Domestic vs Craft Beer

“With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer willpower.”
-Johnny Weissmuller

With all this talk about craft beer, it is important to realize what allows it to be considered “craft.” It certainly isn’t sitting around whittling birdhouses, so what makes it so special?

To best grasp what craft beer is, it may be easier to first understand what it is not. Non-craft beers that are brewed in a particular country and circulate throughout are considered “domestics” while those brewed outside and have to be brought in are called “imports.” The imports category can have many different types under its umbrella so, for now, we will focus on domestics.

Domestic breweries tend to be extremely large scale and considerably older than most craft breweries. This is because most of the domestic beer companies that are still around are those few that survived Prohibition.  They are also, generally speaking, cheaper than the majority of craft beers. Examples of this are Miller, Coors, and Budweiser.

This all sounds great, so why even bother with craft brews?

Like most things, just because it sounds good on paper, doesn’t always make it true in execution. The first and biggest strike against them is that most only produce American Lagers, which is not an issue if that is the style you like all the time. But, for most people, the same thing gets boring after awhile. After Prohibition was repealed, a few brewers felt the same way and decided to try something different. From there, craft beer was born and, today, hundreds of varieties are available.

While craft breweries tend to stay small, there is a certain appeal to that. The breweries are able to stay more customer-centric and keep a decisive level of quality. It also allows for more creative brewing, creating styles and variations of styles that would be much more difficult on such a large scale as most domestic producers. The number of styles adds to the inclusiveness of the craft beer world, leading to the phrase of “there’s a craft beer for everyone.”

At the end of the day, it boils down to preference. And no judgements here if domestics are your jam. Be proud of the beer you like. However, personally, I see it as the difference between Wal-Mart and the local mom and pop shops. I know that one is cheaper and more convenient, but the other is going to be run with passion and personal motivation.

And I personally choose passion.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

Brewery Spotlight: Minglewood

“A couple more shots of whiskey, I’m going down to Minglewood.”
-Grateful Dead

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The sun was shining as I strolled down the sidewalk and up to the doors of Minglewood Brewery. The outside architecture hinted at the past stories of this river town building constructed in 1891. Suffice it to say, this building has seen some sights.  This historically registered establishment was originally home to a Masonic temple, then a well known local music store and, most recently, is the residence of Minglewood Brewery.

As I enter, I catch my favorite Blues Traveler song floating on artisan pizza-scented air that fills my nose and causes my stomach to rumble. Humming along, I take a seat at the bar, a gorgeous wood installment that is reminiscent of dark driftwood. In fact, the entire brewery is a stunning blend of dark wood, brick, and Edison lights.

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A friendly bartender takes my order and, after,  I take a moment to glance around, participating in my favorite sport of people watching. The strangest sight catches my attention. I notice that, unlike anywhere else, hardly anyone is on their phones. Instead of growing another digital appendage, everyone is interacting with each other, content just conversing and laughing in the comfortable atmosphere that is the brewery. There’s a couple clearly on their first date who are breaking the ice over a gigantic Bavarian pretzel and house-made beer cheese. At the next table, a girl snarls her nose up at her friend offering her a beer, emphatically stating she does not like beer. Her friend, rolling her eyes, pushes it her way with a “Just try it.” The girl reciprocates the eye roll and takes the tiniest of sips. And then a big gulp. “You know, that’s really good. Is that what beer is supposed to taste like?” she asks.  A bit further down, there’s a group of businessmen who are making it very clear they’re excited that their boss chose to have their meeting at a place with beer on tap and rugby on television.

A smiling server brings me out of my own thoughts by placing a pizza in front of me. I notice three things immediately. One, that pizza is the best looking pizza I think I’ve ever seen. Two, not only is she smiling, but all the servers and bartenders are too, even while they’re briskly walking around. Which makes me and everyone they interact with smile. Three, did I mention that pizza, though??? It’s a taco on a pizza! Not to mention, made with grain from the beers: Bonus!

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Of course, this glorious meal would not be complete without a beer. While the tap offerings are all in close but delicious competition with each other for my ‘favorite,’ the Satellite IPA wins out today. While IPAs are typically not my go-to, this version of a New England style IPA is perfection, easily my favorite example of the style. Stuart Matthews, owner of Minglewood, agrees. “[New England IPA] is a style that’s growing in popularity despite its non traditional hazy appearance.  But the tropical fruit aroma and low bitterness has made it my go-to beer as of late.  And my number one selling beer as well.” And he isn’t exaggerating. Stuart tells me that the first couple batches of the Satellite sold out in just a few hours and demand has only increased.

