Category Archives: beer style

Gift Idea #6: New Belgium’s “Glass That Gives”

Off all the proprietary glassware that has been developed by North American breweries, the New Belgium glass is one of my favourites. Stylish and shapely, it is well-suited to any number of different beer styles and delivers the aromatics of its contents most ably. Plus, you don’t look like a geek drinking from it.

It stands to figure, then, that I would highly recommend it as a Christmas gift, preferably in the 16 ounce format. But New Belgium has made it just that much better still.

Order a holiday gift-pack of two glasses, winterized for shipping, and New Belgium will donate a dollar to one of four charities. What’s more, you even get to select which charity you would like your contribution to benefit. You can’t get much fairer than that!

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Gift Idea #3: Hops and Glory

Pete Brown’s story of transporting a keg of IPA from Burton-upon-Trent to India is not new. It’s coming up on three years old, in fact, which in the book publishing world makes it rather ancient. But I’m still going to tell you that if you know a beer aficionado who is even remotely literate, and they haven’t already read this book, then you should buy it for them, and they will love you for it.

Why? Simply because it is one of the most entertaining books ever written about beer, possibly THE most entertaining. And, as I noted in this review two and a half years ago, it’s not even really a “beer book” per se.

I won’t rehash my embarrassingly glowing review here, since I’m sure you’re capable of clicking the link if you so desire. And I’m not going to repeat my caveat about Pete (and his lovely wife Liz) being friends. I’ll just tell you again that it’s a damn fine read, and so you should buy it for someone close to you, and then get a second copy for yourself.

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A Trio of Very Different Holiday Beers

A cold I contracted towards the end of last month has severely slowed by holiday beer tasting – yes, I said “holiday” and not Christmas, not to be PC but for reasons that should shortly become obvious – so I’m doing my best to catch up before I take off on my annual winter sojourn to warmer climes. Here are three very different brews, representing three different countries and a couple of religions!

Deviator Doppelbock from Ontario, Canada’s Cameron’s Brewing Company is a rare foray into the style for brewers of this province, and so its arrival is quite welcome news. The nose of this deep brown beer is faintly cinnamony, sort of like overtoasted cinnamon toast, with rich toffee notes dominant. It hits the palate with a blast of licorice-edged sweetness, slowly segueing into a more malty, well-roasted body with less apparent sweetness and some burnt coffee-ish notes and a slightly bitter, moderately warming finish. Overall, I’d say that this is a good first attempt at a doppel, but overstates its case with a too-roasty body and a hoppiness that doesn’t quite allow the luxurious maltiness that should typify a doppelbock to fully express itself.]

From the United States, contract brewed in upstate New York, the He’brew Genesis 15:15 Barrel-Aged Harvest Barleywine Ale from Schmaltz Brewing is a 13.4% alcohol monster of a beer, and one that certainly needs some time to simmer down. Dark purple in colour, it’s brewed with pomegranate, fig, date and grape juice, and aged in used Sazarac Rye barrels. The nose is intense, with lots of spicy, oaky notes layered over top of the fruity background and a rather pronounced alcohol singeing the nostrils, while the no less assertive body is a tangled mix of fruity, roasty, bitter and alcoholic notes ending in a rather spirituous finish, all of which would almost certainly benefit from aging. Right now, however, this beer is a bruiser.

Finally, from Runcole Verdi di Busseto, Italy, we have Birrificio Del Ducato’s Winterlude, a bright gold, 8.8% alcohol brew with an aroma of tropical fruits – pineapple and mango, starfruit and a little gooseberry – along with a hint of almost minty herbaceousness. The flavour arrives with a mix of herbals and marmalade, developing quite quickly into a much more hop forward body with some candied sweetness, soft fruit notes and hints of brown spice lingering in the background. By the finish, it’s all moderately bitter, almost grassy (spring onions?) hop mixed with warming alcohol. Quite a curious beer, but a very good one.

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Thinking Hard About Miller Lite

Why, you might wonder, would I be thinking hard about Miller Lite? It is not, after all, a beer I sample with any sort of regularity – the last one I tasted probably belonged to the last century – and neither is it a brand I see as having any sort of defining presence in the marketplace. (The introduction in 2010 of the “vortex” bottle provided but a single upward blip in what has been the beer’s more-or-less steady decline over the past few years.)

But Lite popped up on my radar recently thanks to none other than Stan Hieronymus, he of Appellation Beer, who put not one, but two links to this ad into his blog. It took me a while to get to actually watching it, but once I did, an eyebrow was raised. Go watch it for yourself and see if you can guess what made my eyebrow twitchy.

