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Archive | December, 2011

I lied – one more post (involving Americans and Belgian yeast)

Dave Logsdon of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales

This afternoon Jeremy Danner (@Jeremy_Danner) of Boulevard Brewing “mentioned” (via Twitter) a story a wrote a little while ago for that was published today.

I’d kind of forgotten about it, and that I planned to post some outtakes here. So before I resume deciding how many words to allocate to hops from Caucasus one more post for 2011 (despite my previous claim).

a) That’s Dave Logsdon at the top, formerly the yeast guru at Wyeast and now a partner at Losgdon Farmhouse Ales in Oregon. Just wanted you to see a picture of a guy lovin’ what he’s doing.

Phil Wymore of Perennial Artisan Ales

b) This is Phil Wymore, founder of Perennial Artisan Ales in St. Louis. He really helped put the story in focus. It’s a challenge to describe beers inspired by Belgian brewers but made by Americans (with the help of yeast that previously went to work in Belgium). At least when you’re addressing style-obsessed Americans.

Beyond what he said, a little background and a little more detail.

At the time I wrote the story, Perennial had recently released Strawberry Rhubarb Tart and Peace Offering was in the fermenter.

Strawberry Rhubarb was inspired by strawberry rhubarb pie. Strawberries and rhubarb are available locally in the summer, so if the beer appears again that’s when it will. A witbier yeast turned it from wort into beer.

Peace Offering was a spiced squash ale. The base beer is an American Brown (6.3% ABV) with about 200 pounds of maple-roasted cushaw squash, which was pureed and added to the beer during primary fermentation. It was spiced with cinnamon and clove prior to packaging. An American ale yeast fermented that beer.

And Wymore had this to add about what to call these beers.

“The other element of brewing ‘our own versions of Belgian-inspired beers,’ is that we do not want to be held responsible for mimicking all the techniques (e.g. turbid mashing, aged hops, cool ships, open fermentation, etc.) depending on which style we are making. We are not trying to clone our favorite Belgian beers, nor do we have the resources to make them all true to style. Rather, we are choosing our favorite styles and doing our best to create great base beers — to our liking — and layering them with other ingredients to create some complexity — all the while being mindful of striking a thoughtful balance amongst the flavors in the beer.”

c) More from Matt Potts of DESTIHL Restaurant and Brew Works, the Bloomington-Normal, Illinois, brewery whose sour beers had lines clogging the aisles of GABF. He provided geeky process details:

“. . . essentially all of our sours go through a standard primary fermentation with ale yeast, but then we do a spontaneous/wild secondary fermentation and aging in barrels of various types (whether spent bourbon barrels, wine barrels, etc., anything except for the poor unfortunate barrels cut in half and for sale at Menard’s). We use the barrels as our cool ships by leaving them open for some time to expose them to our apparently wonderful downstate Illinois wild farm air. Each barrel is thus truly unique as we do not blend or inoculate the barrels with any lab cultures, for doing so takes away from the spontaneous philosophy of our St. Dekkera Reserve Sour Ale series. There is something about blending that, to me, destroys the fun, uniqueness and genuineness of spontaneous fermentation/aging. If we were to blend, then we just as well inoculate with lab cultures too.

“One question we have for ourselves going forward is whether the beer connoisseur will prefer the uniqueness of spontaneous fermentation in each barrel and each bottle as we grow or if they will prefer to know exactly what to expect (i.e., expect the same) from each bottle of St. Dekkera . . . thus requiring blending and inoculation. Perhaps some day we will have to do that with some of the mainstay sours, like Sour Strawberry, Sour Hawaii Five-Ale or Flanders, but I hope not. Even without blending, our wild air here in Normal, and our process produces sours that have the same underlying very refreshing/thirst quenching, ‘brighter’ sourness/tartness on the palate and balanced natural acidity.

“Each barrel is aged for at least one year and up to three-and-a-half years in the case of our oldest Framboise and Lambic barrels. The average age of the beers at GABF was two to two-and-a-half years old, except for the Framboise . . . a true tart bomb.”

Although Potts referred to “each bottle of St. Dekkera” DESTIHL does not package its beers. That’s in the planning state, so perhaps next year.

Hoppy Holidays – See you in 2012

Hoppy Holidays

This arrived in the mail Saturday, a pleasant reminder this is the season for happy surprises.

But also that I have a book to finish.

So I’m swearing off Appellation Beer until some time in January. I might post a few comments and photos on Twitter, because there are fun events (like this and this) on the horizon. But I won’t be publishing my annual best of the year lists. You’re on your own.

Book review: Oxford Companion to Beer

Oxford Companion to BeerThe Saint Louis Brewery Tap Room, the brewpub where Schlafly beers were first brewed, at this moment serves a beer called Optic Golden Ale. It was made with floor malted Optic barley grown in Scotland and Aramis and Strisselspalt hops from the Alsace region of France.

Will The Oxford Companion to Beer provide further detail?1

Indeed, the book delivers. You can look up:

– Floor malting.
– French hops.
– Optic (barley).
– Strisselspalt (hop).

Additionally, the index indicates the entry about Kronenbourg Brewery has information about Strisselspalt.

