Monday, December 21, 2009

Getting Old (ale) and Loving It

The Wort Hog is on temporary life support at the moment. I don’t have anything going on for the holidays this year, and I’m busier than ever. Not too busy to have some beer, however. Though I don’t have a specific Beer of the Week, this post is an abbreviated Style of the Week:  Old Ale. For me, it’s the quintessential winter style. Yeah, Spiced Ales, Barleywines, and Imperial Stouts abound – as do other seasonal styles. And trust me, I drink those too. But Old Ale has a special place in my heart, for whatever reason, and has become my favorite beer to drink during winter over the past 2 years. (I do, however, reserve the right to change my mind!)

It’s traditionally an English style that is a sub-style of Strong Ale; in addition to drinking straight, Old Ale was also used for blending. This beer shouldn’t be too hoppy or roasty; instead, it should be sweet, full-bodied, and a little warming/alcoholic.Winter Warmers fit into this category, though are typically a bit maltier than a traditional Old Ale.

There should also be quite a bit of dried-fruit and caramel aroma and flavor. Molasses is usually in there as well, but not always. Most often, I get an impression of raisin or prune puree (yes, that’s a good thing!) and caramel. Old Ale is typically aged, meaning it may contain flavors attributed to oxidation such as sherry or port – but well within style guidelines. Hoppiness will vary by the beer; Great Divide & Founder’s are hoppier than Bell’s or Samuel Smith’s.  If you’re not a hop lover, or if you enjoy strong malty beers, Old Ale is a great fit.

Another reason to love Old Ale? Availability! No getting in line at 4:30am or running around town to locate a bottle. Any good liquor store in town will carry them, as will most of the beer bars in KC. Some examples available to us, in order of my preference (most to least preferred), include:  Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale, Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome, Founder’s Curmudgeon,  Avery Old Jubilation, Great Divide Hibernation Ale, and JW Lee’s Moonraker. I know I’ve had Fuller’s 1845 and Theakston Old Peculiar, but it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten where they might fit in that list. I'd been told that Old Peculiar was no longer being distributed in Missouri. I'm not sure that's true, but it's worth trying it before it disappears (what was I just saying about availability?).


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Winter Hibernation

Man, it's been a while since I've posted an entry. I've been prioritizing other stuff and just generally blog-lazy. Here's a summary of what's been rolling around in my head lately.

Free State. Now that they have their larger brewhouse open and brewing their stock beers (Ad Astra, Copperhead, etc), they're dedicating their older, smaller brew house to their more specialty stuff. We've headed out to Lawrence more frequently as a result and have not been disappointed. They recently had a Vienna Lager which I highly enjoyed, and may still have their Vortex Red on tap. It's a hoppy American Amber style that reminds me a lot of Rogue's Santa's Private Reserve. Anyway, Free State keeps putting out solid, high-quality beer and I'm excited to see what'll happen to them when their beer becomes available in bottles next year. If you don't get their newsletter, sign up for it now.

Barley's is putting on their last Beer School of the year. It's $15 this time around, but you'll get to hang out with sensory specialist Lauren Salazar (of New Belgium) and hear her talk about, well, sensory analysis of beer.

With all the "Christmas beers" out these days, I've found myself still gravitating toward the Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome just because it's such a good beer. It's an Old Ale, just one of several styles breweries do for their seasonal release. Other breweries may do an American Amber, Scotch Ale, Winter Warmer, or something entirely different like a Belgian IPA. So keep in mind that when you see something labeled as "Winter" or "Christmas", find out what style it is; you may not be getting a beer you expect.

The meads are coming along nicely. The dry mead and braggot are now 4 months old and improving in taste with each month. They are pretty good now, but still taste young. I've learned a few things since my original batches, especially regarding adding nutrients and aerating. While I did the step nutrient additions for all my batches, I've since learned that the timing on them has much less to do with actual timing (e.g., every 24 hours for 3 days after pitching) and everything to do with the progression of alcohol production and what your gravity is relative to both the starting and target final gravity. I'm still figuring out a couple of things but hope to do a post on everything I've learned as I've found the information in a combination of sources.

That's about it for now. I have more on my mind but have to run - life never stops, even when there's beer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Short Pours & Honest Pints

A while ago, I read about this "Honest Pint Project" starting up in Oregon. The premise is based on those little printed markings on glasses you see in Europe (,3L or ,5L and so on) and the horizontal line near the top of pints in the UK. These markings illustrate how much beer you're getting so that you know if you're getting a short pour. So how do you know how much you get here in the states? Pint glasses can range from 14oz to 20oz, and you may not even notice the variation in size. In fact, according to many sources including the Wall Street Journal (which references the Honest Pint Project), an increasing number of beer-pouring establishments have started utilizing smaller glasses that look similar to a full pint but are actually slightly smaller.

That inconsistency is what the Honest Pint Project hopes to change. "The Oregon Liquor Control Commission would be responsible for designing honest pint decals for at least 6,000 draught-beer pouring establishments in the state. HB 3122 requires that OLCC place the words “honest pint” somewhere conspicuous on the sticker.

Only state-regulated taverns, bars, restaurants and the like may display the decals -- Joe Sixpack can’t qualify for a decal just by serving friends beer in cold 16-ounce glasses from the fridge -- and the certification must be renewed every two years." The house bill passed in May.

Across the pond, CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) is pushing for the same thing even though glassware there already has pint markings (it is illegal to sell beer in unmarked pints). Seems the folks in Oregon should note that marking the glasses is no guarantee against short pours. CAMRA reasons that "it is unlawful for consumers to be short measured when buying petrol and it should be unlawful for consumers to be short measured when buying a pint of beer." They also note that at least 25% of all pints poured in the UK are less than 95% full. In 1997, the UK government vowed to eliminate short pours but have not fulfilled that promise. As a result, CAMRA estimates that people in the UK pay an extra £481 million a year for beer that is not actually poured.

So what do you think? Rip off or insignificant issue? I figure as long as a bar isn't deceptive about the capacity of their glasses, I really don't care. I do think it's a little odd when places serve beer of an average ABV in a smaller "specialty" glass (which is usually around 8oz), but that doesn't happen often and I usually chalk it up to the naïveté of the bartender. We've also had the reverse experience, where a bartender poured an Imperial-style beer into a pint glass. Who am I to say something? It is, after all, just beer.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Cider and Perry Make Me Merry

Last weekend, we drove out to Fieldstone Enterprises in Overbrook, KS and bought 15 gallons of apple juice & 10 of pear. The apple blend we got was made from four varietals: Spitzenburg, Seek No Further, Neuho, and Bramly. The pear juice is made from four varieties of Asian pears.

With our 25 gallons now in our possession, we dug out 5 fermenters while the juice thawed. We'll do a dry (still) and a medium-dry (sparkling) for both apple & pear, leaving one apple batch that we'll split in the summer when other fruits are ripe. I'd like to add blackberries to one split batch; the other one is still TBD but I think we might do persimmons.

So how do you make cider? At the easiest end of the spectrum, you can buy preservative-free apple juice at the store, put it in a sanitized fermenter, add yeast, and let it go. Done right, it'll ferment completely into a very dry apple cider that is much less sweet than the commercial ciders on the shelves today. However, if you want a cider with a balance of sweetness, tartness, and tannin, you can do a few things to manipulate the outcome.

First, get preservative-free 100% juice and check its pH. A quality cider that has enough acidity to balance the sweetness of the apples will be somewhere around 3.2 -3.8. Any lower than that will likely be too acidic, and higher than that will lack the tart finish, depth, and complexity good ciders possess (it'll be "insipid"). Malic acid, calcium carbonate, and low-acid juice are common approaches to altering pH. As a side note - malic acid stinks. I spilled a little on the floor (maybe 1/2 tsp) and it got wet; a few minutes later, the entire area smelled like a gym bag. Not awesome.