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While being one of the first to successfully bring this style to the area, it is far from the only aspect that makes Minglewood stand out. “The most recent thing that makes Minglewood unique is that we’re the first brewpub in the state to deliver beer with our pizza.  We have a phone app and customers can order from our website.  It’s city wide in Cape Girardeau.  Only on weekends as of now.” And if that isn’t enticing enough, they also can beer directly off the tap at request that can be taken home in an insulated brown bag designed specifically to fit.

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And if you don’t think that’s the best name ever, you’re just wrong.

Minglewood certainly has a wide array of offerings. The variety and flavor of their artisan pizza menu is enough of a head turner on its own, but when paired with beer that is made with precision and passion, they just can’t go wrong. Nor do they intend to. Unlike some businesses that get comfortable and lax after their first few years, Minglewood has made it clear they’re just getting started. With new styles of beer being expertly brewed all the time and their evolving relationship with the local community, they strive to prove that everyone has a place in the craft beer world, even if you’ve never experienced craft beer before.

“If you’re not familiar with craft beer and you’re willing to expand your pallet, then there’s a Minglewood beer for you.”

And you better believe I will be back for Minglewing Monday.

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And yes, I did, in fact, finish that entire pizza by myself.

Cheers.

 

 

* Credit where credit is due to Stuart Matthews for providing some of the lovely photos for today’s blog*

It’s A Process…A Brew Process, That Is.

Water. Check.
Grain. Check.
Hops. Check.
Yeast. Check.

So now what?

Well, like any recipe, once you have the ingredients, it’s time to put them all together. But just as you can’t expect to get a cake by throwing eggs and flour in a bowl and just baking them, you can’t expect to get a beer just by wishful thinking. If only…

While there are many, many details that go into a brew process, we will keep it simple.

The first step in the process is called mashing. The grain essentially hangs out in a jacuzzi for about an hour, which helps it break down and release the fermentable sugars. This creates a strange tea-like mixture known as wort. But don’t let the gross name fool you- this stuff is liquid gold. Well, liquid pre-beer but…you know…basically the same thing, right? The wort is then strained through the bottom of the container, or mash tun, (a process called lautering) and water is poured over the top to flush out any more sugars (called sparging).

Once all the sugars have been pulled out of the grain, the liquid is then drained off and boiled. This is when the hops are added. Other ingredients may also be added at this point, at the brewer’s discretion.  This is when all those wonderfully crazy chemical reactions happen, including sterilization (good-bye icky bacteria!) , hops aromas and flavors released, etc. In the end, we’re left with the brew liquid (now much closer to being beer!) and a solid mound of hops and residues. The liquid is separated (because who wants to drink something with chunks in it?) and cooled down.

Once the brew liquid has been cooled, yeast is added. And…we’re done! Right? Right? All our hard work has paid off and we get to drink now? Well, yes and no. While the “brewing” portion is technically over, we still have to let the yeast do its job. During the process of fermentation , the yeast eats all the sugars it can and turns it into alcohol. Whereas the brewing process only takes a portion of a day, fermentation can take anywhere from a week to over a month!

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It’s Aliiiiiiiiive!

From here, the now-beer is carbonated. This is the process by which the beer is infused with Carbon Dioxide, which adds the body and the bubbles. This can be done by a CO2 tank or the traditional/homebrew method which is done during bottling. Depending on who is brewing and its purpose, the brew is then bottled, canned, or kegged.

While it may seem like a daunting process (and definitely can be), it is certainly a labor of love, one that yields delicious results.

Oh! And can’t forget the final step, my favorite: Drinking!

Cheers.

 

Beauty and the Yeast

“I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality”
– Max Beckman

When most people say there’s magic in the air, they’re referring to a scene in a romantic comedy or the first autumn day. When brewers talk about magic in the air, they’re referring to something much different. Yeast.

As unappetizing as it may sound, yeast is the very essence of beer, and the catalyst to making the product we brew and love today. While yeast has always made the brew process possible, it wasn’t discovered until considerably late in the brew game. Yeast is a living organism but is single-celled and practically invisible, which would certainly explain the late find for this pixie dust.

So what’s the secret to this magic act? Well, behind door #1, you’ll find the brew solution, ready for fermentation. And behind door #2, you’ll find the brew yeast…asleep. Until it’s ready for action, yeast stays in a stasis and, much like most people, when yeast wakes up, it’s hungry. When added to the brew solution, yeast starts to snack on all fermentable sugars and, in turn, releases drinkable alcohol and other byproducts. Once it’s eaten its fill, yeast packs up and goes back into hibernation.

