Archive | August, 2012

A new (beer) world order?

Beer melting potStarting from the bottom. The table is covered with labels from BrewDog Punk IPA bottles. There was a BrewDog beer on tap.

The coaster is from Carlsberg. Big brewery.

The glass is from Mahou, one of Spain’s largest breweries. I tried one beer from Mahou, because you should do that sort of thing in Spain. Very sweet, no hops that you would notice.

The beer is Fort American Pale Ale from Fort Cerveza Artesanal, one of the “next generation” breweries in Barcelona.

We stumbled upon Cat Bar in the Old Town area our last day in Barcelona. We were looking for a Christmas tree ornament, not beer. Turns out this place has a pretty good following in the vegan community (“Vegan artisan beer bar and restaurant featuring 30+ Catalan craft beers”) as well as beer folk.

Beer melting pot

The owner, Ron (“Just Ron”), happened to be talking to the woman pouring beer about scheduling for the follow week. Very quickly he told me:

- Cat Bar opened in January of 2011 and business has improved at a constant rate.

- That the distributor who handled BrewDog beers had gone bankrupt, which was pretty disruptive.

- That breweries like Fort and Llúpols i Llevats (Glops beer) are a second wave. The first wave isn’t 20 years old, but he said many drinkers find the beers, brewed mostly to mimic classic styles, somewhat pedestrian. Not every beer from the newcomers is all that good, he said, but they certainly are interesting.

I would have liked more bitterness from the Fort APA. A brochure on the bar said it has 20 bitterness units, although pretty obvious late hopping gives it a solid hop presence (Centennial – hmmm, good). OK, and little less caramel malt sweetness.

The day before in a liquor store a local had warned us away from buying Fort, because he said it wasn’t nearly as good in the bottle as on draft. So there’s work to be done. Saw beer from several American small breweries there as well. Including Great Divide (in this case not so) Fresh Hop Ale. Sitting nice and high, where the light could pound every day. Whoever ends up buying that vintage bottle isn’t going to taste the same beer consumers did something like 10 months ago in Colorado.

But that’s another story. Cat Bar, great vibe.

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Secret hops (because those are the best kind)

Great picture of hops being picked in the wild, but it probably wouldn’t right to copy it over here. Give it a click.

You gotta love a story datelined “Somewhere in Summit County” because the Utah location is a secret. Chris Haas of Desert Edge Brewery knows where the wild hops grow. He allows a Salt Lake City Tribune writer and photographer to come along only “as long as the exact harvesting location wasn’t revealed.”

More hops stuff (perhaps I should start posting these at For the Love of Hops:

- Wadworth & Co.’s Malt & Hops, the first (at least as much as anybody can tell) “green hop” beer, turns 20. Michael Jackson wrote about it in 1993. Sierra Nevada brewmaster Steve Dresler credits hop merchant Gerard Lemmens, who since retired, with telling him about the beer. It inspired Dresler to brew Sierra Nevada’s first fresh hop beer (now called Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale) in 1996. Today I received a press release that said 100 Oregon breweries will make a fresh hop beer (some of them will brew more than one).

- Hop harvest Day 3. At Loftus Ranch in Yakima Valley, that is. “First N. Brewer bales coming off and first Simcoe hitting the cooling room.” Because who can’t use another hop picture? (I swear, pictures of homegrown hops appear in my Facebook timeline every 14 minutes. Not that I’m complaining.)

- Added at 4:45 p.m. (Central time). Green hops are go! Because who can’t use another hop picture? In this case pictures (plural) of wet hops, about to go into the kettle. From Clive Edmed’s hop garden, in fact.

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Monday musing: Brewers as authors?

If you have it in you to consider another 2,000-plus words on the subject, “craft brewers as authors” at Ken and Dots Allsorts provokes a few thoughts. Like with Boak & Bailey’s Ten signs of a craft brewery, Ken chooses to criteria other than size and doesn’t try to do the impossible, which would be to make quality part of the definition.

