? I could see this going either way.

Craft beer is most certainly geeky, but when has that ever stopped women? Some of the biggest geeks I know are women. The biggest beer geek I know is Jan the Beer Baroness at Steve’s in Madison!

Finally, her point regarding the tastes of young women: “Womens’ preference for ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’ seems to diminish as we get older and our palates become more sophisticated. I mean, who is drinking all the fruit- and vanilla-flavored martinis? Mostly people in their twenties, who haven’t developed a taste yet for spirits.”

I’m sorry Ms. Mug but I have to disagree. You are right that young women drink alot of fruity drinks. However, the biggest fans of craft beer, men and women, are in their twenties. Many middle-aged men appreciate good beer but they tend to buy classic imports rather than investigate new beers. Middle-aged women just tend to drink wine.

Mystery Homebrew

Monday, October 20th, 2008

Tonight I am playing Russian roulette.

I recently got a half case of homebrew left over from a competition a few weeks ago. Since all the bottles are unlabeled and many of the beers were (apparently) not that great, I am taking a great chance drinking it. Well, if I must I must.

The first one is a little hazy, a dark mahogany with a bit of ochre head. The nose is subtle, with a nuttiness as well as a little biscuit. The flavor is light, somewhat nutty with a light lingering burnt character. The palate is quite refreshing. Probably a porter. Reminds me of Hub City’s.

+Mystery Beer #1

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

This one is a very hazy tawny amber. Almost no head. The nose is caramel sweet with a strong banana air. The flavor is mostly banana, with some caramel and a little toast. Something of a graininess. Very strongly effervescent, but still cloying. Must be a dunkelweiss.

+/-Mystery Beer #2

RateBeer: 2.5 (3-4-6-2-10)

The last for tonight. An almost clear deep copper with some tan head. A strange white wine like aroma with some cideriness. The flavor is cidery, with mangoes, and a little sweet. This beer tastes like it’s got Brett (that is to say it has been infected, intentionally or unintentionally, with Brettanomyces wild yeast). No acidity but a general funkiness, and a little dusty. A prevalent sweetness as well. Reminds me somewhat of Duchesse without the punch.

I wonder what the brewer intended. I suspect they didn’t mean to brew this decent Flanders brown.

+/-Mystery Beer #3

RateBeer: 2.9 (3-5-6-2-13)

Dupont Cidre de Givre

Monday, October 20th, 2008

This one’s also from a few days ago.

Maria and I stopped for a bite and a cider at Sbrocco, the newest offering from Full Court Press, the guys that brought you El Bait Shop and the Red Monk, among others. Sbrocco is a wine bar that exudes class. It does so in a remarkably inviting way, with salvaged doors and stained glass and classic jazz in the air. I was most impressed by the twenty wine taps that serve a variety of bottles using carbon dioxide. This system is sleek and ensures the wine is always as fresh as possible.

I don’t really drink wine, but never fear! They were thinking of me when they made the beer list, filling it with Unibroue and Lindemann’s and Dupont ciders. (They also have a few less interesting beers.)

The food at Sbrocco is quite tasty. The interesting selections are also surprisingly inexpensive. They are clearly aiming to bring in young people. We shared the Grilled Portabella and Zucchini Pasta Bake with Smoked Provolone. The cheese was good and the smokiness matched the mushroom and slight spiciness of the tomato sauce. I also had a cup of Roasted Acorn & Butternut Squash Bisque which was nutty and creamy and wonderful. Maria had the salad with Candied Pecans, Goat Cheese, Apples, and Lemon Sage Vinaigrette.

To pair with this we got the Cidre de Givre from the Domaine Dupont cidery and distillery. This is unrelated to Brasserie Dupont, makers of Saison Dupont. Domaine Dupont has made calvados for more than thirty years on their fourth generation farm.

Le Givre is the eis cider made from Bouché Brut. Eis cider, like eisbock and unlike eiswine, is produced by freeze distillation of a finished product. It concentrates the flavors and the alcohol, but will also make any problems that much more offensive. It must be done with care.

Le Givre pours a lusciously opal amber-copper with hints of foam. It is somehow much lighter on top than on bottom, almost a straw. The aroma is thick, mostly fresh apples and cider, with some caramel and a hint of smoke.

A rich, almost syrupy beer. Strongly sweet but not at all cloying. I get a whole fruit apple sweetness with a strong alcohol warming. There is a dance of flavors: spices like clove and cinnamon, some smokiness, and a strong, lingering, pleasant cider flavor.

This cider is intense yet muted. It is strongly sweet and alcoholic, but remains elusively subtle. A joy to drink.

++Domaine Dupont Cidre de Givre 2005

RateBeer: 4.4

Leinie's and Baseball

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I wrote this a little while ago.

I’m tasting my Leinenkugel‘s Original in the perfect setting: at the Deadwood in Iowa City. This is a serious bar, and when you’re here you can only drink one beer, an American lager. Leinie’s distinguishes itself from many in this category by its notable hop bitterness. Most American lagers tend towards balanced to slightly sweet, but Leinie’s, like PBR, leans a bit to bitter. The flavor is relatively malty, with a hint of astringency on the sides of the tongue. There is a faint hint of sulfur, detectable only as a bit of sweetness and perhaps some cooked corn.

The sweetness lingers a little but the bitterness and astringency distract you so it is all too easy to take another gulp. In the end, this beer is every bit as drinkable as one of the Big Lagers, but with much more flavor. My only major complaint would be the near lack of head.

The Red Sox aren’t doing so hot, so for luck I’ll order a Leinie’s Red.

This beer lives up to its name. It’s almost a cherry colored red, and it glows even in the darkness. Unfortunately that’s all it really offers.

Red has almost no flavor. The only thing on the nose is a metallic stab. There is an unpleasant astringency all over as well as a displeasing sulfur character, much like well-cooked cabbage. Unlike its big brother Original, Red doesn’t invite further sips. Red orders you to drink it down so you don’t have to deal with it anymore.

That’s not how I drink beer.

+/-Leinenkugel’s Original

RateBeer: 2.6

-Leinenkugel’s Red

RateBeer: 1.5