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Archive | December, 2010

A ‘regular’ beer: (512) Pecan Porter

(512) Pecan Porter in Austin, Texas

This not the official announcement for Session #49, because that will have to include broad definition of “regular” beer. Or not. But when The Session begins its fifth season in March each of the first three original hosts (that would be me, then Alan McLeod and Jay Brooks) will return to action in successive months. I can tell you right now that March 4 I’ll expect contributors to blog about a single “regular” beer.

For now when writing about “regular” beer: a) I’ll settle for Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” standard and b) I’m going to quit putting quotation marks around regular.

Brewery founder Kevin Brand includes pecans when brewing (512) Pecan Porter (d’oh). So maybe you’d rather put the beer in the innovative category — like others you need a Cuisinart to make. Not me. I’d drink this beer, available only in 15.5-gallon kegs, regularly if I lived somewhere I could buy it. Thus, a regular beer.

Pecan Porter was the first seasonal at (512), released in the fall of 2008 not all that long after the brewery opened. Brand knew he wanted to brew a dark, bold beer. Pecans made their way into the recipe because he saw construction workers hanging out under and eating pecans from a tree in the industrial park where (512) is located. Central Texas, of course, is thick with pecans. That’s why a new brewpub in Johnson City, west of Austin, is calling itself Pecan Street Brewing.

At first Brand and Nate Seale, who now does most of the brewing, roasted the pecans in their own ovens. Today Austinuts provides the roasted pecans, which Brand and Seale grind up in a Cuisinart (“My wife keeps asking when she’ll get it back,” Brand said) before tossing the mixture into the mash. Organic two-row, crystal, chocolate and black malts make up the rest of the grist and the wort is hopped with a single addition of Glacier.

The pecans add nutty, toasty flavors to the porter, with the black malt and restrained hops (30 bitterness units) nicely balancing crystal malt sweetness.

“It (pecan) is a deceiving flavor. People associate it with sweet, because usually it’s in something like pralines or pie, but it’s not,” Brand said. Pecan Porter was an immediate hit, both because of its flavors and because it has an extra bit of Texas in it. “Most of the people who support us are in love with Austin and in love with Texas,” he said.

So (512) made the porter — you guessed it — a regular beer.

Decoction and other stray beer thoughts

Fine post at DesJardin Brewing centered on Jason Oliver, Devil Backbone Brewing and the excellent lagers Oliver brews there. Oliver gets a chance speak at length about why decoction (during which some of the mash is removed, boiled and returned to the original mash, often two or three times) matters. Good stuff, but I do wish he hadn’t said this:

What you can’t substitute is the romance of decoction! Even if you do not notice any difference in a beers taste, the fact you did one is not made any less valid. Craft brewing is a craft, and using a traditional method to brew a traditional beer is something to be celebrated not denigrated. My advice is if you can decoct it then do it on special brews, it makes it extra special, extra traditional, and extra authentic.

He and I talked a while back about how decoction adds flavor and texture to some beers. If you take the time to read “Decocting with Jason Oliver” you’ll notice not everybody agrees.

A few years ago Martin Krottenthaler, a professor at the Weihenstephan brewing university north of Munich, talked about research comparing decoction mashing and less-time consuming infusion mashing. He flipped through PowerPoint slides, explaining why lesser malts once made decoction necessary. “Boiling is boiling,” he said, showing benchmarks that the chemists recorded were different throughout the two processes but the resulting worts produced almost identical profiles.

Then he introduced the human element. A tasting panel basically confirmed the results, because few of its members could tell the difference — but Krottenthaler was one of those who could pick out the beers produced using decoction. “For me it was significant,” he said.

Krottenthaler’s experience is what decoctionist (yes, I just made that word up) should be talking about. I agree with Oliver that brewers make a statement about the artisanal aspect of their craft when they choose to use decoction. But it’s an empty gesture if the beer they create doesn’t actually taste better. It feels like we’ve stepped into the dreaded realm of marketing.

