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.