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But The Boss didn’t sing Happy Birthday to Boulevard

Boulevard beer flight at Flying Saucer in Kansas City

Orval and Boulevard Nommo DubbelSaturday we drove across the state of Missouri to Kansas City so we could see a(nother) Bruce Springsteen concert.

Also Saturday, although Boulevard Brewing didn’t make a big deal out of it, the brewery sort of wished itself a happy anniversary, birthday, whatever, with a tweet: Twenty-three years ago, our founder, John McDonald, tapped the first sold keg of Pale Ale. So it seemed appropriate that I start an afternoon of drinking and conversation at the Flying Saucer1 Draught Emporium with their Boulevard flight (Flying Saucer offers a variety of themed flights, each including five five-ounce pours). It was not my plan going in. I prefer full pours,2 and it’s not like I don’t already know these beers well. Boulevard has a significant presence in St. Louis and, after all, is brewed in Missouri. I choose to call it local although it is brewed 250 miles away. You are free to disagree. Anyway, very familiar beers. Hold that thought.

Springsteen went flat out for about three hours Saturday evening, rolling one song into another. He offered a mix of old, not so old, and new. What struck me, probably during “Death to My Hometown,” is how quickly the new songs can find a spot deep in my bones. Music does that. Not just Springsteen. My experience was the same at recent Joe Ely and James McMurtry concerts.

I would give up beer before I would give up music; it really is an in the bones thing. But there is much to be said for beer (witness the number of words here). And for familiar. When I smell Smokestack Tank 7 (lower left in the top photo) I know where things are going to lead, and I’m happy to follow. Tank 7 is one of those beers tickers chase. They first time I tasted it was like the first time I heard McMurtry’s “Choctaw Bingo.” Wow, give me that again.

If we still lived in New Mexico it’d be one of the beers I’d recommend when I get the occasional request for input from those looking for wow beers to list in magazine articles and books. However, it’s a local beer (for me), and it has become familiar. It’s not just the nuances I’ve come to know. I remember the quick smile on my brother’s face the first time he tasted it. I still try not to giggle when a server says there’s 15 minutes left of happy hour and Tank 7 is one of the choices.

Your regular beers may not be local. Heck, you might not have regular beers. But if they are local, you likely also understand something about they place they come from. You live there. For me, Boulevard’s beers are local not only because I can buy them easily here in St. Louis, but because we’ve spent a certain amount of time in Kansas City.

On Saturday that included an afternoon jawing primarily with Twitter star Jeremy Danner, who in real life is a brewer at Boulevard, and Cris Morgan, another Boulevard brewer, and his wife, Mary — but also several other innocent passersby Jeremy introduced me to.

Thus I should explain the second photo. The Morgans started with Orval. After they poured their beers, and perhaps establishing at the outset I can be short on couth, I asked to see one of the empty bottles, because, well, its Orval and you always wonder what kind of age it has on it. Both beers had been bottled on Nov. 17 last year. They were one year old to the day.

So what you’ve got it is a picture of two birthday beers (the Boulevard beer being Smokestack Nommo Dubbel).

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1 The hotel we stayed in was sold out, and it seemed as if every guest was going to the concert. One woman who checked in at the same time we did asked the clerk for directions to the Flying Monkey Draught Emporium.

2 See NEW BEER RULE #3: You must drink at least two servings of a beer before you pass judgment on it.

3 Certainly, there are many beers like that. Saturday I was struck by the Czech Pilsner at Gordon Biersch, conveniently next door to the Flying Saucer. This was the third Czech Pilsner I’ve had at a GB restaurant this year. The first two were excellent. This was better. A beer I’d love to become more familiar with.

Friday tasting: That back-of-the-throat reverberation

Bert Grant, pictured with fresh picked hops

Reverb Imperial Pilsner, the latest in the Smokestack Series from Boulevard Brewing, arrived in St. Louis this week.

The “sell sheet” explains the name, first quoting Nigel Tufnel from This is Spinal Tap: “You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you’re on ten on your guitar.Where can you go from there? Where? These go to eleven.”