Once you have your pH set, check your starting gravity. It should be between 1.045 and 1.070 and can be manipulated via dilution or the addition of sugar. Our starting gravities all hovered around 1.042-1.048 which were lower than we wanted. The addition of simple syrup to each carboy put all our starting gravities around 1.055-1.060.

Next, kill off wild yeast & bacteria to avoid bacterial infection and to ensure only the yeast you want are fermenting your juice. We added potassium metabisulfite (campden tablets) which is probably the most accessible approach. The juice's pH will determine how much sulfite to add and we followed the guidelines laid out by Andrew Lea in his book. You can find similar information on his website.

Since apple juice is nitrogen-deficient and yeast need nitrogen to thrive, I also added yeast nutrient and energizer per my mead measurements:  1 tsp diammonium phosphate (DAP) and 1/2 tsp Fermaid-K per 5 gallons. I won't be doing staggered nutrient additions; a one-time addition for cider & perry should be fine.

That's pretty much all the hard work and requires about as much precision as you want to give it. The more precise you are, the closer your end result will be to what you want. The sulfited juice needs to sit for 24 hours before the yeast is pitched so that you don't kill off all your cultured yeast along with the wild stuff.

I used all Lalvin wine yeasts; for the apple ciders, I selected 71b-1122, K1-V1116, and EC1118. The 2 perrys are fermenting with 71b-1122 and EC1118. Specific properties of these yeasts can be found on Lallemond's site.

Unfortunately, there just isn't much information at all on making perry. About the only information I've gleaned is that it's similar in process to making cider, but has a higher starting pH. For more information on making cider, the best resource I've found to date is Andrew Lea's book, "Craft Cider Making." I got another book by Proulx and Nichols and it's perfect for learning more about specific apple themselves - growing, harvesting, pressing, etc. While the authors do cover cidermaking to a good extent, the Lea book was much better. With those two books, you'll be familiar with dozens of apple varieties and how to take them from seedling to cider.

Friday, November 20, 2009

More use for Spent Grain

One of the byproducts of brewing all-grain batches is, of course, the spent grain. And lots of it. You can do quite a bit with it - dog biscuits, cookies, bread, pretzels, and so on. I've done both cookies and bread (I thought I posted about that... can't find it), and for the last brew day I thought I'd use some spent grain from a recent Pale Ale to make crackers. I tried two recipes: one from, the other from While both crackers seemed to go over reasonably well, I thought the homebrewchef crackers were the winners by a long shot.

The recipe using only whole wheat flour took longer to bake and the crackers came out tasting like, well, flour. They were certainly edible, but reminded me of something that would only sell well at a health fair. The longer baking time to make them crisp, plus the whole wheat flour, made them very dry - in a dehydrating sort of way. You definitely wanted to wash the cracker down with something. The crackers made with white flour were easier to make because the dough was softer, and they tasted like a gourmet cracker you'd buy at Whole Foods for $4 per box. (They reminded me a lot of Wisecrackers.) They were crisp and crunchy, similar in texture and crunch to a non-greasy pita chip. I also used a homemade blonde ale for liquid, which added a fantastic sweet, yeasty character to the beer.

Here are a few tips for those of you interested in making these (and I highly recommend it - they were very good!).
  • Use 100% all-purpose flour (bread flour is too high in gluten for crackers)
  • Dry out your grains as much as you can, use less water, use more flour, or all of the above. The more water your spent grains have, the wetter your dough will be. You want the cracker dough to be firm and barely tacky; not sticky.
  • Roll out the dough as thin as you can get it. Some people have used pasta rollers to make crackers; I used a rolling pin on a floured countertop.
  • If you want small, regular-shaped crackers, cut them after rolling and use a metal spatula to transfer to your baking sheet.
  • Cool on a drying rack so air can circulate around the crackers, avoiding any sweating - no one likes a sweaty underside! ;-)
  • I found that I had to bake them for 30 minutes to get them to a desired crispness, not 15-20 as the recipe dictated.
These were served with a spreadable Cranberry/Apple/Cinnamon cheese and a Devonshire wedge, but are really suitable for anything. I think I'll make more this weekend; these really did turn out well.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Beer Tasting Tonight in Shawnee

I got an email from KC Hopps last night about an O'Fallon tasting at the Barley's Brewhaus Shawnee location. A little advance notice would have been nice, but if you don't have plans tonight and love making last-minute arrangements, here's a suggestion. They still appear to have space remaining (I can offer a guess as to why...)

The items offered with food pairings are:
-  Pumpkin Ale
-  5 Day IPA
-  Smoked Porter
-  Cherry Chocolate
-  Rye IPA

Seems rye beer is all the rage these days; even Michelob has one. Like wheat, rye adds body to beer to give it a bit more substance and a smoother mouthfeel. Unlike wheat, however, it adds a little spiciness to the beer, making a great pairing with seasonal comfort foods.

Sounds like it could be a great beer for Thanksgiving dinner...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Beer of the Week: Cider

Yeah, I know cider isn't beer. I debated naming this "style of the week" but didn't want to limit myself to BJCP styles (or have to dump a bunch of stuff into category 23). And now here I am thinking I should have gone with Style. Oh well.

Anyway. Now that our bizarre warm weather appears to be behind us, it definitely feels like the time of year for those comfy winter drinks. Winter Warmers, mulled wine, hot toddys, hot buttered rum - and cider. We're getting ready to make a few batches of cider and perry (pear cider) and wanted to try some true English cider so we picked up a bottle of Aspall Dry yesterday at Lukas in Martin City. Consensus? Both of us agree this is the best cider we've ever had, and at $6.99 per bottle it's a deal.

I've had probably close to a dozen different ciders, none of which are authentic cider styles (Wyder, Blackthorne, Strongbow, Magners, Ace, and so on). Real apple cider should drink more like a wine and have a completely different profile than its unfermented cousin. It should not taste like alcoholic Mott's, much like wine should not taste like boozy Welch's (well, good wine anyway). The typical cider options we have are poor examples of good cider; they're the Arbor Mists of the cider world. That isn't to say they're particularly bad, they're just not what I'd consider proper cider.

Apple cider should have a clear appearance, though it's still ok for it to be somewhat hazy for a more "natural" style. It should also be a bit acidic with a bit of tannin to provide body and substance to the cider. This is, I think, what is missing from most commercial ciders and why I tend to prefer the drier ones (Wyder's Pear & Strongbow Dry). The tannin really helps add some complexity to cider, much like hops add depth to beer.

Apple cider has a long history in both England and France, but enjoys its own legacy in the US as well (thanks to European settlers in the 17th century). While we're all familiar with common sweet apple varieties such as Fuji, Honey Crisp, or Braeburn, there are dozens of other varieties more suited to ciders - and definitely not good to eat. Apples are split into four categories: sharp, sweet, bittersharp, and bittersweet. Each contributes to different qualities in cider, and are typically blended to create a balanced taste in a cider. There are few apple varieties that contain all of the desired flavor qualities (sweetness, acidity, astringency/tannin), such as Kingston Black, and they're not easy to find. Therefore, nearly all cider you'll find out there is made with a variety of apples (just as many beers are made with different malts to achieve desired characteristics).

