Getting Weird With Beer

“The greatness of art is not to find what is common but what is unique.”
-Isaac Bashevis Singer

One of my favorite things about the craft beer community is the acceptance of the strange. While there are always exceptions, for the most part, the community will accept you with open arms (but full hands- let’s be real, we don’t wanna put the beer down.) Beer is a strange discovery as is and can represent and tie together both traditional history and the evolving uniqueness of the world. When it comes to this craft, brewers certainly brew very specific, classical styles and there are certain rules regarding what can pass for a given type. However, there is also more than enough room for having fun and getting crazy by pushing the limits of what could- or should- be possible. In fact, that’s part of the charm. So, today, I’ve picked two of the craziest sounding beers I have found thus far.

Let’s get weird.

 

The Drink-Along: Bozo Beer| Evil Twin Brewing

Bozo Beer by Evil Twin

Evil Twin is one of those breweries that keeps cranking out new, innovative brews and I am obsessed. So, of course, this one drew me in. The name, for starters, issues a challenge that I couldn’t help but accept. And, at 17.2% ABV, it’s quite a sucker punch. It is a Imperial Stout with “molasses, lactose, chocolate, almond, hazelnut, vanilla bean, cinnamon, oak spiral, chili, marshmallow, muscovado sugar, and coffee” which is SO MUCH. Guys- it’s so much. That being said, it was surprisingly easy to pick out notes of almost all of the individual flavors which is impressive, considering just how much they were able to cram into one drink. Thankfully, for my taste, there was far less of a syrupy molasses flavor than I expected, although there were certainly notes. The chocolate and the chili balanced well, also. In fact, no one ingredient overpowered another.  However, it certainly does not taste nearly as boozy as it is, so do drink with discretion. Or share with as many people as there are ingredients.

So now that we’ve established ourselves as dessert-first drinkers, let’s move on to our entree.

The Drink-Along: Out Of The Lunchbox| The Bruery

Out of the Lunchbox by the Bruery

Just in time for back-to-school, we have liquid peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I am a sucker for this theme in a beer. This was the subject of one of my first homebrews and I can vouch for how tough it is to make a beer that tastes like not only a sandwich, but one that is so iconic. This is not one you can get “close enough.”

The color, first off, is gorgeous. Definitely can discern “jelly” from this. Admittedly, I am not a fan of the initial taste, as it reminds me of a stout which is not the advertised style nor is it a style I feel works with the intended flavor profile. HOWEVER. The after taste is creepily on the nose. The mouthfeel feels exactly like it would after taking a bite out of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, complete with the bread-y flavor and feel. The sweetness of the berry mimics jelly very well and works with the peanut butter. It is incredibly balanced, although I would prefer more peanut butter. That being said, speaking from experience, even getting this much to come through successfully is a win. Overall, the combination of the flavors and mouthfeel in the aftertaste is incredible enough to eclipse the initial taste, making this a slam dunk in my book despite itself.

As we’ve seen (and tasted,) taking chances can lead to surprisingly fun results. Although not all risks come with rewards, even if you end up looking like a “bozo,” the risks are worth taking. Especially in craft beer. So take the chance to sit with the weird kid at lunch, especially if that kid is a beer and tastes like a sandwich.

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

All Funked Up Fruitus The Farmer Beescake- Against The Grain.jpg

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

Fresh Squeezed- Deschutes

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

Sunshine ChugSuckle- Mothers

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

Unfiltered Wheat- Boulevard

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

Southern Pecan- Lazy Magnolia

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.

 

 

 

 

Diving Into The Deep End (Water)

“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.”
– Loren Eiseley

Water is one of the most important and yet most understated resources. It is essential for almost everything on the planet (including the planet itself), and yet, it’s something many people shrug off. If you think about it, one of the major measurements of a civilization’s success is how well it can tame the very thing that makes life possible. Irrigation, for instance, marked the beginning of a new age in society and allowed for the advancement of tribes. No longer was being nomadic the only way of life; populations could stay in one place and not just survive, but thrive. Those that did stay nomadic chartered the world as we know it, connecting people and ideas alike.

One such idea was beer.

Most of beer is water and, without it, our entire history would have been completely rewritten. Although beer tamed us in many ways, we have also learned to tame it. I do believe we are in a new dawning of beer brewing, as we have finally begun to not only understand, but manipulate the water used in the process. So, for now, let’s shift from the globalism of beer to something much more microscopic in nature, if not in significance.

Many people, including some new to brewing, underestimate the impact the water used has on beer created. While you can use any kind of water, that does not mean you should. For example, most would prefer not to drink rainwater once it has touched the ground, and beer agrees. The potential for pollutants is a risk brewers tend not to take, as to keep up the quality and reputation of their beer.

