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Archive | October, 2009

Equity for Punks and more Sunday reading

A few things you might have missed last week:

– The held the Iron City Brewing auction Friday and yesterday in Pittsburgh.

– Granted Equity For Punks might be important to the future of BrewDog, has led to considerable discussion about the value of the company, and certainly reminds us that no matter how much fun brewers appears to be having they are involved in serious business.

But Pete Brown points out that there’s investing and there’s something else:

But that’s not the point. I doubt Brew Dog will sell all 10,000 shares, but the people who are buying are buying something more than a 0.0009% stake in the most exciting brewery in the UK. The people buying are people who don’t normally buy shares. They’re buying this share because they want to align themselves with something interesting and iconoclastic, to be part of an adventure. Think of it less as a share, more like a T-shirt or badge saying “I’m one of these cool, interesting people who’s part of this cool, interesting thing.”

BrewDog has priced those shares at £230, which right now equates to $375.

– If you are watching the second NFL game of a doubleheader today (or about any other televised sporting event that ends as afternoon turns into evening east of the Mississippi) you might hear the announcers say to stayed tuned for something upcoming immediately (or maybe local news will be thrown in) “except on the West Coast.” In fact, that’s “except on the West Coast and in the Mountain Time Zone.” But because, according to Google answers, little more than 5% of the voting population lives in the Mountain Time Zone we remain pretty invisible. That’s OK; we don’t want anybody else living here.

Still, it made me smile to get the press release from Odell Brewing about a new beer called Mountain Standard. It’s made with Cascade and Chinook hops grown on Colorado’s Western Slope.

“We’ve experimented with locally grown hops for smaller batches brewed on our pilot system, but haven’t been able to find enough hops to extend the beer beyond our tap room,” Brendan McGivney, head of production, said for the press release. “This year we sourced 400 pounds of hops from the Rising Sun Farms in Paonia, Colorado. We plan to brew one batch every year with each harvest.”

Bottled in 750 ml cork and cage finish bottles, Mountain Standard joins Bourbon Barrel Stout and India Barleywine as part of a new line of single serve offerings. The beer will retail for $14.99 to $15.99 per bottle, and is available in the brewery’s eight state distributor region (90% of which lies in the Mountain Time Zone).

On Nov. 2, the day after daylight savings time officially ends, Odell Brewing will celebrate the return of Mountain Standard Time with an un-corking celebration at the brewery’s tap room in Fort Collins.

“10 worst dining trends of the last decade,” from the Chicago Tribune. Pretty pictures.


Book review: World’s Best Beers

World's Best BeersWorld’s Best Beers: One Thousand Craft Brews from Cask to Glass, which I mentioned earlier this week, is a coffee table book, weighing in at nearly three and a half pounds. Although it includes an introduction to beer up front, thus qualifying as novice friendly, and a beer-and-primer apparently required in all new beer books, most will look to the 176 pages that list (disclaimer: I haven’t counted them) 1,000 beers.

A half dozen things to like about the book:

– Author Ben McFarland writes about Zoigl from the Oberpfläz Wald. Only a paragraph but I’m not sure Zoigl is mentioned in another of the other (a few hundred) beer books I own.

– He includes an essay on hops from Sean Franklin from Rooster’s Brewery in Yorkshire. Speaking of hops, more than two (oversized) pages about hop varieties.

– For descriptions like this for Empire IPA from the Burton Bridge Brewery: “A celebrated brewpub in the town of Burton-on-Trent, the spiritual home of British brewing and the engine room of the IPA boom years. It’s hoppy, and it knows it; clap your hands . . . , especially for the fruity, orange aroma from the late addition of Styrian hops.”

It has lists. Love ’em or hate ’em they make good conversation starters. For instance, four of the five top five beers from Germany are Bavarian but none is a hefeweiss or helles or dunkles.

– Because he saves a little love for Achel 5 Blond, generally overlooked because it’s only 5% abv and sold only in the brewery cafe.

Two beers from Kout na Šumave in the Czech Republic.

I hope you’ve figured out this is no cookie-cutter book. In an email, McFarland wrote he knew up front that some would question his selection of beers. To be honest, I think the Central Time Zone (the U.S. obviously) is under-represented. That’s the nature of these books. They are worth your time when the beers are thoughtfully chosen.

One reason to be disappointed:

Not enough McFarland. Huh? This is a 288-page book. Indeed, but while “800 Craft Brews from Cask to Glass” doesn’t have the same ring to it I’d trade a couple hundred tasting notes for an essay or two. McFarland clearly has more to him than cleverly worded descriptions. That’s what I want more of.


Tasting: Double blind and by the numbers

Pardon that the example of how this could work comes from the wine world — making it my second wine originated post in two days — because it’s very beer relevant.