If you're interested in making your own cider, it's extremely simple to do so. We found an orchard out in Overbrook, KS that we'll be visiting next weekend to pick up both pear & apple juices. This year's harvest wasn't that great, but you can start making plans for next year. They publish their harvest dates on their website so that you can plan your trip around different varieties. Alternately, you can bring a bucket or carboy to Louisburg Cider Mill and they'll fill it for you. Just call them a few days in advance to make an appointment; they'll tell you what apples they'll be pressing and will arrange a time for you to come by and get the unpasteurized juice. (A note on that - you can ferment both pasteurized & unpasteurized juice. Each will result in different flavors and you might experiment with both to see which you like best.) If you don't want to wait until next fall, you can make cider from preservative-free apple juice at the store (preservatives will prevent fermentation).

The steps to make cider are pretty straight-forward:
  1. Buy juice & pour it into a sanitized fermenter
  2. If using non-pasteurized juice, add campden tablets (1 per gallon of juice) to kill any wild yeast or bacteria in the juice & wait 24 hours
  3. Pitch yeast
  4. Wait a few weeks for fermentation to finish & add finings for clarification
  5. Rack to another container, let clear a bit more, then package (keg or bottles)

The process can be much more complicated than this, but that's the basic concept. Using different yeasts will result in different cider flavors. Adding juice & halting fermentation will create a sweeter cider; adding acid, oak, or tannins will change the cider further. Of course cider can be either sparkling or still, and the addition of spices will add a seasonal flair to your finished product.

If you're interested in learning more about cider, here are some great references to get you started:
  1. BJCP Guidelines for Style 27
  2. BJCP Guidelines for Style 28
  3. Andrew Lea's book on Craft Cider Making
  4. Andrew Lea's website (now with frames!)
  5. Another well-regarded book on cider by Proulx and Nichols
  6. A great webcast on making cider with Jamil Zainasheff, Jon Pliese, and awesome guest Gary Awdey
I'll follow up at a later time on our own experiences making cider. My meads & braggot are coming along and I'll post more on that when they're ready to drink (just a few more months!). In the meantime... beer it is!

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Tap Around Town

Sure are a lot of new beers going on tap lately.

Barley's out in Shawnee has had some rare Bear Republic kegs on tap the past few weeks. If you haven't had Racer X or Mach 10, they're a (west coast) hoppy treat - and they probably won't be around much longer.

McCoy's in Westport just put on a keg of their Imperial Steam Beer. I haven't had any yet but am looking forward to trying it. I'll be curious to see what an Imperial steam beer is like... I'm guessing lots of sweet & bready flavor with a bit more fruity esters. Most people are probably familiar with Anchor Steam but don't know that it's a lager brewed at ale temperatures. German brewers who immigrated to California in the 1800s didn't have the technology or cold Alpen caves to lager their beers, so they fermented their lagers at California's more temperate climate. Anchor trademarked the "Steam" name, so you might see this style called California Common elsewhere.

Speaking of California Common, Free State just put one on on tap ("Prairie Fog Ale") along with a new Vienna Lager. Vienna Lager is a cousin to the Oktoberfest and Märzen styles and isn't very easy to find (outside of Negra Modello). You can read more about these three closely-related styles in Ray Daniels' Designing Great Beers or George Fix's Vienna/Märzen/Oktoberfest edition of Brewing Classic Styles. I've become a fan of Fix - reading about chemistry seems about as appealing to me as getting jabbed in the eye, but his Principles of Brewing Science was actually really interesting. If you're curious about what happens when you do hop additions during the wort boil or what is actually going on during fermentation, I highly recommend Principles.

But I digress. McCoy's also recently put on a Bohemian Pilsener and should have their Coffee Stout available as well. They'll be coming out with a Winter Warmer here some time soon. I'm not sure when, but it'll be at their Christmas Ale dinner on 12/1. Not to be left out, 75th Street is tapping a keg of their Coffee Porter tonight (11/13) and will have it on nitro to give it more body & a creamy mouthfeel.

And finally, next Thursday Flying Saucer will be tapping a keg of Sierra Nevada's Harvest Estate ale, an American IPA that was made using only hops & barley grown on the brewery's property. With almost all of the brewery's energy coming from their own private solar array and their efforts to use recycled water, perhaps one of these days we'll see a Sierra Nevada "Off The Grid IPA" on the shelves.

So there you go - plans for next week!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brew Day Reminder...

Just a reminder that Brew Day #5 and the last one of 2009 is coming up on Saturday.

KC Hop Head is hosting this brew day, and the theme is English beer with a focus on session ales. As with the others, please bring some commercial beer or homebrew, some snacks, a camp chair or two, guests, and anything else you would like to bring.

We have I think two brews going this time, and I'm considering my options on making another base mead. I procrastinated on buying my honey, though, so I'm not sure I'll be able to do it this time. If you have any questions or need directions, send me a note.

Highlights from previous brew days can be found here:

  1. June
  2. July
  3. August
  4. October
See you Saturday!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Feeling Crafty

Since this is a beer blog, I don’t mention much about other hobbies. Today, though, I am going to talk about another hobby of mine: knitting! (Don’t worry, I’ll relate it to beer. I promise.) Though I haven’t yet developed the courage to knit us up a hydrometer holder or decorative tap handle covers, I have tried to come up with a clever way to mix beer & knitting together (other than the obvious; that’s been done, with sometimes disastrous results). They seem like strange bedfellows; I have seen a blog that combines knitting and beer, and the author even hosts beer/knitting classes. But I knew the combination of the two had hit the mainstream when I saw them in print. Last month, I received a KnitPicks catalog in the mail and spotted not only one ad featuring beer, but TWO!

The first was for a book featuring patterns and suggestions for knitting projects you can do with friends at a pub. ("Purl" is a type of stitch in knitting.)

They’re even ranked by complexity to help you know how much concentration is required. Cute, but I can figure that out on my own.

A few pages later, I happened upon this:

Not only are those two hands sporting what would be some great winter homebrewing gloves, and not only are they holding bottles of beer, they’re holding HUB bottles! (Don't ask me what that little green guy is off to the left. Kind of creepy.) Winner of 2 GABF gold medals only 1.5 years into its existence, Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) hails from my home town and makes some mighty fine brew. It was fun to see it in a rather unrelated setting.

The intersection of craft beer and knitting really isn't that far-fetched, though, especially if that craft beer is home-brewed. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating something from scratch, understanding how it is made, and sharing the final product with others. Whether knitting, woodworking, gardening, or brewing beer, hobbies get us involved in the creation of something personal. And sometimes, multiple hobbies can be combined. Farming hops and brewing beer, for instance. Building your own brew sculpture. Making a keggle.

Or, knitting your own carboy cozy.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Favorite Kind of Studying

Mr Wort Hog has been talking about becoming BJCP-certified for a while now, and recently signed up for an exam sitting in January. We've been accumulating study materials as a result: books, articles, and - of course - beer. I'm not taking the exam, but I am learning more about beers as he studies them and we discuss them. While it's fun to try standard examples of styles and note their qualities, there's another aspect of studying that I'm finding particularly fun: detecting off-flavors.

You can easily create most off flavors yourself with a handful of common household ingredients (and a few extra available at a homebrew store). I picked up a six-pack of Sam Adams Light, since the base beer for doctoring should be pretty clean & light - and must have a pry-off crown cap. Guidelines for modifying beers with off flavors are listed on the BJCP site in a handy table. Want to see what an oxidized beer tastes like? You could add 3/4 of a teaspoon of sherry to a 12oz bottle of beer, or simply oxidize the beer by opening it, allowing the CO2 to escape, re-capping it, and storing it at over 100F for a few days. How about a skunky beer? Set a beer (in a green or clear bottle) in a window for a week. (Or, buy a bottle of Grolsch).

