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Does Q trump L? And other C beer questions

Local beer drinkers

In alphabetical order.

The C word would be craft.

The L word would be local.

The Q word would be quality.

Can the three co-exist? Certainly. Must they? This is the part where my head starts to hurt.

Exhibit A: “Will a bunch of terrible craft beer ruin the booming craft beer industry?” It would have been a little easier to follow if the writer had made a clearer distinction between quality and quality control, but hang in there.

Exhibit B: “The future of the craft beer industry and its ability to provide quality and variety could hinge on this.” In which guest columnist Greg Engert writes, “New influences are afoot, and perhaps none is more pervasive or more limiting than the drink-local movement.” (My emphasis.)

Engert adds this:

Now, the desire to drink local brews has reached a fever pitch, often blinding publicans and craft beer drinkers alike from what should ultimately guide our choices: Is the beer of the highest quality? Is it bereft of off-flavors? Is it delicious? In short, is it superlative and memorable?

Wait, so now quality isn’t enough? It must be of the highest quality? And aren’t there times when a beer that does not demand to be memorable, and duly entered in Untappd, better aids and abets memorable conversations or experiences?

I appreciate the importance of quality (and quality control). In the All About Beer’s “People Issue” on newsstands right now my contributions are profiles of Gary Spedding (Brewing and Distilling Analytic Services) and Alastair Pringle (who consults with food companies and breweries on all things quality). Conversations with those guys are a reminder you need to know what you are doing, but Q and QC are perfectly doable.

Which brings me to the part I really care about. Local beer makes life better. It made our 14-month road trip in 2008 and 2009 better, when it was local and we weren’t. Roger Baylor argues the matter more eloquently than I do, so I suggest reading, “The PC: Anti-local craft beer unconsciousness, revisited.” He makes it clear “buying local is important both in non-beer terms, and in the specific way it impacts the craft beer ethos.”

I was going to quote him further … but you really need to read the whole thing. (I’d call it a “must read” but I don’t want any more shit from @thebeernut.)

7

Beer made by walking: Indigenous?

Scratch Brewing, Ava, Illinois

The Great American Beer Festival has an “Indigenous/Regional Beers” category.1 I should have mentioned that last week when I asked for reader help in understanding what makes a beer indigenous.

I figured that out Saturday when a) Alan McLeod added a rather long comment (long enough to turn into a post of his own), and b) we hung out at Scratch Brewing after a pleasant bit of bike riding in the not-too-hilly roads around Ava, Illinois.

Foraged ingredients ready to go into Scratch Brewing beerLast year at the Great American Beer Festival founder/brewers Marika Josephson, Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein decided if they were going to return this year they would do it the “Scratch way.” They are and they are. Scratch will be pouring five beers made with foraged ingredients and without hops. They call these gruits, which could lead to a whole other discussion that is best considered another time. The point, related to last week’s question, is that they are using indigenous ingredients.

One of the beers, called 105 is made with 105 (of course) plants and funghi from the surrounding area. To brew the beer they split the ingredients into three piles, one for bittering, one for flavoring and one for aroma, mostly flowers and leaves. (Hickory leaves add bitterness and tannins. “I had to cut down a hickoy tree that day,” Kleidon said.) The beer was fermented with Perennial Ales house yeast (technically one of their house strains, I guess), itself sourced from a Belgian saison brewery. I’ll keep the tasting note short: nicely balanced, well integrated, good. And spicy.

They’ll also be serving it at the Beer Made By Walking Festival on Oct. 3 at Wynkoop Brewing (so Friday afternoon, before the GABF evening session). It appears that tickets are still avaiable. Eric Steen, who teaches art at Portland State University and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, started BMBW in Colorado Springs in 2011 (just as we were moving from New Mexico and before I could head north on I-25 to get a closer look). It’s an intriguing concept. Invites brewers to go on nature hikes and make new beers that are inspired by plants from the trail.

