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.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

When Tulips and Windmills Just Don't Cut It

Mr Wort Hog and I have taken a few "beercations" over the years, from weekend trips to St Louis to our week-long honeymoon in Northern California. We're part of a large group of beer-lovers who travel specifically for beloved beer destinations. While Belgium and Germany are traditional beercation destinations, the US provides plenty of opportunities for travel. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, Texas, California, Colorado, Washington - there is more to see and do than likely possible in one trip! It's hard to decide to spend thousands of dollars on a beer vacation abroad when it's so much cheaper to spend a week in San Diego drinking beer from Green Flash, Stone, Port Brewing, AleSmith... you get the idea.

At the same time, many Europeans are now taking note of America's beer culture and following suit. Not only are they coming to the US to visit breweries, European breweries and beer bars are adopting American craft beer culture. Mikkeler, a Danish brewery, has made a strong name for itself by creating American-style beers including several fabulous IPAs. Nøgne-Ø, a brewery in Norway, has partnered with American breweries such as Stone and Jolly Pumpkin.

And now, the first American-style beer bar in Europe! BeerTemple in Amsterdam brings the American beer bar experience to the Old World. They carry beer from Flying Dog, Great Divide, Southern Tier, and several other great American breweries. "Beer Culture Promoter" Peter van der Arend took his own beercation to the US a couple of years ago and documented his experiences in a fun read on the beer bar's website. It was entertaining to see how foreigners perceive the American craft beer and beer bar culture, even if it was just one viewpoint.

I'd love to check this place out. Though it seems a little silly to go to a bar on a different continent that copies the culture I live in, I enjoy seeing what gets lost in translation (and what does not) when traveling. And besides, I could get some beer from Three Floyds and Port Brewing.

photo from BeerTemple's photo album