I've been doctoring up the bottles & presenting glasses containing the adulterated (and some unadulterated!) beer to Mr Wort Hog for his analysis. It's been fun and a good learning experience. The biggest take-away so far has been that off flavors are most easily detectable when you let the beer warm up (to maybe 55-60 degrees) then swirl it around in your glass. The swirling releases some of the CO2 from the beer, carrying the aroma out of the beer and around the mouth of the glass. And for anyone who has had warm beer, you'll know that when it's warm, the flavor is intensified. (Similarly, I'm sure that's why a lot of people like ice-cold beer - you can't taste it.)

If you're evaluating or reviewing a beer, you'll also want to know if what you're tasting is really an off flavor. If you have a beer that has just a hint of sherry, is that always a bad thing? If it's a Pale Ale, it shouldn't be there - but it can actually add depth and complexity to a Barley Wine. Dimethyl Sulfide (DMS) adds a cooked veggie characteristic to beer, and a little bit is just fine in, say, an American Lager like Budweiser. If you've had a Schlitz Gusto and thought that there was a little roasted corn flavor - that's DMS. But what if your beer tastes buttery? Medicinal? Like almonds? BJCP has answers. Additionally, a great explanation of these flavors can be found on John Palmer's website, or in his book of the same title.

Off flavors are, unfortunately, pretty easy to introduce to beer but can be avoided with some care. For homebrewers, the main concepts are simple (sanitation, fermentation temperature, avoiding exposure to oxygen after fermentation starts, etc) but the details are endless. I still have trouble remembering everything and have a long way to go.

There are also some things we can do as consumers of beer, starting with avoiding beer in clear bottles or the ones near the window at the liquor store, and storing our beer in dark, cool locations of the house (say, the fridge). I know I have been guilty of lazily leaving a six-pack on the back porch in the dead heat of summer. Beer nerd fail!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beer of the Week: Cream Ale

This week's featured beer is a little less exotic than those that proceeded it, but perhaps more misunderstood.

Cream Ale is one of two unique US beer styles, along with California Common (Anchor Steam being the predominant example) which originated prior to prohibition and is currently in large scale production. We owe the survival of Cream Ale through prohibition to Canada, where it was popular and brewed during much of the US prohibition.

The name "Cream Ale" can be misleading. The beers contain no cream or milk and do not have a particularly creamy mouth feel, being instead light and thirst-quenching. Adding to the confusion is that some breweries adopt the Cream Ale moniker for beers that better fit into other light ale styles.

So then what is a Cream Ale? It is an American Lager (think Budweiser or Coors) which is fermented instead as an ale. The style has its genesis in East Coast breweries which aimed to compete with the popular American Lagers but were not equipped to carry out a lager fermentation.

Like American Lagers, cream ales are light in color and flavor and thirst-quenching. There may be some residual sweetness and a corn flavor, if corn is used as an adjunct. Most are brewed with adjuncts but there are some all malt examples (surprisingly not at all correlated with the size of the brewery). The primary difference between an American Lager and a Cream Ale is that the Cream Ale may have some fruity esters from the ale fermentation. The lack of a crisp drying sensation from the sulfur produced by lager yeasts may lead to a perception of a fuller mouth feel, but the mouth feel will not approach "creamy".

Modern Cream Ales are often cold conditioned or use a lager yeast for all or part of fermentation. There is no historical basis for this, however, as the lack of refrigeration was the entire motivation for the creation of the style.

There are not a lot of Cream Ales on the shelves, but you should have no problem finding one. Craft brewed examples include Spotted Cow by New Glarus (Wisconsin only) and Summer Solstice Cervesa Crema by Anderson Valley Brewing Company. The latter is unusual in that it is all malt, has a distinct crystal malt sweetness, and has a subtle addition of vanilla.

The next time you are mowing the lawn (which is hopefully no time soon), put down your American Lager and grab something a little more uniquely American.

Friday, October 30, 2009

I Went in with a Swagger and Left with a Magic Hat

Back in August, I caught Kansas City Lunch Spot's review of a bar in Waldo I'd never heard of. While there are plenty of bars in Waldo I don't pay much attention to (I mean, there are a LOT of bars in Waldo), what stood out about this one was its noteworthy beer selection. 42 beers on tap? Several more in bottles? I had to check this place out.

After two months of merely talking about going, we finally made it on Thursday night. We walked in and I immediately thought, "this dive bar sells good beer??". I wondered if maybe those 42 taps were domestic & import light lagers. One look at all the tap handles at the bar, though, confirmed what I'd read. There were maybe 6-8 people in the entire place, so we had no trouble finding somewhere to sit. We settled in at a booth and the bartender came over almost immediately. With menus in hand, we marveled over the extensive and thoughtful beer selection & made our choices: Saison-Brett and Sixth Glass. Alas, John's ability to order a beer that's out of stock shone through again, so he chose a draft Maredsous 10 instead. The Smokestack bottles there are the cheapest I've seen at a bar - $10 each, except for Saison-Brett which is a whopping $11. And they pour it in Boulevard chalices.

We also ordered a basket of onion rings; I'd read about their magnificence on KC Lunch Spots and wanted to experience their glory. They did not disappoint! Crisp, hot batter coated rather thick rings of onion and embodied everything onion rings should be. We followed that healthy starter with a (giant!) plate of nachos; our friend Rachel ordered a veggie burger which she said was quite good. Next time we go, though, I am ordering the pork sandwich with wasabi slaw. My mouth is watering already.

The night went on and we entertained ourselves by playing a couple (very sloppy) games of pool, figuring out how the electronic dart board worked, and selecting songs off the internet jukebox. Get a couple of beers in us and you get a playlist including David Bowie, Janis Joplin, Eminem, Pearl Jam, and Outkast. The very drunk old guy at the bar didn't seem to mind, though; he even sang along to a couple of our choices.

At one point, Mr Wort Hog overheard the bartender talking to someone about Magic Hat; turns out they got a keg of #9 that day and plan to get other varieties in (in bottles, if I remember correctly). Welcome to Missouri, Magic Hat! I have only had #9 and Lucky Kat and wasn't overwhelmingly impressed, but I've heard their seasonal offerings are quite good. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for their stuff. The bartender at Swagger let us take home a promo poster (pictured) which I thought glowed in the dark - much to my disappointment, it does not.

I love this bar. It's everything I want in a local neighborhood pub, with only two minor annoyances: it was about 75 degrees inside and it smelled like stale cigarettes. It's easy to look beyond those, though, when the beer list is fantastic and affordable, they use some proper glassware (not always, but at least there's some effort), the food is compelling and higher quality than standard pub grub, the staff is friendly, and there's pool & darts. Oh, and did I mention they do breakfast on Saturdays that includes bacon pancakes?

I'll see you there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting Down to Business

My best friend is self-employed and feeling the effects of the economy (to no surprise). She emailed me recently about the slowdown in her business, and I thought I might find some inspiration for her in dealing with a slow economy on various business-oriented websites. My first stop was

Who's on the main page? Kim Jordan of New Belgium. In the article, she discusses the beginnings of the company, when the founders were struggling to make it work.
"For about eight months, we didn't pay ourselves," she says. "We borrowed money from my parents and made payroll, but looking at the bills, we had to decide which to pay, which would have to wait--and who wouldn't notice if we didn't."

When they tried to move to a bigger facility, they hit a wall with funding. "That's the tough spot most entrepreneurs find themselves in, when they're not old enough or experienced enough as a company to give banks confidence--but if they can't figure out how to get that larger infusion of cash, they can't carry on," Jordan says. Lebesch solved the problem, she says, by telling equipment vendors that whoever helped them secure financing would get their business.

"I would guess you hear this kind of thing fairly frequently," she says. "It's really about entrepreneurial tenacity. We just said, ‘We're going to figure this out, we're going to make it work.' And you get over that hump."