No, it wasn’t that Lite has won the World Beer Cup gold for American-Style Light (Low Calorie) Lager four times. (The category is tailor made for such beers, so that comes as no surprise.) It wasn’t the caricature of beer judges as bizarrely facially haired gents and sour-puss ladies. (That part is kind of true, at least for the men, although few in the judge’s room would be so nattily attired.) And it certainly wasn’t the notion that Lite is hopped three times. (Hell, hop it a dozen times if you want, just don’t try to tell me it has any significant hop character.)

What got my attention was this line: “…and never watered down.” Taken at face value, this means that unlike the majority of convenience beers on the market today – and again, thanks Tim Webb for that great way to describe mass-market lagers – Miller Lite is not high-gravity brewed, or in other words, brewed to a higher alcohol content band then watered to the desired strength at the packaging line.

More than the cost of the hops, more than the price of malt and whatever adjuncts they may or may not use, and more even, I suspect, than the price of the vortex bottle, not high gravity brewing Lite would add extraordinarily to the cost of the beer’s production. And that is what i found this revelation to be, well, rather extraordinary.

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Mistakes in an Authoritative Volume About Beer

No, I’m not talking about The Oxford Companion to Beer. Not this time. Rather, the appearance of this story (thanks to Mixellany Limited for the referral), reminded me of that seminal series of food and drink books from the 1960’s, Time-Life’s Foods of the World. Or more specifically, the Wines and Spirits edition.

Written by Alec Waugh, Evelyn’s brother, and consulted on by Sam Aaron, Alexis Bespaloff and André Gros-Daillon, the book totalled 208 pages, including Glossary, Index and Credits, and featured all of two and one-quarter pages devoted to beer. Not much room in which to make howling mistakes, you might think, but then you would be wrong.

Consider the following, which admittedly echoed (or instigated?) what was thought of in my youth as common knowledge:

In the United States there is also a sweet potation called bock beer. It is made by using the sediment collected from fermenting vats when they are cleaned in the spring of each year. Bock beer is available only at this time, for about six weeks, and it was a good moment in New York in April, 1934 after the repeal of Prohibition to see the newly reopened bars placarded with the slogan “Bock is back.”

Adding commentary here would be gilding the lily, surely, save to note that, by comparison, the misrepresentation of the Imperial pint bottle as a “popular size” in Britain would seem a trifle.

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Again with the Black Whatever

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a tongue-in-cheek link noting the new “black kölsch” just released from the St. Arnold Brewing Company of Texas, and saying that somewhere Ron “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins” Pattinson was popping a blood vessel. (Just joking, Ron. I sincerely hope you weren’t.)

Turn out, it wasn’t Ron who threw a wobbler, but Velky Al. And I’ve got to add, with good reason. Al does note that there is a convention governing what may be called a kölsch, and that even though the U.S. is not bound by said convention, it is, like those governing Champagne and Bordeaux, a matter of respect to do so. More broadly, he duly observes that there is nothing in the convention about a beer being black.

Without getting bent out of shape about it — it is Friday, after all — I must agree wholeheartedly with not just Al’s words, but also what I infer is the sentiment behind them, specifically this obsession with defining new styles and “innovations,” even is such things involve only the addition of a bit of black malt. As Jon Stewart might say, “Brewers, come over and meet me at camera three.”

Listen, I understand that you want to make your beers stand out and that, in the wake of the “black IPA” juggernaut that is sweeping the land, using the word “black” in front of pretty much any traditionally blonde or amber style is one way to do it. But in so doing you are forgetting that the vast majority of the beer drinking populace doesn’t yet know all of the basic beer styles, much less the 100+ offshoots recognized by the Association of Brewers today. Thus, creating more styles, especially faux styles like “black kölsch,” makes matters more confusing for the beer buying public. In short, you’re not clarifying, you’re confounding!

I like new beers. I like weird beers. I like challenging beers. What I don’t like is the seemingly irrepressible need of some, perhaps most craft brewers to create a new beer “style” with every release.

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Filed under "extreme" beer, beer blogs, beer style, beer terminology

Peat Might Be Neat, But It’s Nay Scots

On the basis of experience, research and speaking with actual Scottish brewers, I’ve long maintained that the notion of Scots using peated malt in their ales was mostly rubbish. Hence, the idea that Scotch ales should necessarily have a peaty note to them is similarly misguided.

Thing is, it never occurred to me that cartography might be the ultimate supporter of this argument. Or at least, it didn’t until I logged on to Ron Pattinson’s site this morning and discovered a trio of very useful maps.