Bottom line:

I think we should understand the relationship between craft brewers and the beer they produce on the model of the relationship between authors and their works. That is, we should see craft brewers as authors. The relevant characteristic of authors for the purposes of this comparison is that authors have a large degree of control over and responsibility for the ultimate form of their work. But there’s more to it. Because the ultimate form of the work is very much their decision, they have a lot personally invested in it. An author wants to write popular books, but they want that to happen because people like the books they write rather than because they research what people already want and write something like that.

This makes it relatively easy to explain (at least to me) why a brewery can be quite large and still make beer the man or woman on the street will call craft.

In other words, what matters for craft beer is the organisational structure of the brewery. This is not a question of absolute number of employees. . . . but the more people there are, the less likely it is that anyone will stand in a properly authorial relationship to the work produced. This is why craft breweries tend to be small, because as breweries get bigger they lose that relationship. Size is a matter of organisational structure.

I like that phrase, authorial relationship to the work produced. Although my view of who contributes to the authorial process might be broader that yours. I’m inclined to give creative credit to more than just the guy who writes the recipes.

Perhaps I also find it easier to find “proper” authorial relationships (honestly, I don’t know), and thus to understand why a single tank at Sierra Nevada Brewing may contain as much beer as the average brewpub makes in a year — and the ones at New Belgium are even bigger. (Got more time? Read SF Weekly on the The Artisanal Irony: The Mass-Produced Hand-Crafted Food Dilemma.)

Six years ago, after Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery invited a group of five other brewers (who Dick Cantwell of Elysian Brewing would then call the “Brett Pack”) to visit Belgium with him I sat in the middle of a roundtable discussion that ended up being a story in All About Beer Magazine. One of my questions was, “Can you still say the beers, the recipes, are your own as you become a larger brewing company?”

Rob Tod of Allagash Brewing answered, “As you business grows you have to have more good people making decisions. The problem with the big breweries is they may have great brewers but their company culture is to dumb down everything they do (to reach a broader audience).”

I want beers from a brewery where the people who work there don’t know any better, as opposed to those from a place where that know what doesn’t work.

And I think all of this aligns with a conclusion Ray Daniels seems to have come to recently during a series of tweets.

Ray Daniels talking about authentic

Granted, there is a danger of taking this too far, of turning everybody who touches a hop into a rock star (search for “rock stars” at a Good Beer Blog to see what Alan thinks of that) because beer has become part of the “artisan” movement. Joel Stein pointed this out brilliantly (in a slap-your-knee-while-you-laugh way) a while back in Los Angeles magazine.

First, we idiotically agreed to learn every chef’s name. Then every species of fish, every variety of apple, and every type of heirloom wheat. Now farm names—even those of the specific farmer—are expected cultural knowledge, edging out any chance for poets, painters, and people who rant in magazines about food trends. What will we have to memorize next—the names of the guys who pick our fruit? “Oh, Juan Hernandez picked the strawberries in the sorbet? He’s got a very delicate hand!”

In fact, we don’t need to know the name of every brewer (sorry, Jared) who has a hand in each batch produced at [fill in the name of the brewery of your choice]. But I like knowing they are there and that they are allowed to make a difference in the beer that ends up in my glass.

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Fighting crimes against beer

Earlier this week “Garrett Oliver on the Crimes Against Beer” generated the flurry of tweet and blog posts you’d expect in reaction to an article with that headline. And Ray Daniels tweeted “Cicerone is here to help!”

Today Bloomberg Businessweek posted a feature on Daniels and the Cicerone Certification Program. It’s short and it’s a business story (“If I had tried to start this business 10 years earlier, I would not have had the credibility to carry it off. It needs to be the right time, and you need to be the right person.”) But it’s an excuse to talk about beer education.

The story points out that 15,000 people have passed at least the first level Cicerone exam and the number of participants is growing exponentially (thus a new website, rumored for debut next week).

And it’s not the only game in town. The Master Brewers Association of the Americas began hosting Understanding Beer Flavor seminars last year and so far 1,600 have attended classes around the country. Like the Cicerone Program, the MBAA certifies stewards through an examination process.

Yes, those of you itching to comment, I know there are still more. And I could also point out The Brewers Association has just fancied up its Draught Beer Quality website.