I read Beer School this summer, which tells the very bumpy story of Brooklyn Brewery and repeatedly underscores the challenges of starting a business. Start-up breweries face issues of financing, employee frustration, finding customers, obtaining decent distribution, and various other problems (Brooklyn Brewery's owners even faced issues with union bosses in a couple of pretty intimidating encounters). Sometimes, the process even ruins relationships - Jordan and Lebesch, the husband & wife co-founders of New Belgium, are in the midst of finalizing their divorce. The brewery, however, lives on and is destined to bring its followers more reasons to toast its success.

People put their financial security and personal relationships on the line to start up a dream with a high risk of failure. Sometimes, when life isn't going the way you want it to, it's encouraging to read about people who have experienced much worse for longer periods of time - and succeeded. Here's a toast to their dedication to the art of beer. And to my best friend, her perseverance, tenacity, and determination to succeed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Got Schooled

I recently went to my first Barley's Beer School, which Paul A Ner of KC Beer Blog and KC Hop Head also attended. Though they beat me to the punch on their posts, here's my take on the evening.

The night's event featured brewers Steven Pauwels and Jean-Marie Rock from Boulevard Brewing and Orval Brewing, respectively. The two brewers have been the buzz of the craft beer world lately as news of their upcoming collaboration beer spread. Just a couple of weeks ago, the brewers got together at Boulevard’s facility and recreated one of Rock’s first brews, an Imperial Pilsner made with Pilsner malt and Czech Saaz hops. This recipe has not been commercially brewed in over 30 years, as Rock developed it while at a different brewery. He later joined Orval in 1985 as brewmaster and has focused his efforts on maintaining the quality of Orval’s beer production.

Though the monastery’s history reaches back to the 17th century, the brewery we know as Orval today came into existence in the late 1920s. While it started out just making cheese, the monastery expanded to beer production and became one of the world’s seven Trappist breweries. During the past several decades, Orval has only made two beers:  Orval and Petite Orval (made specifically for the monks and only available at the monastery).

Our first lesson at Beer School was about the production of Orval, as it is unique among the Trappist ales. The process includes dry-hopping and the addition of Brettanomyces (“Brett”) just prior to packaging.  While the hoppiness of the beer subsides over time as the hop acids degrade, the funky character of the Brett yeast takes over and changes the beer over time. Rock suggested cellaring several bottles of Orval and sampling them over a period of five years to note the substantial differences in the character of the beer as it ages.

We were provided with 2-3 ounces of Orval to taste and experience. The beer is a pale orange color with a fragrant citrusy and light hop aroma. Its flavor is lightly bitter (from the hops) and acidic (from the Brett), with a dry finish. It has a moderate-to-high level of carbonation, which lends a refreshing quality to the beer.  You can find Orval at most liquor stores with a decent Belgian beer selection (even McGonigles) or at beer bars such as Barley’s, Flying Saucer, and The Foundry.

Our second lesson of the evening was about the upcoming Imperial Pilsner. Rock spoke of his interest in doing this collaborative brew to go “back to basics,” and Pauwels added that “the goal is to use really old techniques because they make really good beer.”  Since the beer needs to be lagered, it will not be available until late January or early February. I’m really looking forward to this beer, as there are not many Imperial Pilsners on the market and the ones I have had were fantastic. The most accessible ones to us are made by Boston Brewing Co (Samuel Adams) and Rogue. They’ll be more floral and less spicy than a Pilsener made with Czech Saaz hops like the collaboration brew, but they should give you a reasonable impression of an Imperial Pilsner.

The final lesson of the evening introduced one of Boulevard’s upcoming releases, Harvest Dance. It’s a wheat wine with some creative flair. Wheat wines are closely related to barleywine, but have both wheat and barley in the grain bill. The wheat gives it just a hint of a soft mouthfeel, similar to a Hefeweizen. Harvest Dance is also hopped solely with Citra hops, a new American variety that possesses fruity characteristics. Finally, it is fermented with Boulevard’s Belgian yeast strain and a bit of Muscat grape juice is added to the beer just before packaging for bottle conditioning. All of these ingredients put together create a beer that is a bright, dark-golden color with a tropical fruit aroma and flavor. The aroma smacks you with banana, while the flavor of the beer presents mango and a lot of pineapple; the finishing flavor is all Muscat. If you can't tell already, it is a somewhat sweet beer and as a result would be great for dessert. I’d pair it with a plain cheesecake or pound cake; the tropical fruit qualities of the beer would match either perfectly.

Barleys’ next beer school will be held on Nov 16th and will focus on the raw materials used to make beer.  Brewers from Boulevard and 75th Street Brewery will be speaking on the topic and fielding questions. Something tells me there will also be samples...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Beer of the Week: Yorkshire Stingo

This week's featured beer is Yorkshire Stingo. Sting-what you say? Good question. Stingo is not a beer style per se but rather a slang word for strong beers produced in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Yorkshire Stingo would have been produced in, you guessed it, Yorkshire. A particular method of fermenting beer was in use in Yorkshire at the time called the Yorkshire Square system. More on that later.

Yorkshire Stingo was so influential as to inspire the name of a famous pub near London which is known for, among other things, charging a cover (redeemable for beverages once inside) to discourage the poor from entering. But I digress, we are interested in beer from Yorkshire, not pubs in London named after beer from Yorkshire, right?

Yorkshire Stingo was virtually extinct during the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to recreate the beer faithfully since the Yorkshire Square system was so important to the production. Enter Samuel Smith Brewery, one of the few remaining breweries employing the Yorkshire Square system (Black Sheep is the only other brewery using the Yorkshire Square system whose beer you are likely to find on this side of the pond).

What is the Yorkshire Square system? I am glad you asked. According to Wikipedia:
A Yorkshire Square vessel is a two-story system consisting of a shallow chamber approximately two meters high, above which is a walled deck. Cooled wort, the liquid extracted from malted barley, is fermented by a special yeast in the lower chamber, while the yeasty head settles on the deck above.
During the first stage of fermentation, the fermenting wort is periodically pumped from the bottom of the chamber over the yeasty head, to keep the yeast mixed in with the wort. Later, the mixing is stopped and the wort in the chamber allowed to settle and cool gently.
Most of the yeast rises onto the deck, and is left behind when the beer is drained from the chamber.
The whole process takes at least six days. However, beer straight from a Yorkshire Square vessel will still have a harsh flavor. Before it can be considered drinkable, the residual yeast must be allowed to ferment any remaining sugar, producing a little extra alcohol and carbon dioxide, which mellows the beer and produces a wonderful balance of taste and aroma. This conditioning begins in tanks at the brewery and continues after the beer is filled into casks, hence the phrase 'Cask Conditioned'.

Recently, Samuel Smith reintroduced the world to Yorkshire Stingo beer. Their interpretation is rich with English yeast character, caramel malt flavors, and a subtle oak flavor. This is an excellent example of a barrel-aged beer that tastes like oak and not bourbon. Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo is 8% alcohol by volume, dark and features just enough hop bitterness to balance the caramel sweetness. The barrels employed are quite old but have only been used to condition beer. It is amazing that they are still able to lend a discernible oak flavor to new beer!

According to the press release:
A traditional strong ale that originated in the north of England, “Stingo” is mentioned in literature before 1700. Samuel Smith’s Stingo melds the signature elegance of the brewery’s ales with a long historical tradition. Brewed from British malts and multiple hop varieties, Stingo is fermented in open-topped stone Yorkshire Squares, then aged over a year in oak barrels that previously held cask-conditioned ale, gaining subtle complexity from the wood. Some of the barrels at Samuel Smith’s are over a century old – if a cask is damaged, the coopers carefully replace broken staves and put the cask back into service.