Also, as Ed Carson pointed out with his comment about the rather dense posturing about the brain and wine that there’s a danger of violating New Beer Rules, Nos. 5 and 8, about taking beer too seriously. Fact is you don’t need to know the alcohol content or bitterness units (let alone the level of isoamyl acetate) in a beer to figure out if you like it, or to discuss it with friends.

Part one explains the premise:

There is a better way to review wine. It combines objective assessment with subjective preference in a compelling way, while providing story, context, and accountability. I’m talking scores out of 100, producer and regional story and commentary, double blind tasting, labs for insight and accountability, contextual pop-ups for technical and wine specific information, and beautiful creative commons photography. Pla-dow!

But you know what? No one will ever use such a system. Too risky. High potential for embarrassment. Too costly. Too time consuming. The list is endless.

Basically, double blind means the person (or people) doing the review would taste a beer without knowing anything about it. Not the brewery. Not what country it might be from. Not the style. Just look at the beer, taste the beer, evaluate the beer.

In Part 2 Pinotblogger provides an example of how it works. He starts with his score, the price of a bottle and a summary. Then he writes about the region where the wine was produced and the winery. Next more about his impression from the blind tasting. This is followed by the costly part that likely isn’t going to happen in wine or beer, and might actually be frivolous. That’s sending it to a lab and having it evaluated.

As you can see he got the grape variety wrong and it turned out the particular bottle at quality control issues. I think that makes it more educational.

What beer numbers would I like to see from a lab? The alcohol content and bitterness units for starters. My friend Derek Walsh, who lives in the Netherlands, provided those as well as original gravity, apparent attenuation, color and pH for many beers featured in Brew Like a Monk and Brewing With Wheat (February, Brewers Publications). He calls it a “strip search” and those numbers can tell you a lot.

Still more numbers related to quality control — like the level of dissolved oxygen or the amount of carbon dioxide — would also be interesting. But none of it is going to happen so I better get back to giving you the promised book reviews.

For further reading I suggest checking out the comments at Pinotblogger.


Book review: Christmas Beer

Christmas BeerDon Russell’s Christmas Beer: The Cheeriest, Tastiest, and Most Unusual Holiday Brews came out last year while we were in Europe. Thus I write from experience when I suggest this is not a book you want to start reading in January, when these beers have disappeared from the shelves.

A few facts: The book is a packed 208 pages, with extra details with his choice of “The World’s 50 Best Christmas Beers.” Of course he’s wrong about some of them, but makes up for it with vitals on 98 more. Then there are recipes, serving tips, places to drink, all the expected extras.

Research was serious work, as Russell explains at the outset. He writes, “So every year I pick a day in early December to skip work and go beer hunting. One year I flew to Norway for its holiday beer, juleøl. In other years, I’ve trooped off to the West Coast. Most years, though, I stay on the East Coast for a beer-hunting expedition that can last twelve hours and take me though five states, plus the District of Columbia.”

Why you’d buy the book:

– The front matter. The book begins with a series of short stories, most two to four pages. In our house we haul out a couple of dozen Christmas books each Thanksgiving. The tales inside are surrounded by illustrations, so can can read a book out loud (more popular when Sierra couldn’t yet read) in only a few minutes. Same with the stories at the front of Christmas Beer. Read a story, have a beer. Repeat tomorrow night.

– The list of beers. I’ll forgo my usual rant against “best” lists. In this part of the book you see a beer on one page, the story of the beer on the facing page. Always a better story than the marketing people include in their press releases. And, of course, the attraction of these special beers is they tell their own story. So if you plan to spend the proper amount of time with the book, a short story and a beer each evening, and you take into account the front matter, then the 50 “best” beers, and sampling all the other beers listed . . . we’re already behind on Christmas of 2009.

– I makes a great gift. It would be on my wish list if I didn’t already have it.

Why you wouldn’t buy the book: Your name is Scrooge.


Tasting, rating and our imperfect brain

“Our brain has been designed to believe itself, wired so that our prejudices feel like facts, our opinions indistinguishable from the actual sensation.”

This link goes to a discussion about wine and numbers and might remind you about previous discussions about the value of blind tastings. Nonetheless if you cross out wine and pencil in beer I think it still makes sense:

“we can’t quantify a wine beer by trying to listen to our tongue. This is because what we experience is not what we sense. Rather, experience is what happens when our senses are interpreted by our subjective brain, which brings to the moment its entire library of personal memories and idiosyncratic desires. As the philosopher Donald Davidson argued, it is ultimately impossible to distinguish between a subjective contribution to knowledge that comes from our selves (what he calls our ‘scheme’) and an objective contribution that comes from the outside world (‘the content’). Instead, in Davidson’s influential epistemology, the ‘organizing system and something waiting to be organized’ are hopelessly interdependent. Without our subjectivity we could never decipher our sensations, and without our sensations we would have nothing to be subjective about. Before you can taste the wine beer you have to judge it.”


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