At 7.5% ABV Reberb is amped up, although not stupidly so. The bitterness units, 30, are in fact less than, for instance, Pilsner Urquell. The hop presence is somewhat more, likely because of first wort hopping. A second reason the beer is called Reverb is because it echoes Collaboration No. 1, brewed in partnership with Jean-Marie Rock, who is in charge of brewing at Orval Trappist monastery brewery. Details are here.

It’s been more than two years since I last had Collaboration No. 1 — saw a bottle sitting warm in a bottle shop in Osage Beach about a year ago, but that was not at all tempting. The spicy Saaz aroma seems more apparent in the newest version, tickling the nose, in fact. But this time Reverb struck another note for me, the first reverberation triggering a second.

It is by no means bitter, but that bitterness is persistent and echoes in my throat. I could not help be remember the late Bert Grant (pictured at the top) talking about his own Fresh Hop Ale (one of the first) in 1997.

“You should feel it in the back of your throat,” he said.

Not taste it but feel it. It’s that kind of beer.

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.”

#IPA Day: A whiter shade of pale

We skipped the light fandango
turned cartwheels ‘cross the floor
I was feeling kinda seasick
but the crowd called out for more
The room was humming harder
as the ceiling flew away
When we called out for another drink
the waiter brought a tray

And so it was that later
as the miller told his tale
that her face, at first just ghostly,
turned a whiter shade of pale

– Procol Harum, “Whiter Shade of Pale” (1967)

Better than another Black India Pale Ale, I guess. And if calling these beers White IPAs was part of the process of creating two delightful variations on a collaborative recipe from Boulevard Brewing and Deschutes Brewery then I can live with the less delightful name. Just so nobody petitions to make it another category in some beer competition.

Make no mistake, this collaboration between Steve Pauwels of Boulevard Brewing and Larry Sidor of Deschutes Brewery resulted in two distinct beers. Same recipe, same basic ingredients, including the yeast, but different beers. I’ll leave it to others to call one or the other better. (For instance, here.) They’re both keepers.

Boulevard labels the ‘White IPA” Collaboration No. 2 and packages it in 750 ml corked bottles (part of the Smokestack Series). Deschutes calls their’s Conflux No. 2 (No. 1 hasn’t been released; another story) and sells it in 22-ounce bottles. They both contain 7.5% alcohol by volume. Looking as his computer screen Pauwels said Boulevard’s version measures 57 IBU. Deschutes “beer geek information” says Conflux clocks in at 60 IBU. Probably because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to call a beer any sort of IPA in Oregon if it doesn’t have at least 60 bitterness units.

Sidor and Pauwels started discussing a collaboration about two years ago. They wanted to include components from each brewery. They began to settle on the idea of a hop forward (Sidor wrote the chapter on hops for the Master Brewers Association of the America’s technical manuals) and wheat beer (Boulevard’s specialty).

“Larry was talking about how hard it was to make their Cascadian Dark (known in some quarters as a Black IPA)” one moment, Pauwels said, and the next they had a plan. It would be a White IPA, and they’d be making up the rules as they went along. They expected to have hours together to work on the recipe during a layover in the Denver airport, but that became minutes when Pauwels’ flight was delayed.

Deschutes made a test batch, then another and another, and each time Sidor would ship a growler from Bend, Oregon, to Kansas City. The beer evolved along the way. The first batch at Deschutes wasn’t particularly cloudy; the final one shimmers brightly. They added sage and lemongrass to the recipe and eventually settled on this:

Fermentables
Pilsner
Malted wheat
Unmalted wheat
Flaked oats

Hops
Bravo (for bittering)
Citra
Cascade
Centennial

Other items of note
Whole leaf sage
Sliced lemongrass
Milled coriander
Ground sweet orange peel

Yeast
Wyeast 3463 (Forbidden Fruit)

Pauwels thinks sage was a key addition. “We just couldn’t get the white beer character,” he said. And adding more orange peel and coriander would created an unpleasantly overspiced beer. “It would have become fake; the flavor would have been fake. Like somebody put drops of (flavoring) oil in it.”

Both versions are brimming with citrus character, which shouldn’t be a surprise looking at the hop bill. The sage adds herbal notes, to my nose more in the Boulevard version than Conflux No. 2. It’s easier to smell and taste than it is to describe, but if you’ve visited the two breweries the reason why is obvious. Deschutes uses hop cones and has a hop back. Boulevard uses pellets and must rely on late additions of hops and dry hopping to recreate the flavors you’d experience rubbing hop cones together at harvest.