While all yeast used in the brewing process is considered “brewers yeast,” there are still different varieties, or strains. My absolute favorite strain is the wild child of the yeast world: Brettanomyces or, as its lovingly referred to, “Brett.” Brett is a wild yeast strain and it certainly behaves that way. It is pretty well the yeast that ate everything. While it probably won’t score itself a horror movie deal any time soon, it is a very important player to keep in mind. Brett eats everything, which means that it will consume all sugars of any kind in a brew solution. This can lead to a higher alcohol content but, more notably, Brett can also contribute a wide variety of flavors.

The Drink Along: The Ghost In Their Eyes | Anchorage Brewing Company

The Ghost in Their Eyes- Anchorage Brewing

First, I would encourage you to seek out any brew from this company because, let’s face it, they all look SO cool. And while you can’t judge a book (or a brew) by its cover, this one certainly is just as cool as its packaging. This is a Brett IPA, however, the hops bitterness is toned down quite a bit.  You definitely get the citrus-y juiciness that you might expect but then, if you let the taste linger, there’s that…funk. There’s honestly no better way to describe it. It’s strange but in a really good way.

Brett proves that he can pretty much hang with any crowd, although his favorite place is back at the farmhouse.

The Drink- Along: All Funked Up: Fruitus The Farmer Beescake | Against The Grain

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This is a brew in the brewery’s Wild Series and boy, does it live up to that. This is a melon and honey saison.  Just by looking at it, it looks like you’re staring straight into a jar of honey. This gorgeous color is just the beginning of a seamless drink. The Brett, in this case, adds the funkiness in a different way. It enhances the melon flavor, giving a different tone than most fruit beers would. In addition, it carries its flavor all the way through instead of a big punch at the end. There are even bits of a floral feel, which adds more complexity to this already full docket of a beer.

The best way I could ever think to describe Brett is the quintessential movie version of a “bad boy teenager.” Not only does he eat your beer out of house and home (although, can’t really complain about the results in this case,) but he always leaves a funk behind him wherever he goes. He goes wherever he wants, does whatever he wants, and no one can tell him what to do. Everyone wants to be around him, but no one quite understands him.

That being said, just because he’s the stand out doesn’t mean that the other strains are any less important. They’re just overlooked because they don’t demand attention. They’re the stage crew while you’re too busy watching the actors- They’ve made everything happen behind the scenes so that the production goes smoothly. It’s a thankless job, but someone has to do it. So, here’s to you, yeast.

Cheers.

 

 

The Balancing Act (Hops)

“Life is all about balance and following what the universe provides for you.”
-Gnash

For all the sweetness that malt provides for a beer, there must be a balance, otherwise it would be like drinking liquid candy. And while this may not be unappealing to many in theory, in execution it would pretty rough. Thankfully, hops steps in to even things out. You can think of hops and malt as Yin and Yang, or like a Sour Patch Kid. They are complete opposites but it just wouldn’t feel right if one were missing.

Hops are naturally occuring and are plants or, more specifically, flowers (Humulus lupulus.) The acids and oils contained within these flowers are what give bitterness to a beer. They can also add quite a bit of flavor, aroma, and stability. Hops also have the added bonus of being a preservative, which was especially helpful before the dawn of refrigeration.

Hops are a curiously fun part of the brewing process. Like with most ingredients, there are a multitude of hop varieties to chose from. Mixing and matching different hops can lead to some pretty interesting tastes, as can where and when you add the hops to the beer. Some hops additions are primarily to contribute flavor and/or aroma, while others are for going full-on bitter.

Hops is generally suspect #1 when it comes to people stating they don’t like beer.  Most people do not have palates at the ready like Spartan soldiers, and tend to find the taste off-putting at first, especially in hop-heavy beers. It does take some time and it has to be more of a Trojan Hops situation until either you conquer the hops or the hops conquer you. Eventually, once you do develop a palate, there can be something quite refreshing and magical (much like its scientific name sounds) about a hoppy beer. There are even people that fall in love with what hops can do in a beer and subscribe to the philosophy that the more, the merrier- these people are known as “Hop Heads.”

The Drink-Along: Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA

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While hops do make an appearance in almost every beer, an IPA is where the hops really take center stage and it becomes evident how large their role really is. An IPA makes its presence known. A very distinct smell of hops is the first thing that will hit your senses. There are several different ways that hops can present themselves and, in this case, it is very fresh and citrus-y. This comes from the types of hops used which, in this case, are Citra and Mosaic. Not only do they make the beer stand out, they have really fun names too. The lovely thing about this IPA is that you know exactly what you’re getting from the name. The citrus notes in both aroma and flavor permeate every sip from start to finish.

However, if this is your first IPA rodeo, it definitely might be too much. So, let’s take a different approach.

