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Monday musing: Beer weeks and beer nationalism

I’ve been amazed reading reports from SF Beer Week, and am even more astonished when I look over the ridiculously long list of events planned for Philly Beer Week. These are the big dogs, but Jay Brooks has pointed out “beer weeks” are popping up all over.

Has to be good for local beers, I think. But let’s hope we don’t get another round of arguing about which is the best beer city in the United States or where the best beers are brewed. Why? Read Ron Pattinson’s post on “Beer nationalism” and you should understand.

The world of beer is one exciting whole. Not a series of competing fragments. “Which country brews the best beer?” What sort of stupid question is that? “Where’s the pub?”, “Can I have a pint of that, please?”, “What are you having?” They’re good questions.

Brilliant.

Here’s another reason SF Beer Week was a good idea: A beer tasting hosted at Alpha Sigma Phi in Berkeley. Yes, I too, had to get past the fraternity part. But Mario at Brewed for Thought put the event together and writes about it.

Repeat after me. When I read that a beer has 108 or 128 or 104 IBU (when I read that a beer has 108 or 128 or 104 IBU) I will ask if that was measured in a lab or if that is calculated (I will ask if that was measured in a lab or if that is calculated).

Because I know of only two beers (the Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner and Bell’s Big Head San Diego Style Ale brewed for the 2008 Craft Brewers Conference) that clocked over 100 IBU when verified by a laboratory. Everybody else is guessing.

So you should read the Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics entry in the Deschutes Brewery blog. Hop Henge Experimental IPA is brimming with hop flavor and bitterness. But in case you’ve been wondering about the 95 IBU listed on the label, well you won’t be seeing that number anymore.

The first time Deschutes had the beer tested the lab found 80 IBU. The brewers since beefed up the hop additions (resulting in a picture you should look at) and had Hop Henge tested again. This time 87 IBU.

The moral of the story for us is we will not again put 95 IBUs on the label. The moral of the story for you might be a wink next time someone tells you their beer has 120 IBUs in it (or even 95 for that matter).

Wink, indeed. And ask the brewer to talk about hop flavor instead.

8 Responses to Monday musing: Beer weeks and beer nationalism

  1. Stephen Beaumont February 16, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    Here’s more grist for the mill, Stan. The LCBO in Ontario has one of the most sophisticated beverage alcohol analysis labs in the world, and tests thoroughly every single product that comes into the product. The worst offenders in terms of incorrectly listed alcohol contents are Belgian and American beers, sometimes measuring way off their listed numbers.

  2. Stan Hieronymus February 16, 2009 at 8:17 am #

    Is there a pattern? Always high? Always low?

  3. Mitch February 16, 2009 at 9:07 am #

    There is a limit to high much iso-alpha acid (hop bitterness) can be absorbed into wort. It is highly dependent on original gravity. IAnd icreasing hopping rates does not result in a linear increase in bitterness, at about 60-70 IBU, you get into a situation of diminishing returns.
    And also, it should be noted that despite whatever wort bitterness level you start with, 20-30% of that bitterness is lost during fermentation, due to yeast absorbing bitter compounds. Also the pH drop as the wort is converted to beer results in bittering compounds solidifying and dropping out, they become less soluble with lower pH.
    Most small brewers are using calculations, and that only provides you with a rough estimate, and most often, this estimates are very high. The only way to determine beer bitterness is by measuring it analytically.
    -Mitch

  4. SteveH February 16, 2009 at 9:16 am #

    How do wines fair with the LCBO? I’ve heard that they’re often way off their label listings.

  5. Ron Pattinson February 17, 2009 at 3:53 am #

    I’ve heard that it’s common for Belgian brewers to deliberately label their beers with a lower ABV than is actually present. For tax-dodging purposes, I believe.

    I always smile when I see IBU figures being thrown around. I’m sure most have never been measured and are not the actual values. It would be interesting to analyse a bunch of high-UBU beers and see just how far off the claimed values are.

  6. E.S. Delia February 17, 2009 at 8:46 am #

    IBU calculation = too much time on your hands. Sometimes these stats get too geeky even for me, so I can only imagine what the casual beer consumer thinks of it. Maybe that’s the exact reason good beer can still be a tough sell.

    Do I really care you got your beer tested in a lab? Are my tastebuds rejoicing because you correctly identified an 8-point difference from your original calculation?

    How about “is it bitter?” and “does it taste good?”

  7. Mario (Brewed For Thought) February 17, 2009 at 9:34 am #

    Thanks for the link Stan. I was nervous about the idea of taking beer to a fraternity, but you have to ask yourself, when did you first got into beer? I was a freshman in college (shhh) and Boont blew my mind. From the response I got I can see they had a good time. If we want to further the cause of craft beer, we have to think like the tobacco companies and hook ’em young (no younger than 21).

  8. Stephen Beaumont February 17, 2009 at 9:50 am #

    Of the cases I am familiar with, most American craft beers caught by the lab with incorrect alcohol contents have overstated their strength. The LCBO allows for minor variances, but in some notorious cases there has been as much as several percentage points of difference. Again from what I’ve heard, the Belgians are more evenly divided between overstating and understating.

    I don’t really know much about wine and the lab, Steve, but I can look into it if you’re interested. Drop me a line.

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