But past the general rule of ‘don’t use dirty water’, what else matters?

Turns out, everything.

While water is considered to be relatively tasteless, quite a few people have opinions on what kind of water has the best flavor- including geographical origins. And this isn’t just in people’s heads. While water naturally has trace amounts of minerals and metals, most places treat their water with additives to either remove harmful or add desired components. Brewers have to do the same thing.

One of the first steps a brewer should take before starting the brewing process is to test the water. This provides data that the brewer uses to determine what needs to be changed about the chemical composition of the water before it turns into beer. The main components that brewers look at are: Bicarbonates, Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Sodium, and Sulfates. These minerals at different levels determine factors such as hardness and alkalinity which, in turn, have a substantial impact on the flavor of the beer, which a brewer may have to balance.

Modern day brewers have at their disposal a variety of water treatment options which allows them to change the water composition to fit the style of beer they wish to produce. Brewers of the past had neither the knowledge nor the technology to do this and, therefore, had to use what was available to them and adjust as they could.  The implications of this meant that certain areas of the world produced specific styles of beer, based on how ingredients interacted with the minerals in the water to produce flavors. While it did limit the brew possibilities for awhile, it did allow for distinct styles to come into their own, creating the classics we know today.

One such style is the Pilsner. It orginated in Pilsen, Bohemia where the water is considered very “soft.”  It has very low levels of all aforementioned minerals.

The Drink-Along: Technical Ecstasy by 2nd Shift Brewing

20180519_170713

This beer is a wonderful example of a Pilsner. Just like the name states, it hits all the marks for this style. At first glance, this beer is clear with a very frothy head (“Head”- the foam that forms on the top of a beer when poured into a glass. Try to contain the giggles.) There is a hops taste that comes from the use of Saaz hops, which are traditional to the geographical area and the beer style. With each mineral being fairly absent, this allows a smooth transition between the malt and hops, highlighting each one without over accentuating them. Overall, it is a nice beer for a summer afternoon- refreshing with a very crisp finish.

On the other end of the water spectrum are Irish Stouts. An Irish Stout could not traditionally be brewed in Pilsen without a considerable amount of doctoring due to the needs of the water profile.

The Drink-Along: Guinness

20180521_215200

Originating in Dublin, Ireland, this beer style uses much harder, more alkaline water. Alkaline water is created by having higher levels of primarily bicarbonates. As a way to even this out, brewers used roasted barley. The resulting beer is much darker, drier, and more bitter than a Pilsner, but balanced even so. Instead of a light flavor, however, this brew offers a deep, roasted complexity that is more suited to a cozy winter evening in.

While beer chemistry and its effects may seem overwhelming, the take away is pretty straight-forward. Even when early brewers were unaware, water was shaping the way we live, down to the little details of our down-time drinks. And while we certainly do not have to be able to examine each microscopic detail of the brew water to enjoy the end product, it is a nod to just how far we’ve come, both as a society and as industry.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Brief History

“History is not a burden on the memory but an illumination of the soul.”
-Lord Acton

Humans and beer have always had a mutually dependent relationship. In fact, beer has existed in some form or another since shortly after the dawn of humanity. Although it is hard to pinpoint exactly when beer came into existence, ancient texts and paintings showing the brewing process and humanity’s necessity for beer have been found dating back to the times of early Mesopotamia.

This archeological finding is actually much more vital to understanding our history than one would think. Beyond just the interesting facts of how beer came to be, it’s also a look into how humans went from surviving to living.

Although it differs depending on who you ask, beer actually may have come about by accident. Since there is no definitive answer provided by those responsible, there is a theory that barley left out in the rain and subjected to the forces of nature fermented and this mixture was consumed- why, we can’t be quite sure. Either way, accidental or experimental, this was the very first form of beer. Hardly as refined as what we have today but, when you’re busy constructing the backbone of all human civilization, you do earn yourself a bit of grace.

This early beer was found to be both filling and rich in needed nutrients; although, of course, people just realized they were staying healthier-nutrition science was a thing of the future. They also were finding themselves more relaxed and jovial after consumption. For these reasons, beer did become an early form of currency. The building of the pyramids was paid for in beer, for example. But beers’ impact did not stop there. Along with bread, the brewing process gave both need and provision for an end to the nomadic lifestyle.  Math, science, even the written language all have beer to thank, at least in part, for their existence.