Samuel Smith’s Stingo shows rich, superb flavors of toffee, raisin, dried fruit, and caramel; waves of flavor ascend and ebb leaving soft oak notes. Hops add a perfect enhancement to dramatic malt and fermentation flavors, but without pushing bitterness past the point of balance. Bottle conditioning – that is, including live yeast in each bottle – produces soft carbonation, a fruity aroma and finish, and allows Stingo to age and develop in the bottle.
You should be able to find Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo at better stocked liquor stores in Kansas City (I bought mine at Royal). It is a limited annual release so be sure to pick one up sooner rather than later. It is a great beer to drink on a cold and wet autumn evening like this one.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Here's a Cheer for Roggenbier

The Roggenbier made on Brew Day #4 is now kegged and carbonated - and delicious! This has turned out to be a fantastic brew. I used the recipe from Brewing Classic Styles by Zainasheff and Palmer, as well as their advice and guidance from their show on Brewing Network. I won't post the recipe (the book is absolutely fantastic and worth the money, and you can get the recipe for free via the webcast), but will tell you that it was about 45% rye malt, 55% barley malt, noble hops, and used Wyeast 3068. That's a LOT of rye! I started out with an Original Gravity of 1.054 and my Final Gravity was 1.016, making this beer right about 5% ABV.

We opted to use our mash tun for this batch to get higher efficiency and thankfully didn't get a stuck mash (though it was dreadfully slow to drain). The pound of rice hulls, I'm sure, helped dramatically. If you're dealing with any amount of huskless grains like wheat, oats, or rye, you really should use these. They were cheap and likely saved us a lot of distress.

As you can see, the roggenbier is naturally hazy ("naturtrüb") per the style. It's a pretty copper-brown color and smells like a spicy weizenbier. Tastes like one too - imagine some pumpernickel bread crossed with the banana & clove esters of a hefeweizen and you pretty much have roggenbier.

This beer is so interesting to drink; the mouthfeel is like no other beer I've ever had. Mouthfeel is soft and a bit feathery with just enough carbonation to keep it light. Hold it in your mouth a little longer, and it suddenly becomes silky, a lot like wheat wine. This is due to the ß-glucan soluble fiber in the rye; those little ß-glucans are also the primary active ingredient in metamucil, and are what gives oatmeal its cholesterol-reducing ability.

We've already had a lot of this beer. Let's just say I'm drinking to my health...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where the Wild Things May Not Be For Long

So, the big buzz in the world of craft brewing right now is the legal entanglement between Hansen's Beverage Company and Rock Art Brewery. Hansen's instructed Rock Art to cease and desist the branding of its "Vermonster" barleywine, stating that it "undoubtedly create a likelihood of confusion and/or dilute the distinctive quality of Hansen's Monster marks. Thus, use of VERMONSTER infringes Hansen's rights, and constitutes unfair competition under state and federal laws." (as stated in the official cease and desist letter.)


Speculation is that Hansens aims to go into the alcoholic beverage business. The owner of Rock Art isn't all too happy and has been amassing support for his cause via social media. He's even placed a video statement on his website.

But to be fair, Hansens has a point in its statement/response to the outrage over their action.
In order to protect Hansen’s valuable Monster Energy® trademarks, Hansen is legally obliged to, and routinely sends, “cease and desist” letters to, and where appropriate, pursues litigation against, entities and persons who use or attempt to register similar trademarks for products that are similar or related to Monster Energy® products. A “cease and desist” letter was sent to Rock Art Brewery on September 4, 2009.

Hansen is a publicly traded company with an obligation to its shareholders to vigorously defend its valuable trademarks and intellectual property rights against dilution, potential infringement or confusion. Opposing the same or similar trademark applications is standard protocol for Hansen Beverage Company, as it is for all other consumer product companies.

In all the outrage and hysteria that's been thrown around the internet the past few days, I think a bit of perspective from Hansen's side is warranted. They have a major point that they have an obligation to protect the financial interests of their shareholders and take action where and when they feel it is appropriate. While I don't believe they have a case regarding infringement, it is reasonable to think that you'd believe me if I told you Hansen was coming out with alcopop energy drinks called "Vermonster". In other words, I don't think that the people who say this lawsuit is ridiculous have an unbiased opinion on the matter.

I wonder if any of the breweries behind other monster-monikered beers (such as Brooklyn's Monster Ale, also a barley wine) have registered for federal trademarks and if the same events transpired. Anyone know?

Inspired by these events, Peter Egelston, the President of Smuttynose Brewing Co, recalled a few of his own trademark/branding experiences on their blog. It's actually a pretty interesting read, and a great reminder of the side of craft brewing that we often forget.

Moylans recently avoided a similar ordeal, facing trademark issues over its Kilt Lifter Scotch Ale, but chose to rename it to "Moylan's Scotch Ale" in most of its distribution area. It's keeping the iconic name in a few states (Oregon, Washington, California) and British Columbia.

Just another sobering reminder that the craft beer business we love so much is, after all, still business.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Beer of the Week: Berliner Weisse

This week's featured beer is Berliner Weisse. I had my first one in 1995, when Christo & Jean-Claude wrapped the Reichstag building in Berlin. My family was living in Germany at the time, and my dad wanted to see the "urban artwork" so we took a trip up to the unified city. I'll never forget the that impressive oddity of a wrapped building, nor will I forget that tart, light Berliner Weisse with a sweet shot (schuss) of raspberry syrup. I also blame Berliner Weisse for my subsequent (but short-lived) belief that Hefeweizen had banana syrup in it.

Berliner Weisse is a style of unfiltered German wheat beer, but what primarily differentiates it from its other weizen cousins is the presence of lactobacillus bacteria. The bacteria will generate lactic acid during the fermentation, providing acidity and tartness to the final product. The grain bill is typically about 50/50 malted wheat and barley, and the starting gravity is pretty low at around 1.030 (+/- .002). This means that there aren't a lot of sugars in the beer to ferment out and the resulting beer is low in alcohol. You might have tried the 1809 Berliner Weisse at The Westside Local, but its alcohol content is nearly double what the style dictates.

Traditionally, the wort for this beer was never boiled. Some of the mash water would be drained off then boiled separately with the hops, to isomerize the acids from the hops. The water would then be added back to the mash, the wort drained off, the yeast pitched, and fermentation initiated. There was enough lactobacillus in the grain to create the sourness needed in the beer, but results did vary. In my own mini-research on this, it seems a lot of brewers these days perform a boil and add lactobacillus in controlled amounts; other options are to add acidulated grain or create a sour mash. Some home brewers add lactic acid to taste after fermentation.

Berliner Weisse is typically served in a goblet with a shot of green woodruff (herbal) or red raspberry syrup - and a straw. This is to temper the acidity of the beer and was an addition purportedly started by Napoleon who found the beer appealing but too acidic. He dubbed the beer the "Champagne of the North" in 1809.

I picked up a small bottle of this at Royal Liquor last weekend for a little over $3. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was made by the same brewery who created last week's beer, a Gose. And yes, as you can see in my picture, I poured it into the wrong style of glass. While it is a German wheat beer, Berliner Weisse should be served in a stemmed goblet, not a weizen glass. Somehow, I suffered through!

This beer smelled a bit like fresh, unbaked bread dough and its initial taste was citrusy and acidic, a little like lemon zest but not as sour. The mouthfeel was soft from the wheat and light-to-medium carbonation, but the acidity in the beer made it light and dry rather than creamy or heavy. The lactic acid is prominent in the beer, but this is a sour beer that is much more drinkable than, say, a Geuze or Flanders Red. There was just a hint of grassiness or fresh wet hay flavor from the lactobacillus, but not enough to warrant one of my favorite beer descriptions of "horse blanket" (that still makes me chuckle. Yes I am easily amused.)

