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Beer & food: Best of friends

Full disclosure: I came across link about how to taste beer while reading a blog about baseball (we all have secret vices).

It would seem terribly snide to pick at the various nits here, but this “tip” is just plain wrong:

Do not taste new beers with food or soon after eating. The lingering flavors from food can greatly affect your impression of the brew.

Yes, they can. And that’s a good thing. Granted, not every beer tastes better with food, and certainly not every beer goes with every dish. However, beer often makes food better and vice versa.

When evaluating beer in a contest (judging) setting, which this article also deals with, there are reasons to filter out distractions. Just don’t forget that beer is not meant to be consumed in a sterile environment. Take that into account when evaluating it for yourself.

Drinking Notes: Lost Abbey Avant Garde

Can it be this easy? Move into a new brewhouse, launch a new brand, ship the first batch of what you expect to be the flagship beer and have Men’s Journal – a publication with 640,000 circulation – name it one of the best 25 beers in America.

That’s what happened with Lost Abbey Avant Garde (No. 20 on the list). Perhaps Men’s Journal should have given a little more weight to track record. How about making a beer prove itself batch after batch?

However Port Brewing and brewer Tomme Arthur have a solid resume, and it turns out MJ got it right. (I’ve already written about how silly it is to name a “Best 25” – by right I mean they picked a very good beer.)

Lost Abbey corkIn one of my various beer jobs I try to describe beers in about 75-80 words (each) for All About Beer Magazine’s Beer Talk. I’ve considered posting those “tasting notes” here but prefer the idea of drinking notes and providing more context. I’m still struggling with how to do that, and mention that only because I tasted Avant Garde for the next issue of AABM. Here I don’t have to limit myself to 75 words.

I’m looking forward to what Michael Jackson and Charles Finkel, the others on my tasting panel, have to write.

Arthur sent us all the second batch, which I find better than batch one (friends hauled that back from San Diego). Maybe not a gigantic change, but enough to call it the difference between a brewer understanding what a beer should taste like and making it happen to his own satisfaction.

If a doctor told me I couldn’t drink beer this is one I could still buy, just to smell. It reminds me of sourdough bread pulled out of the oven a few minutes before it is finished.

Avant Garde takes its inspiration from the biere de garde style found in Northern France. Among their various attributes is an earthy cellar quality. These should be a product of the yeast used and extensive “garding” (cold storage), adding – as Phil Markowski points out in his book Farmhouse Ales – a rustic character.

Markowski writes that imports are as likely to shows those aromas because they are “corked” – a musty sometimes moldy presentation caused by a faulty cork. The character is totally undesirable in wine, and good reason to send a bottle back.

Arthur kids that to emulate the aroma he considered “dry corking” Avant Garde – that is tossing old corks into the lagering tank in a manner that ale brewers use in dry hopping. Instead he left the work to his yeast and time.

Unlike many imported bieres de garde, Avant Garde is bottle conditioned. The cork literally flew out of the 750ml bottle my friends brought over and would have dented the ceiling had we opened it indoors.

I apologize for using a descriptor that isn’t a flavor and certainly can’t be measured, but this is an example of the energy a beer can bring to the glass.

A beauty of this particular one is that it has such energy and doesn’t demand the spotlight. It shares the palate well. The label suggest pairings it with cheese and bread, but it would be an excellent addition the dining table. It would match well with poultry (even game), lamb and a variety of side dishes. Even seems like it would be a good addition to the Thanksgiving table.

Time for an American beer museum

Nice call to action by historian Maureen Ogle, author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer, in support of a national museum of brewing.

We’re not simply talking about a place with some nifty breweriana on display, but a real museum. Ogle reports the Brewery Collectibles Club of America has taken the first steps to make this happen in St. Louis.

Ogle – after the Great American Beer Festival I hope to have lots from her about Ambitious Brew – points out that now is the time to start preserving the history of small breweries that emerged in the last 25 or so years. Remember what Don Younger, proprietor of the venerable Horse Brass Pub in Portland, Ore., said: “”We didn’t know we were making history, nobody does at the time, or we would have written these things down.”

Two suggestions for making it a success:

Kulmbach Museum– Check out a few museums in Bavaria, where it seems every other town has some sort of beer library. They all have room after room of artifacts, but the best bring those to life.

In Kulmbach, for instance, you get a real sense of what it was like to be a brewery worker in the early 20th century (not an easy life at all). Bayerisches Brauereimuseum is located in the former Mönchsof Brewery and as well as showing you more glassware than you can imagine a tour includes the old brewing and engine rooms.

