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Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier

The Potable Curmudgeon Roger Baylor gives us more than one beer to think about when he posts on Schlenkerla Helles Lagerbier.

The beer – just now available in the United States and not well known outside of its Bamberg home – is a delight, brimming with flavor beyond what you’d expect in a 4.3% abv beer, in part because of a sly smoky notes.

Matthias TrumMatthais Trum (pictured here giving a tour of the brewery) points out that the lager contains none of the smoked malt that Schlenkerla uses in its the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier-Märzen or the Urbock, but hints of smoke because it is fermented in the same old copper kettles and fermented with the same yeast.

Quite frankly, you might find it more of a hint of smoke, perhaps because of its underlying rustic character – a plus, I think – and just he right dose of local hops. It is a particularly versatile food beer. It would go quite nicely with something as simple as a tossed salad topped with bits of smoked bacon. Perhaps halibut on the grill, marinaded with a curry and coconut sauce. Or something bold like salmon with in a chipotle barbecue sauce.

But back to a bigger point that Baylor makes:

Franconian beers aren’t always as squeaky clean and technically flawless as similar styles brewed elsewhere in Bavaria. This is not intended as an insult, and it is not to imply that they are deficient or flawed.

Rather, it is to suggest that they bear the delightfully quirky imprint of their geographical origins.

In a region where the countryside is never far away from the heart of the largest city, and a hundred breweries, most of them small, operate within a morning’s leisurely drive of Bamberg, the aromas and flavors experienced in a half-liter of solid Franconian lager can be redolent of all things pre-industrial – woodsy and full, smoky and firm, hoppy and dry, sometimes crisp like the lazy autumn evenings imbibing outdoors, and other times mellow and cool as the summer mornings right after opening time when the town elders gather at the Stammtisch to begin another day’s session.

That’s beer in context.

Arrogant Bastard: Well, it’s not wine

“Water into Wino” is one of about 20 wine blogs I’m currently subscribed to via my newsreader.

Imagine my surprise to find a tasting note today for Arrogant Bastard Ale. For starters the commentary reminds us that most people have never seen the label, let alone tried the beer. Those of us who’ve been drinking this beer for 10 years may no longer notice the words (even when sober) but those just getting to know the Bastard sure do.

With a label and name that would alienate most wine buyers in a flash, this beer seduced my playful side immediately. As if the name wasn’t bold enough, the words “You’re Not Worthy” adds to this cocky marketing strategy. The bottle also reads “It is quite doubtful that you have the taste or sophistication to be able to appreciate an ale of this quality and depth.” Having read so much wine media lately, seeing this written as a selling point in such plain terms is refreshing, rather than that message being relayed in a passive aggressive way as I sometimes notice in wine branding. Turns out it’s not just a gimmicky beer, it’s a tasty one too that lives up to its claims of complexity.

Go ahead and read the tasting note for yourself.

Where’s the up in trading up?

Trading up is in the eye of the beholder.

(What’s trading up? More on that at the bottom.)

SABMiller’s CEO this week told the press that emerging markets are the key to continued growth as consumers there trade up to higher value brands and increase overall beer consumption as an “aspirational” alternative. The report:

In a presentation to the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference, SABMiller Chief Executive Graham Mackay said his company’s “broad exposure to the global beer industry will underpin future growth.”

He said there is “far greater” opportunity in the developing world as consumers trade up from lower quality, cheap beer, into modernized mainstream products and then on into what it refers to as “worthmore” brands.

Consumers are also moving into beer as an “aspirational mainstream alternative to cheap spirits, or other types of local indigenous alcohol,” Mackay said.

The problem that Miller and other industrial brewers have in the United States is that consumers are trading up from their products rather than to their beers.

That’s one of the reasons behind various efforts to improve beer’s image that Anheuser-Busch entusiastically supports (and Miller doesn’t put money behind).

The notion of trading up received considerable attention two years ago, from Fast Company to Business Week after publication of “Trading Up: The New American Luxury” by Michael Silverstein and Neil Fiske.

One of the premises of “Trading Up” is that consumer spending is polarizing. In order to trade up in a category she really cares about, an avid cyclists might save money by trading down in some that don’t matter to her — like her brand of toothpaste or beer. That’s why Costco is the No. 1 wine vendor in the country – we’re not talking the stuff that comes in jugs – while also selling generic paper towels in bulk.

Trading up isn’t about simply moving from beer that costs $2.99 a six-pack to $7.99 craft beer.

“The competition includes all mood elevators,” Silverstein said. “Quality vodka substitutes for better beer more than it does for Bud. The beer companies need to deliver innovation on taste, nutrition, health, energy, and celebration.”

So if you can’t compete with [fill in the name of your favorite small-batch brewer] then I guess to find a Third World brewer you can compete with . . . for now.

Pig out: Still more beer and cheese

Another story about pairing beer and cheese, this time from Vermont.

In this one, Greg Noonan of Vermont Pub & Brewery (only two years from its 20th anniversary – just in case you want to make travel plans now), picks seven of his beers to match with the cheeses.

“Cheeses and beers tend to have fruity flavors that are good matches,” Noonan said. “They both have some amount of sweetness. And the maltiness and caramel flavors of beer complement the dairy flavors of cheese.”

You’ll wish you were there for this. Sally Pollak writes:

The cheese, Constant Bliss, was made at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro. Its beer mate, Burly Irish Ale, was made on the premises in the basement brewery.

Constant Bliss is a semi-soft, bloomy-rind cheese — its rind made from the blooms of diverse molds. It is formed into a high mound that brings to mind Barr Hill, a gentle rise in the cheesemakers’ hometown. Constant Bliss, a raw-milk cheese, has a subtle but rich flavor, with a touch of sweetness. It goes down easy and leaves you licking your fingers, wanting more.

Matching it with an Irish ale was a “no-brainer,” Noonan said. Made from milk produced by Jasper Hill’s Ayrshires, Constant Bliss is named for a revolutionary war scout. The latter-day cheese saint met his death on a Greensboro road in 1781, killed by American Indians.

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