This is a wonderful style for summer that is very easy to drink; with winter coming, consider this advance research for next year. With the low ABV and thirst-quenching appeal, it qualifies perfectly for a "session beer" designation. At its price point, however, this is definitely a beer to be savored. I hope we see more of these fill the shelves in the future. I am optimistic; Southampton just won a gold medal at the GABF for its Berliner Weisse and I hope that inspires other breweries to try their hand with the style.

For more information, a couple of recipes can be found in Brewing Classic Styles and on, and more information on the style can be found in Designing Great Beers and on

Friday, October 16, 2009

What Carbonation Tastes Like

It’s a pretty common sentiment that flat beer doesn’t taste very good – but why is this? I’ve never really thought about the reason, but apparently some people have... On my way home from work yesterday, I caught a story by NPR about a new study on carbonation. Of course I immediately thought about beer (didn’t everyone?).

Turns out the way we experience carbonation has more to do with taste than it does the feeling of the bubbles. When we drink a carbonated beverage, the very same taste buds that detect acidity/sourness also detect carbonation. But the way they do it is interesting. I suspect most people (including myself) tend to think that the appeal of carbonation is the bursting of those little bitty bubbles [cue Don Ho]. It’s actually an enzyme on those taste buds that reacts with CO2 to create acid.
…researchers found that sour-sensing cells have a certain enzyme on their surfaces, according to a report on the research in the journal Science. This enzyme, carbonic anhydrase 4, belongs to a family of enzymes that respond to carbon dioxide.

"This is a particularly interesting carbonic anhydrase. It's actually stuck on the outside surface of cells," says Ryba, who says it appears to cause a reaction with carbon dioxide that generates acidity just outside the sour-sensing cells. "That's why we think carbon dioxide causes a taste response."

Earl Carstens of the University of California, Davis, who has studied the perception of carbonation, says that when he drinks soda, he normally thinks about the tingling and burning sensation that's slightly pleasant at the back of the throat — feelings he says are caused by carbonic acid triggering sensory pathways that register things like pain.

"But this paper says there's also a distinctive taste component that you should be aware of, too," Carstens says. "And it's distinctly different from just regular water."

Carstens says that he and other researchers have long known that the carbonic anhydrase enzyme must somehow be involved in the enjoyment of carbonation, because mountain climbers who take altitude-sickness drugs that block this enzyme have reported that champagne and other bubbly beverages taste like dishwater.

So really, flat beer doesn’t taste that great because it’s missing the acidity we get when drinking carbonated beer. That might also explain why I enjoy dry, carbonated mead so much more than sweet mead. The acidity is refreshing and balances out the beverage. Pretty cool!

* Afterthought - for those of you interested in more information on this, here's a slightly more involved article on Science Daily.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Greg Noonan, 1951 - 2009

A wave of loss swept over the brewing community Monday, as news spread that Greg Noonan passed away Sunday night. He had been battling cancer.

Greg Noonan was a major figure in the birth of the craft beer movement, opening the Vermont Pub & Brewery over 20 years ago in 1988. Just two years prior, he had published Brewing Lager Beer (and a revision in 2003), a major source for craft and home brewers to this day. His explanations of decoction, single infusion, and step mashing have been helpful to scores of brewers trying to understand these brewing techniques.

From then on, Noonan dedicated his time and effort to opening other brewpubs along the east coast, writing other books, and judging at beer competitions. His book on Scotch Ale in the Classic Beer Styles series is considered the definitive resource on the range of Scotch ales, from 60 Schilling light Scottish ale to the classic strong Scotch ale also known as Wee Heavy.  Just last year, his sour mashing techniques were featured in a BYO magazine article. Noonan was clearly a frequently sought-out brewing resource who provided valuable insights to those interested in making better beer.

His contributions to the brewing community were well-recognized on the BJCP website:
The BJCP is deeply saddened to learn the news of the passing of Greg Noonan. Greg was the owner and brewmaster at Vermont Pub and Brewery for more than 20 years, author of "New Brewing Lager Beer", "Scotch Ale" and the "Seven Barrel Brewery Brewer's Handbook", and a BJCP National Judge since 1986. His books remain essential references for beer judges and brewers years after their publication. He taught many people the fundamentals of water chemistry, decoction mashing, and countless other topics.

Aside from his contributions to the body of knowledge of brewing, Greg was an excellent brewer who won many medals at the GABF, WBC, IBF and other prestigious competitions. His Scotch Ale and Smoked Porter remain classic examples. He was honored by both the craft brewing and home brewing communities with the 1997 AHA Governing Committee Recognition Award and the 2005 Russell Schehrer Award for Innovation in Brewing.

Clearly, the brewing community lost a valuable member on Sunday. You can view his obituary - and submit condolences - on the funeral home’s website

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beer of the Week: Gose

I've wanted to do a "beer of the week" feature for a while now and was planning on waiting until 2010. My impatience wins, however, so I'm starting now. I hope to post these every Sunday or Monday, though that may change. My intent is to write about styles, substyles, notable beers, and other style-related topics, though that may change too; we'll see how it goes.

First up? Gose.

A couple of months ago, I was flipping through Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing and ran across a style of German beer I’d never heard of before:  Gose (GO-zuh). In it, Mosher explains that this style of beer is made with salt (yes, salt!) and coriander. It is also slightly sour, similar to a Berliner Weisse, and low to moderate in alcohol at around 4% ABV. The sourness initially came from wild, spontaneous fermentation (similar to the sour Belgian beers), but now is managed much more accurately and reliably with the addition of lactic acid bacteria.

My curiosity piqued. Another sour German beer? (see Berliner Weisse) Slightly salty? Citrusy? Count me in! I looked for it everywhere I went, but never found any until I went to Lukas Liquor in Martin City. I was looking for some German beer and there they were – two little bottles tucked away on the bottom shelf. I grabbed both of them, along with a few other beers, and headed home.

Gose is an old style of beer, originating from Gosen (hence the name) as early as the 900s, and popularized in Leipzig. Thanks to the predominant wheat crops in the area, about 50% of the grain bill is malted wheat. Gose production fell to zero during and after WWII due to bombing of some of the breweries and economic difficulty (see: East Germany). Thanks to brewers in Leipzig, German reunification, and the relaxation of brewing limitations in Germany, though, Gose is experiencing a revival. 

The beer itself is interesting and not as strange-tasting as you might think after reading the ingredients. It pours a hazy pinkish-orange color and maintains its turbid appearance long after pouring. The aroma is one of citrus, largely grapefruit, and the initial taste is citrusy as well. The salt only enhances the subtleties of the beer and isn't noticeable, and the finish of the beer is similar to a wit in acidity and light spicy coriander. The tartness of the beer complements the citrus overtones well and makes it quite a refreshing drink.

If you like Belgian Wit, Geuze, Berliner Weisse, tart lambics, or oranges in your American Wheat – I bet you’d like Gose. I bought the beer you see above, produced by Gasthaus & Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof. You can find it at Lukas Liquor in Martin City for about $3 per 11.3oz bottle. 

Want to brew one? Mosher has a recipe in his book, or you can try your hand at the recipe on homebrewtalk. There's quite a bit of information in that thread to guide the adventurous homebrewer.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Local Breweries to Host Notable Beer Dinners

There is no shortage of beer and food pairings these days, but what caught my eye recently were two dinners at McCoy’s and 75th Street Brewing. Here we have two small, local brewpubs hosting their own beer dinners – and only one local brew between them. Interesting.

