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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Tapping the Keg

” I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
-John Green

I love craft beer and just about everything  the culture around it entails. But, honestly, it wasn’t always like that. I used to think it was just about the worst tasting thing I could imagine. I grew up in the land of American Lagers and I had never had any exposure to anything else so, naturally, that’s all I thought beer was. I was baffled by how many people considered beer a staple in their lives- and their refrigerators. I would watch people at barbecues and events, sipping their beers and acting as if they actually enjoyed it. I couldn’t figure out the secret- so I didn’t try. I resigned it to the “don’t know, don’t care” category and was fine with it staying that way. When I would explain this to friends that drank beer, they’d all react the same way- with a shrug and a, “It’s just an acquired taste.”

An acquired taste.

I despised that phrase. What did that even mean? That I had to just keep forcing myself to drink something that disgusted me until I convinced my brain and taste buds to become a victim of Stockholm Syndrome? That seemed far from logical. So I’d respond with the same disdainful frown and that’s how the dance went for quite some time.

I know many people who are still doing this same dance. And, I’ll give you: craft beer is not for everyone. But it is for most people. As I found out, it’s not about tricking yourself into something, it’s about figuring out what you authentically like. Thankfully, the world of craft beer is vast enough to provide countless opportunities to explore personal preferences.

For me, my introduction into craft beer was accidental. I stumbled upon hard ciders and found myself savoring the crispness and balanced fruit flavors. I began to even welcome that light carbonated alcohol flavor that had once caused me to snarl my nose up. From there, I’ll admit, it wasn’t too difficult to see the transition into appreciating beer but I was still pretty far from the willingness to try it. I do attribute the rest to surrounding myself with people who understood and had a passion for the craft.

The easiest aspect of the craft beer world to fall in love with is the people. The entire atmosphere is of joyful acceptance. I have met very few people in the craft beer world that have an elitist attitude. As with anything, I promise they exist but you have to look pretty hard in most cases to find them. I could walk into a brewery as someone who didn’t understand/care for beer or as someone who now is passionate about it, and be greeted with the same amount of respect. Most are just so enamored by the craft that all they want to do is share. It’s not about competition or exclusiveness. Quite the opposite, actually.

Hearing craft brew enthusiasts converse about beer really brings to light why it’s considered a “craft.” It’s similar to hearing an artist talk about their masterpiece. There is so much care put into every aspect and so much enthusiasm, it really is infectious. But this is one thing I’m so glad I caught.

I want to share my love for beer with everyone, especially those that find themselves in the shoes I used to be in. The world of  beer can sometimes be so overwhelming that it feels like an ocean that’s about to engulf you. Occasionally, it still feels like that- but, now, it’s in a good way. They say there is “a craft beer for everyone” and I want to help make those love connections. I want to explore and expand every step of the journey to craft beer. I hope to present beers for non-beer drinkers, provide practical knowledge about the craft for those that wish to better understand what they  drink, and review and suggest brews for those that already found -or are in the process of finding- their place in the beer world.

The phrase “acquired taste” doesn’t bother me anymore. I’ve come to understand that it refers more to gaining a knowledge and appreciation, rather than a form of passive peer pressure. I hope I can help change the meaning for you, as well.

Cheers.