Beyond lots of old equipment you want to take home there’s a glass – well, not totally glass – brewhouse (left) so tourists can appreciate just how the brewing process works.

In the heart of Halltertau, the largest hops growing region in the world, a full tour of the German Museum of Hops (Deutsches Hopfenmuseum) covering 11,000 square feet takes 90 minutes. An American museum would likely end up being larger than the one in Wolnzach (pictured below), but hopefully would show the same attention to detail.

Hop Museum

– Make it American, 21st century, interactive, fun. This suggestion may seem strange, but the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame is an example is exactly what you’d expect of Indiana basketball. You can make a last-second basket to win the state championship. You can sit in on a John Wooden pep talk.

Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Ballantine, Schlitz and associates deserve a spot in any American brewing museum, but so do Jolly Pumpkin, Baderbrau (RIP) and Berkshire Brewing.

The BCCA has a great idea, worthy – as Ogle points out – of all our support. Various projects emerge from time to time – some are going now – but let’s hope this one catches hold before more history is lost.

Uncle Tupelo rates beer

Spotted on a wall in the brewhouse at St. Louis Brewery’s Bottleworks: “Uncle Tupelo rates the beers.”

Obviously dated since Uncle Tupelo – born just a few miles away, and across the Mississippi River, in Belleville, Ill. – broke up in 1994. But still fun, and it didn’t hurt that The Band was belting out “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” on the brewhouse stereo while I scribbled some notes.

Budweiser – Statement on how f–ked up the world is. Should not be the most popular beer in the world. Just proves that sexism in advertising gets you anywhere.

Miller – Good, but we shouldn’t admit drinking it – look what happened to the Long Ryders and The Del Fuegos.

Black Label – Rare delicacy, hard to find.

Michelob Dry – Wet, good for breakfast.

Heineken – All the best things in life smell bad.

Bass Ale – Good fish. Good beer.

Red, White & Blue – Role model, cheap date, highest recommendation.

Old Milwaukee – Only beer that hangs out in the refrigerator for longer than a week, last resort.

Pabst – Old man beer, check back in 30 years.

Schlitz – Functional beer.

Old Style – Probably why all the bands in Chicago suck (just kidding).

Strohs – Forgettable.

Corona – Too many requirements. Evil stigma.

Fosters – Love it on payday, love those sulfites.

Olympia – Grunts, groans, flashbacks, etc. Never referred to by full name.

Coors – Mussolini’s choice. Heavy metal beer.

Stag – Hometown beer, goes good with adolescence, rest in peace.

EKU 28 – Most potent beer in the world, good ice cream topping.

Maybe the group should reunite just to put together an updated list.

Blue Moon labeling revisited

The things you come across when looking for something else . . .

In this case a “diary entry” from 1996, when we were doing a little field research for Beer Travelers projects:

Ephrata, Pa., April 19
The walls of Wahtney’s Inn are fieldstones, and some of the floor and ceiling are from when an inn was first built here in 1767. Meanwhile, there’s a computer terminal in the middle of the bar so patrons can cruise the Internet. It’s new and not working today. The bar has Blue Moon beer on tap, and after the bartender draws a pint for a customer, we ask her if she knows which brewery produces the beer. She’s stunned to find out this is a Coors product; because of political reasons, she doesn’t drink Coors. “Thank goodness I’ve only had a small taste,” she says, thanking us for the information. Next time somebody tells you that truth in labeling doesn’t make a difference, remember her.

Blue Moon has done pretty well the last 10 years based on what’s inside the bottle. Although Coors doesn’t heap advertising dollars on Blue Moon, it sold 200,000 barrels of the brand in 2005. Among craft brands, only Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and New Belgium Fat Tire were more popular.

It’s what’s outside the bottle that is troubling. As carefully as you look at a Blue Moon bottle, 6-pack holder or 12-pack box you won’t find information that Coors brews the beer.

Back in 2000, Coors agreed to change the labels on cans and bottles of Blue Moon to settle a lawsuit filed by Belgian brewers. The lawsuit, filed by the Confederation of Belgian Breweries November 1999, alleged the packaging on Coors’ Belgian-style beer led drinkers to believe it was brewed in Belgium.

So now they made it clear that Blue Moon is brewed in the the United States (the label would lead you to believe Denver), but not who the brewer is.

Shouldn’t they do that?

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