One happens before fermentation and one after, and I’ll spare you the details, but that makes a difference.

Back when the theme for The Session #39 was collaboration I wrote about what Luke Nicholas and Kelly Ryan learned brewing together. Talking to Sidor and Pauwels it’s obvious that occurred here as well. “It was sure a lesson for me about using the brewhouse to get more out of the hops,” Pauwels said.

Myself, I’m wondering what the beers might have tasted like if they hadn’t skipped the light fandango.

Mr. Rock prefers that beer be the star

Jean-Marie Rock began brewing beer professionally in 1972. For the last 25 years he’s been in charge of the Orval Trappist monastery brewery. He understands brewing cred. Celebrity? Another matter.

He’s been to Kansas City twice recently. Posing for pictures, signing empty beer bottles, he found out quickly he wasn’t in Belgium any more.

“The biggest change is the contact brewers have here with the customers,” said Steven Pauwels, a native of Belgium who became brewmaster at Boulevard Brewing in 1999. When Rock agreed to collaborate with Pauwels to brew a beer he probably didn’t realize that 160 people would show up at a Lawrence, Kansas, hotel to celebrate the release of Smokestack Collaboration No. 1.

“The American people are so kind,” Rock said. “You cannot refuse to answer their questions.”

Rock, who is 61, oversees the production of a single beer, Orval. (The brewery also makes Petit for the monks at the monastery to drink and to sell at the brewery’s inn — that is simply a watered down version of the mother beer.) The ongoing production of special, or seasonal, beers is something that makes New American beers (I’m using that term instead of “craft” to see if it sticks) different. Likewise the notion brewers might be celebrities.

Rock, who visited Kansas City first to brew the beer and then again two weeks ago for the debut, left no doubt he found brewing something different just plain fun. When Pauwels suggested the possibility of the collaboration last year Rock knew immediately that he wanted to brew a strong pilsner using a hopping technique from 30 years ago.

Rock first worked for the Palm Breweries, then for Lamot in Mechelen, brewing lagers. At 8 percent alcohol by volume Collaboration No. 1 is about one percent stronger than the beer Rock was thinking of. Although it is labeled an “Imperial Pilsner” is does not resemble beers such as Samuel Adams Imperial Pilsner.

Hopped with excessive quantities of German Hallertau Mittlefrüher (as it is spelled where it is grown) Boston Beer brewed an 8.8 percent abv beer that had 110 International Bitterness Units (IBU).

Collaboration No. 1 is hopped entirely with Czech Saaz and brimming with hop flavor, although with 30 bitterness units it appears almost pedestrian compared to 110 IBU.

Where does the flavor and aroma come from? First wort hopping, a practice no longer used in Belgium. “No, no, no, no, no, no,” Rock said. “It doesn’t exist any more.”

A quick primer for those who aren’t homebrewers, commercial brewers or among those who spend too much time with either. Brewers boil hops a an hour or more to extract bitterness. In the process flavor and aroma are lost. That’s why brewers make flavor and aroma additions later in the boil.

In this beer two-thirds of the hops were added before the beginning of the boil (or “first wort”), but their flavor ended up in the beer. German also brewers used the method at the beginning of the last century (you can read much more here, including results of tests conducted in 1995.)

“It seems like a contradiction. You’d think you’d get more bitterness and less flavor,” Pauwels said. “It’s more subtle, almost crisper. Sometimes with late hopping it can get vegetative.”

These days many American brewers are experimenting with first wort, and even mash, hopping (recall at the steps Deschutes took in making Hop Henge). Additionally dry hopping (adding hops after fermentation is complete, sometimes shortly before packaging) to produce even more aroma is commonplace.

“You can try all the things you want,” Rock said. “A lot of brewers they are doing all they can dream. The dream is not always the reality.”

Rock is happy with Collaboration No. 1 (“Not just because it is our beer”). “It has a taste you don’t get when you use late hopping,” he said. “You get an old taste. That is my opinion.”

You know, old like the good old days. When a brewer could go to the store to buy a loaf of bread and didn’t have to stop to sign autographs.

(Photo courtesy of Boulevard Brewing.)

 

 

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