The Drink-Along: Mother’s Sunshine Chugsuckle

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While this is technically still an IPA, it is a New England style IPA. This particular style has been creating quite a stir in the beer world, quickly evolving into the new up and comer that no one expected. So why all the fuss? Well, for a couple different reasons. First, just by looking at it, it becomes quite apparent that this beer is a little different. It is quite hazy, for one. But, beyond that, most of them look like your typical morning glass of orange juice. And, admittedly, the taste isn’t far off either. The enchanting thing about this particular style is that it bridges the gap between hops lovers and those that would just…rather not. This style allows for all of the flavor and aroma of hops but leaves out quite a bit of that bitterness, all while contributing a surprising juiciness. My favorite brewer likes to jokingly describe this style as “a beer and a mimosa had a baby.” And while that sounds like the wind-up to a really cringy punch-line, this beer is no joke.

So whether you’re a Hop Head or a Hops Shoulders, Knees, and Nope, it’s important to realize their impact on America’s second favorite past-time. And, who knows? With time, maybe everyone will jump on this hops craze-y train.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Sweet It Is… (Malt)

“We did not domesticate wheat; wheat domesticated us.”
-Yuval Noah Harari

If water is the life-blood of a brew, grain is the backbone. It provides the necessary raw materials for yeast to turn water into beer. Unlike some of the other essential elements to the brew process, most of the affects of malt are surprisingly easy to detect, even aside from the sweetness they produce. The types of grain used provide color, flavor, even alcohol content (just to name a few.) The determining factor comes down to the grain bill, or the variations and quantities of malt used.

“Malt” (or “malting”) is technically a process, not a grain. It is the way grain becomes suitable for fermentation, through an arduous system of steeping, germinating, and then drying. “Malt”, therefore, refers to grain post-process.

It is also important to note that many types of grain may be used and certainly have a big impact on the outcome. Wheat, for instance, is going to produce a much different type of flavor than a beer brewed with Rye. The most common grain used, however, is Barley due to both availability and functionality.

When creating a grain bill for a recipe, you start with Base Malts. These are pretty well exactly how they sound- a mixture of (usually) different varieties of malt that offer food for the yeast. That is their main priority and they do it well. Sometimes, they offer slight hints of flavors such as honey or bread but, otherwise, tend to keep to their assigned task. The more base malts used, the more “food” for the yeast, and the higher the alcohol content.

Once these have been determined, other varieties of malt are added. These tend to lend more to flavor and aroma than base malts. These varieties can be categorized into Pale/Light Malts, Caramel, and Roasted/Dark Malts. The categories are named for their levels of  “malted” product. The Pale is only lightly roasted while the Dark is deeply roasted and the sugars in Caramel Malts have been caramelized. These create a spectrum of colors and flavors ranging from very light to very dark and very sweet to very toasted, respectively.

Other materials, such a corn, oats, or rice, may be used as well. These are referred to as “adjuncts” and are used primarily to adjust body and head of a beer.

The Drink-Along: Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat

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As the name suggests, this is a wheat beer. This typically means that this style was brewed with primarily wheat grain. Using wheat instead of barley does impact the finished product. Wheat tends to have higher protein yields which, in turn, makes a longer-lasting, foamier head as well as impacts its mouthfeel (the way the body of the beer feels when you take a drink.) Using wheat also tends to give the beer a slight haze, which adds to the stability of the beer. Many brewers filter this out due to consumer appeal, although some are starting to leave it natural. Usually, a hazy beer is completely suitable to drink and, in this case, will add to the experience and understanding of the beer. This style is malty all the way through, from the sweet aroma to the bread-like flavor.

And if we change the grain bill up just a bit…

The Drink Along: Lazy Magnolia’s Southern Pecan

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Southern Pecan is a Brown Ale, which is one of the original styles that brought me to the love of craft beer. In general, a Brown Ale has a much deeper flavor, especially when compared to a Wheat. The grain bill can include a multitude of different malts and has a lot of wiggle room. In general, though, some Amber malts are used, which gives a similar color to its name and some mild roastiness to the flavor. Chocolate malt is also used in varying quantities and, yes, it does provide a chocolate-like taste, although it won’t pass for liquid Godiva without some help. Other dark and roasted malts are added which, as you can imagine, give a roasted or toasted flavor and aroma. Some malts added may even give a Brown Ale a slight nuttiness- especially in this case, where whole pecans are added in and used just like grain.

As I’ve mentioned so many times before, the myriad of possibilities with beer is just about endless. Malt is one of the many examples of how a brewer can quickly turn into a mad scientist. It is quite enjoyable to see how changing just one element of the big picture can alter the end product so drastically- and even more enjoyable to taste it!

So here’s to the one bill no one minds paying.

Cheers.