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Why look for reasons not to like a beer?

In Drink Better Beer, author Josh Bernstein writes about spending a day with the sensory panel at Allagash Brewing in Maine, acting briefly as a panelist himself.

I ponder my sample of White, the brewery’s flagship witbier, which should taste slightly sweet and sour, mildly bitter, and faintly of minerals. “Tastes overly harsh,” I write in the iPad set up with sensory software from DaughtLab, which collects data on panelists’ impressions. “Too astringent.” I move on to the Belgian-style Tripel, a beer evocative of honey, bubble game, grapes, and green apples. “This is a sourness I don’t love,” I write. The coffee-infused James Bean, a triple aged in bourbon barrels, has a “drying sourness that turns me off,” while the smoothly malty House Beer hits its pear and grapefruit notes.

Whow, that was a lot of flawed beer, I think.

Except, it turns out only the Tripel was adulterated, dosed with acetic acid.

Later Bernstein tastes three different samples of White, and documents the flaws in each. Except, it turns out two are flawless, and in fact, the same beer. “It’s a combination that I use often with guests and new tasters to show when they are overly critical,” says Karl Arnberg, who manages the sensory program as Allagash.

Think about it for a moment. Why look for reasons not to like a beer? No doubt, quality is important. That’s why Bernstein invested a day in Portland, Maine. There’s good reason for those in the beer business to learn to identify what are classified as off flavors, and it useful to some to understand what causes them.

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Why would a beer that was once a fine representative of a style no longer be?

Boak and Bailey provoked what turned into a longread last week by asking “What’s the reference beer for each style? Especially more obscure styles, we suppose.” @BoakandBailey quickly added, “So, to clarify: reference doesn’t necessarily mean the best, just the most representative. If you’d never had style X before, would that beer help you understand it?”

Start at the top, keep scrolling, take your time, feel free to wander off into some of conversations within the conversation. I’ll wait.

At the end, @joelandrewwinn writes, “Curious to see the responses when North America wakes up tomorrow. My guess is there will be opinions.” If comments broke out, I didn’t find them. That doesn’t matter. This isn’t about the best American reference for a mild (although Rocksteady on cask at Good Word Brewing in Duluth, Ga., was awfully good Saturday before last). Or a reference for Americanized or “traditional” German pilsner, or pastry stout or whatever.

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Dispatches from the brewing local front


Fullsteam Brewery in North Carolina has made a small change in the signage it uses at beer festivals.

A line that previously read “AUTUMN LAGER festbier, 6% ABV, 99% local” now reads “AUTUMN LAGER festbier, 6% ABV, 99% L.”

Fullsteam founder Sean Lilly Wilson explained why in the brewery’s newsletter.

The goal is two-fold: first, to intentionally have people ask “What is “L?”” That question provides an opportunity for dialogue. It allows us to share what we mean by local and why we believe it matters.

Secondly, the effort is to ultimately normalize it. Why waste time on IBUs when it’s a meaningless measurement of perceived bitterness? Why bother with SRM (a color metric) when you generally know a pils is going to be light and a porter dark?

L matters to us and to a growing number of breweries. L to us means Southern-sourced (overwhelmingly North Carolina) from independent farmers, foragers, maltsters, and tree growers.

Ultimately, we want customers to care more about origin and how buying local can strengthen the state’s agricultural sector. For us and a number of L-centric breweries, that matters more than specious statistics and formulas.

Truly local beer is a metric worth measuring. But in a No Laws When You’re Drinking Claws era, we have to find new ways to make it matter.”

Fullsteam has spent more than a half million dollars on local ingredients — local being Southern states, mostly North Carolina — since opening in 2010. “I hope to ramp that up each year, to where that $500k isn’t over nine years, but every year!” Wilson wrote via email.

The ingredients and where they come from:
Malted corn: From Riverbend Malt House in Asheville and Epiphany Craft Malt in Durham.
Malted barley: Foundation, Ruby and Vienna from Epiphany.
Malted triticale: From Epiphany.
Hops: Aramis from France and Saaz from Germany.
Yeast: House lager yeast (not of North Carolina origin).


Via Josh Chapman at Black Narrows Brewing Co.



Russian River Brewing ‘bugs’ circa 2006

Russian River Brewing microbes - parts of original mixed cultureBarrel room, Russian River brewpub, Santa RosaThe carboys at the top contain many of the microbes that became part of the “Russian River bacteria blend” that contributes to the unique character of beers such as Temptation and Supplication. Details are in a story posted at Good Beer Hunting.

The photo was taken in 2006 in the barrel room of the Russian River Brewing Co. pub (at the time, its only brewery) in Santa Rosa, Calif. These days, hundreds — heck, maybe thousands — of brewers ferment beers with that they call their own unique mixed cultures. This is relatively new.

(Some might even suggest so new that we should wait to be sure the aren’t racing ahead a bit quickly.)

For “Still Friends After All These Years” I talked with brewers who have kept in touch with the same microbes (known affectionately as bugs or critters) that soured their beers for the past 15 years, and sometimes longer. Included are a few beers you may have forgotten, or perhaps never heard off.

The carboys in the photo are long gone. The blend of microbes Russian River co-founder Vinnie Cilurzo settled on is stored in plastic totes today, although he is using a new process to make Temptation and other brands these days.

He has been, and still is, generous about sharing these Russian River bugs with homebrewers. Twice he has taken wood chips aged along with Damnation, something Russian River does every twenty-third batch, and soaked them in Beatification or Sonambic, then given away “dime bags” of the chips at conferences. He also provides More Beer, a homebrew supply store, with Cabernet Sauvignon barrels that were used to make Consecration. The supplier cuts those into chunks it sells as part of a kit.

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