Instead back to the MBAA program. Karl Ockert, probably best known as former brewmaster at BridgePort Brewing and now the MBAA technical director assembled the program. Jeff Alworth wrote about it here.

The MBAA has a couple of seminars upcoming, one in Cold Spring, Minn., Sept. 7 and one Sept. 15 in St. Louis. Perhaps they could have chosen a better date in St. Louis. That’s an official beer holiday here because Schlafly’s Hop in the City is that day.

Here’s some of what will be covered, according to a flyer for the seminar:

* Describe beer styles, flavors, and aromas
* Learn how raw ingredients and the brewing process affect beer flavor
* Understand how to maintain beer freshness
* Use the appropriate glassware for each beer type
* Assist customers with pairing food with beer
* Build a vocabulary that goes beyond “malty” and “hoppy”
* Enhance the image of beer

See, somebody’s looking out for Garrett Oliver’s beer.

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Drink them while they are fresh

Boulevard 80-Acre Wheat Ale

You might have heard that Stone Brewing released a beer called Stone Enjoy By 09.21.12 IPA in the last few days ago. (That’s not the date on the bottle above, and we will get to that right after explaining what Stone is doing.)

Stone released 09.21.12 only in Chicago, New Jersey and Southern California, and come Sept. 21 (also a Friday) “if any beer remains on the shelf it will be immediately removed.” A press release calls this a “35-day package-to-drink cycle.” Most Stone beers list a shelf life of 90 days, some longer.

Stone head brewer Mitch Steele talks about brewing the beer, the hop additions, and the hops used as well as the volatile nature of hop aroma in this Double IPA in this video from Stone.

Of course other beers dosed with large amounts of late hops — at or near the end of boiling, then in dry hopping — are just as fragile. (Yes, I just use IPA and fragile in the same sentence.)

Research at Sierra Nevada Brewing has determined the levels of the compounds that produce those floral, spicy, etc. aromas that have made highly hopped beers so popular drop dramatically the first three days after bottling. They migrate from the liquid to the head space to the liner of the bottle cap, and perhaps eventually into the atmosphere. After three days an “average” IPA might contain the same level of myrcene, for instance, as a pale ale immediately after bottling. How fast the aroma continues to fade in the following weeks depends on many factors, including storage temperature and the amount beer is agitated in shipping.

Just another way that American IPAs are different than the historic India Pale Ales that presumably continued to improve, at least up to a point, during a long boat ride.

The bottle at the top is Boulevard Brewing’s new 80-Acre Hoppy Wheat Beer.1

What struck me as I poured a bottle into a glass last week was, first, that the hop2 aroma (fresh citrus, like buying pineapples fresh where they are grown) jumps from the glass when it still two feet from your nose — but, then, the “best by” date, only a little more than two months off. This on a bottle just released. That’s a short lease.

Turns out that Boulevard does not plan to continue to keep the date Stone-short (a new phrase that makes sense only within the context of this post). Julie Weeks at Boulevard emailed this explanation from brewmaster Steven Pauwels:

“When we introduce a new beer we want to make sure that the customer has a chance to taste the beer the first time at its optimum. Any new beer in our heritage line-up gets short coded during the launch-phase to make sure the consumer gets to taste it as fresh as possible.

“During the development phase we work a lot on stability and come up with best by date that we confirm with real life data when the beer gets to market.”

I will continue to seek out this beer as fresh as I can get it, and I hope on tap. It’s 5.4% ABV, so not officially a “session beer” but one you can have a few of during the course of a Saturday afternoon watching college football. And there’s a lot more hop going on than the 20 IBUs would suggest (Blue Moon White has 18 IBUs, Fat Tire 19 IBUs), a reminder that hops are about a lot more than bitterness.

Which, of course, is the point of Stone Enjoy By 09.21.12 IPA.

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1 Extra credit if when you saw the beer name the first time you thought of James McMurtry’s “60 Acres.”

2 If you can keep up with Jeremy Danner on Twitter you know “Bittering is a blend of CTZ, Bravo, & Summit. Cascade in the whirlpool and Cascade and Nelson (Sauvin) for dry hops.”

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