More than 20 of the beers at the festival were made specifically for this event from Colorado breweries that have collaborated with BMBW. They’ve also added a “foraged and indigenous” component to our festival this year. These are beers from brewers not part of the original Beers Made By Walking program that use foraged, wild, and indigenous ingredients to create “place-based beers.” The five breweries participating are Scratch, Fullsteam, Fonta Flora, Ladyface, and Wicked Weed.

The afternoon should provide a good opportunity to consider what constitutes an indigenous beer.

*****

1 Here are the GABF guidelines: Indigenous/Regional Beers are any range of color. Clear, hazy or cloudy appearance is acceptable depending on style. Malt sweetness will vary dramatically depending on overall balance desired. Hop bitterness is very low to very high, and may be used for highlighting desired characters. This beer style commemorates combinations of ingredients and techniques adopted by or unique to a brewery’s particular region and differentiated from ingredients and techniques commonly used by brewers throughout the world. For the purpose of defining this style, uniqueness of ingredients, regional heritage, technical brewing skill, balance of character, background story defines the intent of this category. The use of hops, yeast, water, malt, or any raw grain regardless of origin does not by itself qualify beers as an Indigenous/Regional Beer. Body is variable with style. “Indigenous/Regional Beers” that are not represented elsewhere in these guidelines by a defined style could possibly be entered in such categories as Experimental, Herb & Spice, Field Beer, etc. but by choice a brewer may categorize (and enter) their beer as Indigenous/Regional Beer. Beers that represent established historical traditions should be entered in “Historical Beers” or other categories and should not be entered in Indigenous/Regional Beer category.

To allow for accurate judging the brewer must provide additional information about the entry including primarily the unique ingredients used and/
or processing which contribute to the unique qualities of the style, and information describing the beer style being emulated. This information will
help provide a basis for comparison between highly diverse entries. The information must not reveal the identity of the entering brewery. Entries not
accompanied by this information will be at a disadvantage during judging.

Pabst IPA: Welcome to 2014

Ballantine IPAOK, officially, we’re talking about the return of Ballatine India Pale Ale. But Pabst owns the brand and here’s a key quote from Pabst brewmaster Greg Deuhs: “We are hoping that the current (Pabst Blue Ribbon) consumers will embrace the Ballantine IPA.” So I think there’s merit in the headline.

In any event, very good news, given that now perhaps more people will give this underappreciated India Pale Ale style a try.

News so big it warranted a story in USA TODAY with this headline: “Going hipster, Pabst resurrecting Ballantine IPA.”

Enough silliness. Ballantine India Pale Ale has an important place in American brewing history. Mitch Steele provides the details in IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. A press release announcing the revival indicates the new version will be 7.2% alcohol and contain 70 IBU. That’s pretty close to what it was right after Prohibition (7.2%, 60 IBU) and unlike what it was by the 1970s (6.7%, 45 IBU, less as the decade went on).

Also in the press release, Beuhs says: “I began this project with a simple question: How would Peter Ballantine make his beer today? There wasn’t a ‘secret formula’ in anyone’s basement we could copy, so I conducted extensive research looking for any and all mentions of Ballantine India Pale Ale, from the ale’s processing parameters, aroma and color, alcohol and bitterness specifications. Many brewers and craft beer drinkers would be impressed that the Ballantine India Pale Ale of the 1950s and ’60s would rival any craft IPA brewed today.”

He brewed more than two dozen five-gallon test batches at home.

“Unlike recreating a lost brew from long ago, I had the advantage of actually being able to speak with people who drank Ballantine back in the day,” he said for the press release. “Their feedback was crucial to ensuring that the hoppy, complex flavor that was revered for over a hundred years was front and center in my recipe.”

The new version is made with eight different hop varieties, although it isn’t clear what they are. After Prohibition the brewers distilled the oils from Bullion hops at the brewery and added them to storage tanks, its aroma making it as unique among American beers as its alcoholic strength and bitterness. Later, they ran Bullion, Brewer’s Gold or American Yakima through a hammer mill before dry hopping, grinding them to “a consistency that was a cross between corn flakes and sawdust.”

