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You want more funk? Be patient

Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City released this video to promote Smokestack Saison Brett, its Brettanomyces-spiked delight that is headed for store shelves this week. I draw your attention to it for two reasons:

1) Steven Pauwels talks about the aroma and flavors you’ll find in the beer right now, but also those that emerge as it ages. If you want more funk, he says, let it sit. I think we might have to open a 2011 bottle tonight.

2) Just yesterday, The New York Times suggested saisons might be the perfect summer beer. This inspired a riff from Alan McLeod (“Is It Really Pronounced say-ZOHNS?”) you should take the time to read. And the author suggested five beers to try, including Saison Brett.

However, if you want Saison Brettdo not hesitate. It is released but once a year, and ne’re do wells like myself tend to grab an extra bottle or two from the shelf to stick in the cellar, you know, just like Mr. Pauwels suggests. So one more tip, in case you don’t see any Saison Brett. Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, which Pauwels also mentions, is much easier to find (there are joints around me where it is always on tap), and is an excellent alternative.

Bonus material

Here’s what Pauwels had to say about Saison Brett a few years ago, when I wrote about it in Adrian-Tierney Jones’ “1001 Beers You Must Taste Before You Die”:

“The inspiration came from some of the great Belgian saisons and also from my childhood when I grew up on a farm in Belgium. We would help out farmers during hay harvest. The dusty smell of hay when we were loading it on the field and the barn smell when we were unloading it are completely different but very unique. The beer doesn’t smell like these memories but I tried to get the fresh hay smell through dry hopping and the barn smell with the Brett.”

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.

Session #45: The taste of wheat

The is hosting the 45th gathering of The Session, and the topic is #45: Wheat Beers. Not sure how the turnout will be, given little gathering in Boulder this weekend, but head on over to for the wrapup.

I could write a book about wheat beers. Wait, I already have. Making it all the more difficult to pick one beer to write about, or even a type from a particular region.

So instead, a little about wheat itself, what it contributes to wheat beers, what it tastes like. But don’t expect a definitive answer. As German brewing literature indicates, wheat by itself has little influence on esters and other fermentation by-products. It’s yeast quickly changes that.

I asked the question many times over in researching BWW and never walked away with anything definitive. Bob Hansen, manager of technical services at Briess Malt & Ingredients Company, had a pretty good answer, saying, “Wheaty, earthy. It is different, but you’d be surprised how non-different it is. You can use wheat to make a pilsner.”

Steven Pauwels at Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City said he likes the character unmalted wheat adds. “It brings a crispness that’s hard to describe. A little drier, makes a beer more drinkable,” he said.

Darron Welch, brewmaster at Pelican Pub & Brewery in Pacific City, Oregon, views wheat as a facilitator. “I think it has a bready flavor,” he said. “Because it is foam positive it changes how yeast brings other flavors into play.”

And Jean-Francois Gravel of Dieu du Ciel! in Montreal, who provided a recipe for wit beer, added: “To me, wheat has a very delicate bready flavor with some acidity or refreshing tartness. I think the barley has more pronounced grain flavor and a sweeter perception. If you eat raw wheat and malted wheat you will see the difference of texture right away because the malted wheat is more crumbly and easy to crush. But the flavor difference between the unmalted and malted wheat is very subtle. The malted wheat will have a bit more . . . malty flavor.”

Did I mention I’m brewing a wheat wine on Sunday? Not sure what session that might be ready for.

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.)



The Session #35: A favorite moment

The SessionThis is my contribution to The Session, hosted this month by the Beer Chicks. They gave us many options, since “New Beer’s Resolutions” includes an invitation to “share with us your greats and mistakes of 2009.” I’m keeping my mistakes to myself. I fear enough will be apparent when Brewing with Wheat hits store shelves in February.

Every year my favorite moments — beer and otherwise — revolve around sharing. Jon Abernathy hauling out a bottle of the first vintage of The Abyss. Knocking back ounces of Southampton Cuvee Des Fleurs with Sean Paxton at the Great American Beer Festival. Maureen Arthur weaving a tale of courtship, New Glarus Belgian Red in hand . . .

And then there are similar experiences in breweries. I wouldn’t be able to write books such as Brew Like a Monk or Brewing with Wheat were it not for the generosity of brewers. And because they share information with each other the overall quality of what’s in your glass continues to improve.

So here’s a moment from March 31, as recounted in Brewing with Wheat:

“Steven Pauwels grabbed the computer mouse and, click, opened a folder showing the recipes for Boulevard Brewing. He clicked again and the spreadsheet on the large computer screen in front of us revealed the recipe for Unfiltered Wheat Beer in detail, as well as the process. Click again, and the screen displayed a brew house schematic for a batch of Single Wide IPA in progress. Next, he opened a spreadsheet with a recipe for ZÔN, Boulevard’s seasonal wit. ‘Copy whatever you want,’ he said.

“The conversation turned to mashing schedules and a presentation Hans-Peter Drexler had made at the 2008 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, revealing ‘the secrets’ about how Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn makes its iconic Schneider Weisse Original. ‘Hans-Peter is so open, he could be American,’ Pauwels said.

“Here was a Belgian who moved to Kansas City in 1999, talking about a German and himself and sharing every detail of how Boulevard brews its beers. Pardon me for smiling.”


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