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Whatever happened to ‘extreme’ beer?

Did I miss the memo?

Stories about — and therefore praising, because almost all stories about beers not brewed by large corporations include a certain amount of praise — “extreme beers” seem to be appearing less often.

(And, yes, I’m aware that the Beer Advocate “Extreme Beer Festival” recently concluded. That’s one reason for the question.)

Maybe my radar needs adjusting. Or maybe they’ve been drowned about by tales of passionate nano-brewers.

The subject popped up again yesterday when Adrian Tierney-Jones wrote about the Charles Wells/Dogfish Head collaboration beer DNA New World IPA. Sam Calagione (who wrote a book titled Extreme Brewing) was there for the roll out, of course, and Adrian talked with him.

And afterwards I had a few words with Calagione and asked the question that was bugging me. Extreme beer? ‘It wasn’t about strength but innovation and flavour. I’m not hung up on nomenclature.’

And in that millpond the ripples keep spreading.

I’m still trying to wrap my head about this DNA beer, and understand just what “a reduction of our 60 Minute IPA” means, but it sounds like something that would have been called “extreme” not long ago.

Another Top 10: Most influential people

Rick Sellers of Pacific Brew News Blog has taken our ’10 Most’ conversation another direction:

Ten People Who Shaped the US Beer Scene.

Certainly a conversation I plan to jump into in his comments section after I get a little work done. (OK, I had to leave one right off – Michael Jackson.)

Here’s his list:

1 – Fritz Maytag
2 – Jack McAuliffe
3 – Fred Eckhardt
4 – Charlie Papazian
5 – Bert Grant
6 – Garrett Oliver
7 – Jim Koch
8 – Ken Grossman
9 – Tie Vinnie Cilurzo & Sam Calagione
10 – Empty. “I would like to see . . . someone who makes the beer bar a great place to be today, those who have redefined what a Beer Bar can be.”

Go comment.

Write it again, Sam: Another book

The things you learn reading the Wine Enthusiast Online: Sommelier Marnie Old and Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione are writing a book called He Said Beer, She Said Wine. It’s due in the spring of 2008.

Vinnie Cilurzo & Sam CalagioneCalagione (pictured here in plaid; that’s Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing with him, not Old – and that’s beer in their glasses, not wine) and Old recently have been conducting a series of dinner competitions.

They each pick a beverage to go with a series of dishes from star chefs. Diners sample both a wine and a beer with each of the dishes, make a selection as to which choice was better, and turn in a ballot voting for their preference.

The Wine Enthusiast explains:

While this was the eighth time Sam and Marnie had gotten together for their “He Said Beer, She Said Wine” Event, the outcomes have always been quite similar. “It always seems to come down to the last match,” Marnie notes, “but our main goal is to get wine lovers to appreciate good beer and beer lovers to appreciate good wine.” With the vast assortment of Dogfish Head brews and fine wine selections chosen by Old, that did not seem to be too difficult of a task.

Dogfish Head sales were up 37% in 2006, but Calagione is still able to churn out books almost as quickly as beer. The first – Brewing up a Business – targeted entrepreneurs; the second – Extreme Brewing – homebrewers; and this one from the prestigious combination of Penguin and Dorling Kinderlsey may reach the widest audience yet.

Book review: Extreme Brewing

Extreme BrewingWhen Vinnie Cilurzo stepped to the helm at Blind Pig Brewing in Temecula, Calif., in 1994 he started out by brewing the first commercial Double (or Imperial) IPA anybody had ever heard of.

“Our equipment was pretty antique and crude, so I wanted to start out with something that was big and, frankly, could cover up any off flavors,” he said.

Call is homebrew logic. We’ve heard it before and we pass it along. After you’ve brewed that first batch of beer from a kit what do you do next? Make a big ol’ stout or a nasty barley wine, something bold enough to overwhelm any flaws. You can jack up the alcohol by adding more extract. This doesn’t require taking the intimidating next step (to all-grain brewing).

I don’t recall those suggestions ever including the likes of “Peppercorn Rye-Bock” or “Crandaddy Braggot,” but then Sam Calagione wasn’t in our homebrew club and besides the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware hadn’t yet come up with most of the recipes he offers in Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home .

Calagione wrote Extreme Brewing with novice (even pre-novice) brewers in mind. “I don’t want to overwhelm people with technical stuff,” he said while he was still working on the book. “Otherwise the beginner is going to think, ‘Wait a second. I’d have to be a rocket scientist to make a 10 percent beer.'”