One question. Four (or five) answers. The Companion’s breadth is apparent. Upon further reading, however, a question arises. On page 377, the French hops entry states, “Strisselspalt is the region’s main cultivar, but its origins are rather obscure.” On page 522, the Kronenbourg entry states, “The flagship brand is Kronenbourg 1664 . . . brewed with Alsace’s native Strisselspalt hops.” And on page 772, the Strisselspalt entry states, “Its profile resembles Hersbrucker Spät [from Bavaria], also a landrace, from which Strisselspalt is thought to be derived.”

To recap: a) it’s native to the Alsace, or b) it’s the child of a Bavarian hop or c) nobody knows. Which is it?

Within its own pages The Companion includes contradictions that undermine the notion it is as authoritative as it is comprehensive. A reader doesn’t need to know much about beer or have visited the OCBeerCommentary to come to that conclusion. This is disappointing because, at least within the niche inside of a niche I sometimes find myself, it has changed the conversation.

The Companion does an excellent job of telling the story of beer today. It can provoke fireside-beer-sipping contemplation. It provides ideas to take to the pub for further debate. To repeat myself, the breadth is impressive. So is the academic rigor. At least most of the time. I think. Well, let me look that one up.

My apologies, but one quick personal story that addresses my personal bias. When I was 17 years old and working my first summer fulltime in the sports department at the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette I filled out my work week by doing “rewrites.” That is typing handwritten missives from correspondents in outlying small towns. Mostly news about upcoming church picnics, who was entering what in the county fair and upcoming high school reunions.

Bill Schmelzle was the city editor and he scared me a bit. Maybe it was the cane, or that I sensed he didn’t like mistakes. One Sunday afternoon not long after I started we were alone in the newsroom. It was hot, the windows were open and he wasn’t wearing a shirt. This made him even more intimidating.

He held up a sheet of newsprint. He asked if I used the slug “hiero” on the rewrites I typed. What was I going to do, say I didn’t? I gulped and said yes. “Did you check the names?” he asked. I went to look for the handwritten copy. No, he said, against the phone books in the office “library.” The rest of the summer you can be sure I was going say yes if I was asked that question again.

A few years later I became city editor. This was a long time ago, when stories were cast in lead on linotype machines, proofs were drawn and people who worked in typesetting read the proofs. Most of them were women who could have been my grandmother, who lived in the surrounding small towns and otherwise might have been the correspondents whose work I typed up. One time one of them came out to the city desk. She explained to me that she was tired of correcting a particular name that kept popping into the news. Turns out we were checking it against the phone book. Problem is the phone book was wrong. She knew this because he was her neighbor.

Mistakes happen, and when you are writing a book they happen in ways that you can’t imagine. Something might have been correct the first 54 times you looked at it, a well meaning editor “corrected” it and you just didn’t read it carefully the 55th time. But in a book of this weight shouldn’t somebody have noticed? Not just little stuff, but big, and big picture.

The conversation changes.

It doesn’t change for those unaware of the book’s shortcomings. That’s not altogether bad, because at its best this is a damn fine book. Just not one that should be appearing in the footnotes of somebody’s doctoral thesis.


One more aside, about the OCBeerCommentary. In order for it to have “value” you really need to own the book. And, in fact, it does have additional value beyond correcting errors. Alan McLeod noted at the outset he hoped contributors would add detail that goes beyond the book, and they have. It’s also interesting that there was chatter early about the rate of pay for entries. And now those just interested in seeing beer history “done right” are putting in considerable effort for no pay.2

1 In case you were wondering, this is not a set up. When I drank the beer I thought, “I wonder was The Companion might tell be about this.” I didn’t look for examples until I found one that suit my purposes. Although I’m not above that.

2 It’s also been suggested it would be best to wait for the next edition (three years or more). In fact, Oxford could clean up a ton of inconsistencies and small fact errors by making the sort of changes that are easily done from from one printing to the next. Hope they send Alan a thank you card.

Session #58 wrapped up, Session #59 announced: Beyond beer

The SessionPhil has nicely wrapped up The Session #58: A Christmas Carol at at Beersay and so it is on to #59.

Host Mario Rubio offers a topic that won’t quite fit in a headline: “I Almost Always Drink Beer, But When I Don’t . . .”

So as we are all incredibly interesting people, and almost always drink beer, let’s talk about what we drink when not drinking beer. Maybe your passion for coffee rivals that of craft beer, or it could be another alcoholic beverage such as scotch. My daughter being a root beer fan would appreciate her dad reviewing a few fizzy sodas. Maybe you have a drink that takes the edge off the beer, be it hair of the dog or a palate cleanser during the evening.

Beer cocktails, wines, ciders, meads, you name it as long as it’s not beer. Try to tie it in with craft beer in some way for extra credit. Be creative and I’ll see you guys in the new year.

Got milk?

Things I thought I’d never see

Lefthand Beer TruckOr maybe it is Things I never thought I’d see . . .

Anyway, more than 14 years ago our daughter, Sierra, not yet a year old, matched her hand up against a sticker in the brewery at Left Hand Brewing in Longmont, Colorado. For years I told a perhaps-made-up-story about how she learned to tell her left from right by checking Left Hand bottle caps.

So this morning after I dropped her at high school I’m heading home and not far up the road I see a beer truck with a giant Left Hand logo on the back. Not something I ever thought I’d see driving along a street in St. Louis (Clayton in reality, but this way you don’t have to get out a map).

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