McCoy's is hosting a Trappist ale dinner on November 3rd at 6:30pm. They're serving six courses featuring beers from 6 of the 7 Trappist breweries for $50 per person. That’s quite a deal given the items they’re serving (as posted on BeerAdvocate):

  • Chimay Tripel & Hazelnut encrusted Chevre goat cheese truffles with rosemary honey.
  • Orval & Pumpkin Ale soup with sage croutons and nutmeg whipped cream.
  • Rochefort 10 & roast duck salad with sun dried cherries, candied walnuts and Roquefort cheese.
  • Achel Bruin 8 & seared diver scallops over butternut squash with brown butter sauce and prosciutto.
  • Westmalle Dubbel & braised beef short ribs with shiitake mushrooms and parsnip-turnip puree.
  • La Trappe Quadrupel (Koningshoeven) & double layer butternut squash pecan pie with apricot glaze and maple whipped cream.
Why beer from only 6 of 7 breweries? You can't legitimately get that 7th one here in the states - or anywhere outside of the brewery or its adjoining cafe. Westvleteren is the only trappist brewery remaining that still has monk brewers, and they only brew enough beer to sustain the operations and charitable causes of the monastery. They also specifically request that their beer not be re-sold by those who purchase it. Additionally, if you do make the trek out to the monastery, you can only get one case of their beer per month and it must be reserved in advance. 

Now on to 75th Street Brewing. On October 20th, they’re hosting a subdued version of Oktoberfest with a much different tap list than the Munich-based affair. Whoever did their beer selection did a mighty fine job! On the beer list will be Ayinger Jarhrhundert, Tucher Dunkeles Hefeweizen, Brugge Bad Kitty, 75th Street Alt, and Aventinus Eisbock. I wasn’t familiar with the Brugge beer so I looked it up – it’s a Gose! If I could high-five 75th Street, I would.

What’s a Gose? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Better Beer Through Chemicals

Earlier this year, Mr Wort Hog brewed up a Maibock for the first time. Everything went well and, given that he is a brewing perfectionist, fermentation and lagering seemingly went without a hitch. We have a couple of freezers in the basement hooked up to temp controllers to keep fermentation & lagering temperatures stable, but something still went wrong:  it tasted fruity.

Fruitiness in beer is typically from undesired esters created during fermentation, a byproduct of ethanol meeting fatty acids. The potential for ester creation can be increased by underpitching yeast (causing fast yeast growth which generates esters), not giving your yeast enough oxygen, or starting off with a high-gravity wort. Whatever the reason, we definitely had some esters on our hands.

We slowly nursed this keg until deciding it was time to do something about it. I had "dump it" in the back of my mind, but Mr Wort Hog suggested adding apricot or peach fruit extract to mask the esters. I reminded myself how much I like to at least try fixing things before giving up on them, so I picked up a bottle of extract at Bacchus & Barleycorn to give it a shot.

Turns out it was a bigger success than I imagined - this was a good beer and we went through over 3 gallons of it at the last brew day. Moral of the story: unless your beer is completely ruined, consider changing it. Add some fruit or vanilla extract. Soak a few oak chips in it. Pour in a bottle of bourbon. Toss some mulling spices into some vodka, let them soak for a week or so, then add the vodka to the beer. If you're planning on tossing it anyway, there's no harm in trying to save it from the drain.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Make a Beer I've Never Had? Rye Not?!

Brew Day #4 ("Oktobrewfest") was another great success. The weather was quintessentially fall-like and perfect for brewing. Though a breeze can sometimes cause problems with homebrewing (I don't think there's such a thing as an oak leaf addition during the boil), it didn't bring us any trouble this time around.

KC Hop Head tried his hand at brewing a 10-gallon batch for the first time, choosing the ease and simplicity of extract over all-grain. With the bigger size of the batch and the chosen style of an Imperial IPA, though, I think any time saved by using extract was minimized by the time it took to open all the cans. Hop Frog also made a 10-gallon batch, choosing an American IPA he named "Tangerine IPA" for the Summit hops, which impart a tangerine-like flavor and aroma.

Since the theme of brew day was German food & beer, I wanted to make a German style and thought it might be fun to try making a beer I've never had. Roggenbier is an old German ale made with a large percentage of rye. The rye beers we know and love today are made with just a fraction of the rye used in Roggenbier. For example, rye is about 15% of the grain bill used to make Hop Rod Rye and 10% for Founders' Red's Rye. Traditional Roggenbier has rye composing about 50% of the grain used to make the beer - sometimes more.

Unfortunately, as a result of the Reinheitsgebot, which limited Bavarian brewers only to barley for beer production, Roggenbier became all but extinct. Wheat beers (weizens) only survived because rich Bavarian royalty intentionally wrote a loophole into the "beer purity law." They loved their weizenbier so much that they made it legal for one specific brewery to continue making the beer (for a price, of course).

This beer is typically a bit hazy ("turbid") with a prominent malt character and low hop bitterness (around 15 IBUs). Roggenbier is also brewed with a hefeweizen yeast, lending a little clove flavor to partner up with the spiciness from the rye. The beer should have a dry finish and moderate to high carbonation, making it great for the remaining warm days of autumn.

Roggenbier was pretty straightforward to brew. I pulled the recipe from Jamil's Brewing Classic Styles book and listened to his show on Brewing Network about the style. Like wheat, and unlike barley, malted rye is huskless meaning that, without that husk to maintain any rigid structure, it turns into a gummy mess during the mash. We added a pound of rice husks to the grain bill to prevent a stuck mash, and it apparently did the job. Draining the wort was slow-going, but it never got stuck. Mr Wort Hog suggested replacing some of the hops in the recipe; it suggested 1/3 ounce of Saaz hops but he made a good point that Bavarian brewers wouldn't have used Saaz (and besides, the rye should provide enough spiciness without needing to borrow it from the hops). We used an ounce of Hallertau Mittelfruh instead, with a few grams of Magnum to get the bittering units up to where they should be. I made a 1L yeast starter from Wyeast 3068 (Weihenstephan weizen yeast) to get fermentation going strong, and that seemed to work, as fermentation was visibly underway within a few hours.

I'm looking forward to how this turns out; it should be ready to keg in about 8-10 days so I'll get to check it out here in a few weeks. Because it is not hoppy or high in alcohol, this beer should be consumed fresh.

For more information on Roggenbier, check out the German Beer Institute's site or the BJCP style guidelines. And for those of you who couldn't join us on Saturday, I'll leave you with a poem that one of our friends wrote to describe her experience.

Looks like a felony
Smells like breakfast
Sounds like pitch and brix and mash paddles
Feels like sticky ribbons in the wind
Tastes like hard made easy

Now that is homebrewing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Good Things Come in Threes

It's always a bit fun to check out and see a local favorite on the front page. Boulevard's been creating quite the reputation for Kansas City and itself through the Smokestack line, and there's no sign of slowing. While Saison-Brett has a special place in my heart because I just can't get tired of it, I always look forward to what's next in their new releases. They're really cranking them out lately.

As you probably read on Drunk Monkey's blog recently, Harvest Dance is set to come out on Nov 1. The label's great, and I'm excited to see wheat wine gaining in popularity. It has a mouthfeel that can't be described other than soft and velvety. Wheat wine's not a session beer, though - at 9.1% ABV, it'll sneak up on you.

Also to be released on Nov 1: Tank 7 in bottles. If you haven't tried this one yet, you're missing out on a solid saison. The base for Saison-Brett, Tank 7 is a citrusy, spicy, slightly hoppy saison that is a bit less sweet than their current Saison (which is being replaced by Tank 7). I'll be interested to see how the bottled version compares to what we've had on tap.

Finally, the much-beloved BBQ (Bourbon Barrel Quadrupel) is ready to go. It'll join Harvest Dance and Tank 7 out of the gates on Nov 1. If this release is anything like last year's, the bottles will be pretty difficult to find. Once you see it, grab a bottle; it might be the only time you find it on the shelves.