Calagione carefully lays out a path even a rocket scientist could follow, introducing equipment and ingredients and then explaining the relatively simply process of stove-top brewing a minimum of equipment.


The first recipe is for A-to-Z Brown Ale and the steps literally go from A (Heat the water for use in the brewing process) to Z (Store the bottled beer before drinking).

Calagione also leans on many friends for expert advice. So Calagione’s step-by-step recipes are augmented by plenty more from other award winning brewers, Wyeast Labs founder David Logsdon offers tips on handling yeast and Garrett Oliver — brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table — writes about pairing beer and chocolate.

This book stands in contrast to John Palmer’s How to Brew published earlier this year. How to Brew will take you all the way from the first batch (presented as simply as Calagione does his) to building your own equipment. Palmer illustrates how to master processes that Calagione lets a brewer skip, and Palmer also explains the science behind those processes.

Calagione chooses to emphasize what makes extreme beers different so, for instance, he has primers on brewing with fruit, with spices and different sugars

In the end, if you want to fabricate equipment and build a home brewery that mimics a professional operation then Extreme Brewing isn’t for you.

And if you don’t enjoy hassles that extend beyond brewing with a kit then it’s not for you. Or if you are afraid of occasionally failing and ending up with beer that has an aroma akin to one rising from a dump bucket at the end of a long night of tasting then this book isn’t for you.

But if you think you want to try brewing, Calagione assures you can. “Making good beer is a skill,” he writes. “Making exceptional beer is an art form.”

He does that in part by sharing discoveries made during his own journey. “As I think back to the first few batches of homebrew that I made over a decade ago, I am amazed that the beer was drinkable at all,” he writes.

Extreme Brewing is properly educational, very approachable and certainly inspirational. If Calagione doesn’t sway you over to the extreme side, then give Bryan Selders, one of the lead brewers at Dogfish Head and another contributor to the book, a chance:

“Extreme brewing is like driving 90 mph on a winding road that you’ve driven a million times before — except it’s nighttime and raining, your headlights have burned out, and the Department of Transportation has removed all the guardrails to upgrade them.”

Beer, cheese and wine school

The Tria Fermentation school begins classes tomorrow (Wednesday, Oct. 18) with Prof. Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware at the helm.

The Philadelphia school is the brainchild of Jon Myerow, who also owns the Innovate cafe Tria. He’s focusing on wine, cheese and beer, with classes led by by winemakers, fromagers, brewmasters, authors and other fermentation experts.

Food & Wine magazine recently picked the Tria Fermentation School as one of “America’s 50 most amazing wine experiences.”

Upcoming classes include:

BEER: The Extreme Beers of Dogfish Head, with Sam Calagione, Wednesday, October 18, 6:30-8 p.m., $30.

CHEESE: The Artisanal American, with Liz Thorpe, Friday, October 20, 7:30-9 p.m., $45. Thorpe, Director of Wholesale at New York’s famed Murray’s Cheese, and co-author of the forthcoming Murray’s Cheese Handbook, will present her six favorite autumnal American cheeses.

BEER: Brewing with Wood with Rob Tod. Tuesday, October 24, 6:30 to 8 p.m., $40. Tod, Founder of Allagash Brewing in Maine, will discuss four examples of wood-aged beers from Allagash along with examples from California’s Russian River and Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin breweries.

WINE: High Elevation Wines from Down Under with Michael Dhillon. Wednesday, November 1, 6:30-8 p.m., $50. Australia’s Dhillon will share the trials, tribulations and extraordinary rewards of high altitude winemaking and small productio.

WINE: The Allure of the Languedoc with Bruno LaFon, Friday, November 3, 6:30- 8 p.m., $45. Students will learn why LaFon, a former Burgundian winemaker from the family of Domaine des Cômtes Lafon, headed to Languedoc to participate in the rebirth of the region. LaFon will host a tasting of his delicious estate wines.

WINE & CHEESE: Classic Pairings with Michael McCaulley. Monday, November 6, 6:30-8 p.m., $50. After covering wine and cheese basics, McCaulley will introduce students to some classic marriages that have withstood the test of time as well as some more modern pairings.

BEER: The Dark Side with Tom Baker. Wednesday, November 8, 6:30-8 p.m., $35. Baker, founder of recently departed Heavyweight Brewing, will debunk the myths and demonstrates the incredible diversity of black beer.

CHEESE: Spanish Dairy Rising with Adrian Murcia. Tuesday, November 14, 6:30-8 p.m., $45.

The school is located at 1601 Walnut Street, Suite 620, and the number to call for information is 215.972.7076.

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