Here’s what Michael Jackson wrote about Ballantine IPA in his 1982 Pocket Guide to Beer: “Like a half-forgotten celebrity, thought by some admirers to have retired and by other to be dead, Ballantine’s has been living in quiet obscurity in Rhode island. Now, it is making something of a comeback.” He notes that brewers added Yakima and Brewer’s Gold hops in the kettle. “IPA’s colour is a rich copper in the British tradition, its head thick and rocky, its nose and palate intensely aromatic, and its body firm and full.”

Although Pabst later made a beer it called Ballantine IPA, the version served at the Great American Beer Festival in the mid-1990s did not resemble the one Jackson described. The 2014 Ballantine India Pale Ale surely will taste more like it did in 1955 than in 1995, but the IPA field is a little more crowded now. And if it really is to taste “genuine” how prominent should the citrus-pine-fruity-maybe-pungent aromas and flavors that pretty much define American IPA be? Those were not desirable back then.

Farmers didn’t begin growing the Cascade hop, the first to come out of an American hop breeding program, until 1972. Centennial was released in 1990 (although available earlier — that’s a blog post in itself), Chinook in 1985, Simcoe in 2000, Citra in 2008, El Dorado in 2011, Mosaic in 2012, Lemondrop in 2014, Equinox in 2014 — notice a trend? Ballantine IPA is stepping out of a time machine into an entirely different hop world.

Citra hops were here

Oakham Ales Brewery, Peterborough

Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker has won Champion Beer of Britain. Boak & Bailey offer some thoughts.

Oakham Ales Citra captured the silver. The picture at the top was taken at Oakham’s brewery in Peterborough last year and I wrote about the hop dust then. I don’t have anything to add, nor would I even try to match Ben McFarland’s ode to Citra.

Here’s how McFarland described the beer last October:

In a derelict warehouse somewhere in Peterborough sits the Citra hop, its arms strapped behind its back, its feet shackled to a chair built from pale malt and wheat. Surrounding it, their eyes a maniacal mix of menace and madness, are Oakham’s brewers going to work with hacksaws and hammers in each hand, the Citra squealing gooseberry, greengage and grapefruit. A superb single-hop beer.

Makes figure Boltmaker must be pretty good.

Local beer: 63105

Beamer Eisele of Modern Brewery hard at work

More than an hour into the Modern Brewery’s launch party Friday at Craft Beer Cellar Clayton CEO/president Beamer Eisele was still in the store cooler, struggling to get a third keg of the brewery’s beer online. He’d already been back to the brewery to pick up the proper equipment.

“Now I can enjoy the party,” he said after the final beer was flowing. A few minutes later he and partner Ronnie Fink (that’s Eisele above and Fink below) looked at the line for beer at the rather small tasting bar in the back of the store and at friends and CBC customers pretty much filling up the place. Eisele sighed, then headed back to the brewery, this time to pick up another keg.

Ronnie Fink of Modern Brewery talks with a customer

Now that Modern Brewery is officially open there are four breweries within four miles of our house. When we moved to Clayton (ZIP Code 63105) three years ago there was one.

Clayton CBC, the western-most outpost of a chain that started in Massachusetts, just opened in May. It’s a 15-minute walk from there to The Wine and Cheese Place, the best retail store in Missouri, according to Rate Beer members and many others. For its weekly tasting Friday, Wine and Cheese was pouring Cathedral Square Ave Maria Bourbon Barrel Aged, Alpha Brewing Lapsided, Summit Brewing Sparkling Ale, Brasserie La Goutte D’Or La Mome Saison Orientale, and Brouwerij Verhaeghe Barbe Ruby Kriek.

Last month, Book & Bailey wrote that “For some, local is enough.” Local is important to me. It really does make a beer taste better (no I’m not suggesting it is something that might be replicated in a blind taste test). I’m pretty sure that it is “enough” to build a business on, but that “enough” must includes a decent level of skill in the brewhouse. There are too many quality beers, local and not-so-local, close at hand not to notice when others don’t measure up.

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