The reason to value traditional brewing methods is not simply that they are traditional but that they result in beers that tastes better. Try the ones from Devils Backbone and you’ll understand.

  • Thanks to @olllllo for this link to “Foodies gone wild: A plea for calm among foodies from a part-time food writer who’s part of the problem.”. Adding context to the discussion about “regular” beer.
  • I haven’t not looked at Beer Magazine since it first came out, but George de Piro (brewmaster at C.H. Evans Brewing Company’s Albany Pump Station and an occasional bloggers) does not seem to be giving it a thumbs up:

    If that’s not enough for you, here’s a gem from page 27, where the author eloquently states the purpose of hops is to “…provide balance to the beer just as a girl’s left boob does for her right. One without the other is a freakish carny.”

    And that’s the stuff you can print in a family blog.

  • TIME profiles Sam Calagione, and provides a look at “craft brewing” from the outside in. Among other statements: “Such lack of brand loyalty may actually force smaller brewers to constantly release new concoctions, lest their fickle audience lose interest.”

    Is the writer talking to you?

  • A few kind words for ‘regular’ beer, OK?

    Item 1: A rather high percentage of the beers in Paste magazine online’s “25 Best New American Beers of 2010” might be called wild, weird or extreme (sometimes all three).

    Item 2: During a wide-ranging online chat with Inc. Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione said, “The world doesn’t need another world-class Kölsch or a world-class pale ale. The world needs more innovative beer.”*

    Nothing against the beers on the Paste list. Some good stuff there. And Calagione’s advice for beer entrepreneurs should be considered in context. He had been asked for the five things most vital to starting a brewery. After talking about passion, work ethic and the importance of being a “people person” he turned to the importance of technical skills. “You can’t fake it” like when he started, he said modestly. “You won’t last unless you are making world-class beer out of the gate.”

    That’s an overstatement, of course, meant to make a point. Then he said, “Make sure you recipes are unique,” followed by “the world doesn’t need . . . (quoted above)” and, being redundant in the manner of a good teacher, “Make sure you are differentiated in the marketplace.”

    A solid prescription for success, and a good way to end up on the Paste list. However I think the world still needs more very good (as mentioned here several times, world class is a moving target) beers, innovative or otherwise.

    I hesitate to use the word “Kölsch” because that’s a protected appellation. However, delicate pale beers are a fine example of the importance of being local and fresh. The world needs more of them. Innovation is good, even if the word has been overworked of late when discussing beer, but over the years brewers have created a rather pleasant range of styles to choose from. Not every new brewer needs to reinvent beer.

    And not every one wants to. As a mentioned yesterday, La Cumbre Brewing recently opened in Albuquerque. Founder-brewer Jeff Erway expects Elevated IPA to be the flagship and so far it’s easily the biggest seller. It’s full of alcohol (7.5% abv) and hops (calculated at 100 IBU, though it likely wouldn’t clock that in a lab), but bitter and aromatic. Outrageous a decade ago; almost mainstream today.

    “I’m not one for throwing oddball ingredients in beer. I’m pretty much a traditionalist,” Erway said. “I brew styles and I try to brew them the best I can. I guess it’s an old route.”

    There are plenty of routes. Innovative beers are one result, often good. “Regular” beers are another. There can’t be too many good ones.

    La Cumbre Brewing, Albuquerque

    Because sometimes you just want a beer that pairs well with a game of dominoes (photo taken Saturday at La Cumbre).


    * Thanks to Adam for pointing to the Sam Calagione chat and culling out enough details to make me go watch the whole thing.

    Call it the wheel of beer

    La Cumbre Brewing, Albuquerque

    This is what you see when you walk through the front door of the La Cumbre Brewing Company in Albuquerque. The brewery’s grand opening party was Friday, although it began selling beer six days before.

    Just a cool photo to look at, so I am passing it along. Not really related to anything in the mission statement. But a bit more about the brewery when I finish what should be the next post, “Whatever happened to ‘regular’ beer?” “A few kind words for ‘regular’ beer, OK?”

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