You’ll have to click over to Shut Up About Barclay Perkins to see the evidence for yourself, but the essence is that Ron mapped both peat and coal deposits in Scotland and overlaid each with a map showing Scottish breweries in 1837. And guess what? The coal fields line up with the breweries, but the concentrations of peat do not.

(Where peat is prevalent, one tends to find whisky distilleries. No surprise there.)

So why do so many brewers labour under the impression that peated malt is necessary for crafting a true Scotch ale? My guess is the pioneering efforts of the late and much missed Greg Noonan, who used peated malt in his Scotch ale at the Vermont Pub and Brewery, even though, in his Classic Beer Style Series book Scotch Ale, he specifically states that there is little historic evidence to support its use.

So there you have it. Use all the peated malt you want in your Scotch ales, but attribute it to a northern Vermont brewer rather than generations of Scots.

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“Craft” or Flavour?

What are you going to choose? For me, ten times out of ten, it’s going to be flavour. Even if at times it does cause me a bit of discomfort.

I have been thinking about this as a result of Alan’s post about a “post-craft” world, which I will openly admit I only understood in part, but about which I saw fit to comment nonetheless. (In truth, I find it’s that way sometimes with Mr. McL’s posts. I want to fully understand where he’s going with them, but the route does occasionally take a rather tangential path.) Then came last night’s lager drinking.

I was in a lager kind of mood, thanks perhaps to wistfully thinking about Oktoberfest, which is currently in full flight, and for whatever reason had only a handful of helles-like lagers in the fridge. One of which was from Spaten, which is owned by the largest brewing company in the world, Anheuser-Busch InBev. Is it a great beer for its style? No, but it’s a pretty decent one, I must admit. Not an Augustiner, but neither a Löwenbräu, which is to say neither a world-beater nor a disappointment. (Löwenbräu, I might add, is also owned by ABIB.)

Since I was in the midst of a prolonged period of cooking — lasagna, if you must know — my glass was empty before its time and I went to prowl the fridge for something similar. And I found Cameron’s Lager, a beer from a small brewery located just west of Toronto, and hence by almost any definition “craft.” It’s also, I see from the company website, a World Beer Cup bronze medalist, and a beer that in my opinion tasted significantly inferior to the Spaten.

My next try after not finishing the Cameron’s came from an even smaller brewery, Barley Days, located to the east of my home city. Loyalist Lager, it’s called, and it sadly represented yet another step down from the Spaten. It, too, went unfinished, and I turned my attentions to a very credible Doppelbock from Eggenberg.

My point being that I would have happily traded in all my craft lagers for one more can of the Spaten, because it had the taste and character I was craving while the others did not. “Craft” wasn’t what was going to quench my thirst last night, flavour was.

 

 

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Filed under beer judging, beer reviews, beer style, drinking quality

Getting Ready for Autumn

Let me be clear about this: I am not looking forward to fall. Summer is my season and I mourn its inevitable conclusion every single year. I have recognized for some time that this makes me a bad Canadian, but what the hell, it’s who I am.

Still, there is the reality that fall follows summer like the bill follows a night at the bar, so I appreciate that I might as well deal with it. And one very fine way to do so is with New Glarus Brewing’s Uff-da Bock.

I first tasted the Uff-da many, many years ago, when New Glarus was but in its infancy, and for some time I thought it had fallen from the brewery’s line-up. But in a recent shipment of tasting samples, there it was again, beckoning like a long-lost talisman. Its mere presence made me smile.

Tasting it, however, makes me positively giddy. Here is a bock crafted how all bocks should, with loads of deeply caramelized, almost smoky maltiness in the aroma and chocolate caramels with molasses accents in the big, mouth-filling body, supported by light hints of smoky coffee. The brewery calls it a beer “brewed to appease the Gods of Winter,” but for me this is the consummate fall bock, strong and dark and ideal for when the first chilly winds kick up off the western prairies. If I could get a hold of it, I would stock it and drink it and impose it upon visitors from Labour Day through to the start of December, and maybe just a bit beyond.

Wisconsin, this autumn you’ll have Uff-da and potentially the Brewers in the World Series. Enjoy both to the fullest!

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Setting the Cause of Beer Knowledge Back Two Decades…

Just look at what Young Dredge found adorning the shelves of Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer. (Not beer retailer, mind you, but retailer, period.) “Fuller Flavoured Lagers” like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Innis & Gunn.

Imagine if they were promoting the arrival of “Big Bodied Red Wines” like Cakebread Cellars Reserve Chardonnay and Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc! Someone would be fired, I would think, or at least severely reprimanded.

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