Entire blogs could be written on just the history of beer. Historians are finding out new things all the time regarding our mutual dependency. There are many wonderfully fascinating books and documentaries that can provide a more in-depth look into this relationship. One such documentary I would recommend is How Beer Saved The World. It won’t take your whole evening, but it will expand your beer knowledge exponentially.

As one could guess, both the brewing process and its product have changed significantly over time. Most of the main ingredients we know today were either not present or very different in early beers. As previously mentioned, beer most likely just started out as grain, water, and wild airborne yeast (which no one was aware of at the time.) Ingredients to balance the flavors didn’t come into play until later. Even hops didn’t start out as the bittering agent- most were made with mosses or a type of herbal mix  known as gruit. And yeast wasn’t even discovered until hundreds of years later, especially the particular strains used in beer.

With this in mind, one might think it would be very hard for a modern day beer drinker to imagine what their ancient counterpart would have experienced. Or would it?

Cue DogFish Head Brewery.

This brewery took a very adventurous risk and decided they wanted to create a beer that mirrored ancient brews. Instead of relying on imagination and others’ research, they teamed up with scientists that were exploring a (at the time) recently discovered tomb, thought to be the resting place of the legendary King Midas. Using a sample from one of the burial chalices, scientists were able to surmise much of the composition of the drink it once held. From there, Midas Touch was born.

This is a beer I highly recommend, for both taste and experience. Being that close to a part of history is actually quite special, especially if its in drinkable form. This concoction tastes like a harmonious blend of beer and wine, perfectly complementing each other.  It has hints of sweetness but also has a bread like way about it that feels hearty and welcome. Sipping this, it really isn’t difficult to picture someone in ancient times enjoying this as they watched the sun sink over the fertile crescent.

Beer is an ever-changing craft and it may feel like it’s moving too fast to catch up. But it’s also important to remember that we are as much a part of history as history is a part of us. It’s never too late to learn where we come from.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

Down to the Essentials

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
-Albert Einstein

Beer is living, drinkable, attainable art. But, unlike some masterpieces, it isn’t meant to be appreciated for its unattainable mystique. In fact, the more you understand about this particular craft, the more enjoyable it becomes. While there is always something new to learn, it’s pretty easy to cover the basics. We’ll save the details for later. But, for now, I’ll give you my version of beer Cliffsnotes.

The four main ingredients in any beer:

  • Water
  • Grain
  • Bittering agent
  • Yeast

Just like in humans, the majority of beer composition and the beer making process is water. While this seems pretty basic, the kind of water used can dramatically change the outcome of the beer. Think, for example, how tap water can vary from city to city. The chemical and mineral make up, additions or subtractions to the water, even place of origin can make all the difference. In fact, if you brew the same exact recipe using two different water samples, the taste is still going to vary.

Not to be outdone by water, grain also makes itself essential to any recipe. Most of the time, before brewing, this grain must go through a process known as “malting,” which causes it to become fermentable whereas it was not before. For this reason, most brewers refer to the grain part of the recipe as the “malt.” There is a wide variety of different malts (which I will explore in depth at a later time) and, depending on what is used, this changes the flavor, as well as several other characteristics. Rarely is a single type of malt used (there are exceptions) and the collection of malts, referred to as the “grain bill,” gives a beer depth of flavor and complexity.

Using only malt, however, would make the beer unbearably sweet and that is where the bittering agent comes in. Usually this is in the form of hops, although some varieties and most early beers used different sources. Hops are the flowering part of the plant Humulus lupulus and, besides sounding like a spell straight out of Harry Potter, they are responsible for balancing out the sweetness of the malt. They also add their own notes of flavor and aroma, which changes depending on kind(s).

The unsung hero of the brew, however, is yeast. This wonderful concoction we know as beer would not be possible without it. Yeast does the hard work of changing the sugars found in the malt (Yay buzz word!) into that wonderful thing we know as drinkable alcohol. While there are countless forms of yeast, only a couple are suitable to apply to the brew process.

These four elements are all widely accepted as being essential to the beer making process. So much so that, in the 1500s when Germany began to limit what could be used in brewing, these were the only four included. (To be historically accurate, it was only three elements originally but when yeast and its function in beer became better understood, the law was revised to add the fourth.) This was known as the German Purity Law(s) and, while it was not primarily put into place for quality but more for economical purposes, it does illustrate the importance of each component.

Thankfully, now however, there are far fewer limitations on what brewers can add to the process which opens up a world of possibilities. While these four elements are still necessary, there are so many options within each category and brewers are coming up with more every day. Beyond that, even, there is almost no restriction to what can be added. I have tasted beers made with donuts, bacon, even tree bark.

So let your creativity and imagination run wild.

Cheers.