Archive for the ‘Beer’ Category

Beer for Wine Lovers

As I sit here enjoying a home-brewed wine (!) that my parents made last fall (great, guys, by the way!), I’m reminded of a thought I had a few days ago, reinforced at yesterday’s NERAX North event. I was reading a piece in the New York Times about cask-conditioned ale, when I noticed that the piece was written by their wine reviewer.

As I was grumbling about a the Times sending their wine reviewer to do a beer review, it occured to me that the pairing was actually perfect: there is no beer that a wine-lover is more likely to enjoy than a properly-served cask-conditioned ale.

Think about it. What are the main differences between wine and your typical beer? Forget grapes vs. barley – those are inescapable. The three that come to my mind are: carbonation, serving temperature, and flavoring particles.

To start with, most wine is uncarbonated. Unless you’re specifically talking about champagne or sparkling wine, the assumption is that wine is still. Some people prefer their beverages this way. No sparkling on the tongue or in the nose, no unfortunate gaseous releases to deal with later.

What they don’t know is that most craft beer, especially true for cask-conditioned and “real ale”, has much less carbonation than macro-brewed beer. Artisanal brewers realize that large amounts of carbonation only hide the flavor of beer. The mild carbonation is intended only to keep the beer dancing on the tongue, and they stop before it goes all house-bouncing-rave style. Someone expecting a typical beer may even complain that what they got was flat. I think a wine-lover could truly appreciate the stillness and lack of distraction from the beer’s other flavors, though.

Most wine is also served only mildly chilled. Whites are often cool on the tongue, but reds are usually nearly room-temperature. Again, a certain amount of personal preference plays into the choice. Teeth are sensitive to temperature swings. There’s less pressure to finish a beverage before it gets warm, if it starts out at room temperature.

But, here again is a place where cask-conditioned ale stands apart. Casks live in, and are served from cellars. As such, the beer in them is served at “cellar temperature”, usually around 50ºF. At this temperature, the beer’s flavors are much more available to the tongue. Beers served colder, sometimes even “ice cold”, numb the tongue as they’re drunk. The tongue is so frigid, it can’t tell if it’s drinking beer or iced tea.

But what about the flavor? Even if you serve with less carbonation and a higher termperature to allow the tongue to taste more, what if you don’t like the taste of beer? Certainly, wine is made from grapes, and beer is made from barley, and they taste different. But, there is one flavor aspect that are extremely important to many wines: tannins.

Tannins come from woods, and that skins of fruit, leaves of plants, and hulls of grains (really just the “fruit” of grasses). Homebrewers are familiar with cautions not to heat grain too high lest they extract the tannins of the hulls. However, cask-beers do extract tannins from another source – the cask! Yes, the wood in the barrel, often the same wood used in wine barrels, contributes tannins to the beer contained within. Familiar flavors for the wine connoisseur, right there in cask-conditioned ale.

Wine, served still, at or just below room temperature, drawn from a wooden container. Beer, served only slightly sparkling, just below room temperature, drawn from a wooden container. Now you’re just down to grapes vs. barley and hops. I think there may be hope for converting the wine-lovers yet. :)

(And if you really want to push the grapes vs. barley and hops argument, I’ll offer two for comparison: mead (honey wine) and Brackett ale (honey and malt). Where’s the difference now?)

Why YOU Should Drink Green

Wait! Before you skip this post thinking that I’m just another “tree hugger” ranting about saving the planet, I want to tell you that I’m going to divide this post into two parts. The first part will be reasons you should drink green that only affect your enjoyment of the beer. Only the second part will be about why drinking in this manner also saves the planet. I’ll let you know before the switch.

Okay, well let’s get on with it!

First of all, there are several things you should be doing to ensure that you’re drinking green. In no particular order, here are my top several:

  • Drink from a glass.
  • Drink local beer.
  • Drink seasonal beer.
  • Drink ales.
  • Drink barley.
  • Enjoy cellar temperature.
  • Love yeast.

Some of those are going to need explaining. So, here are the reasons for each of them, in how they relate your your beer enjoyment.

Drink from a glass. If you’re drinking from a bottle, you’re severly limiting your ability to taste the beer. A large portion of a human’s taste sensation comes from smell. A glass allows your nose to get right down in the aroma.

Drink local beer. For all of its exploits, all around the world, beer is, at some level, a fragile, tempermental beverage. It needs to be stored in a dark place, at a proper temperature. Even then, it has a maximum shelf life of only a few months. Drinking locally means that you have the best chance of enjoying that beer before it has been subjected to terrible storage practices.

Drink seasonal beer. Same as above, beer has a maximal shelf life, and should be drunk as soon as it’s ready. Find out what’s in season and drink it in its prime.

Drink ales. The world of ales is vast. Pale, IPA, Brown, Strong, Stout, Porter, Wheat, Red – and that’s not even making a dent. If you’re looking for a particular flavor, there is an ale to match it.

Drink barley. If you’re a typical American, you get your daily fill of corn without even thinking about it. Demand that your beer supply you with something else. Barley has a complex flavor all its own, and nutrients to match. Seek the different roasts, and never be bored.

Enjoy cellar temperature. Ice-cold serving does one thing: numbs your taste buds. You’re drinking a fine beverage – why would you want to avoid its taste? Store and enjoy your beer at cellar temperature – you’ll find more flavor that way.

Love yeast. Yeast is a very simple organism that plays a very large role in beer’s flavor. Some beers (include real ale, unfiltered wheats, and bottle-fermented varieties) still have yeast (alive and/or dead) in the beer while you drink it. This adds yet another flavor for your tongue to ponder. Yeast is also a great source of vitamin B – so it’s good for more than just your tongue.

Alright, this is the point where I go all tree-hugger on you. Hopefully I’ve caught enough of your interest with the points above that you’d like to know why these things are important for more than just taste. If so, read on.

Drink from a glass. If you’re drinking from a glass, you most likely had your beer poured from a keg. That means no extra energy was wasted on making a bottle, cleaning a bottle, or transporting a bottle. Just make sure it’s a reusable glass.

Drink local beer. If your beer is made locally, much less energy has been used in getting it to you.

Drink seasonal beer. It takes extra energy to provide conditions in which to brew unseasonal beer out of season. Embrace the cycle.

Drink ales. Lagers must ferment (and be stored) at much lower temperatures than ales. If you know someone that still makes lagers by burying casks in caves, covering them with ice harvested from a lake in the winter, then good for you, and drink up. However, most lagers are brewed by refrigerating large warehouses, and delivered in refrigerated trucks.

Drink barley. Americans are practically made of corn. Barley is an excellent source of nutrition, and encouraging its growth means that our farms have other profitable crops to fall back on when weather ruins corn crops. It’s unhealthy for the planet to run farming monocultures.

Enjoy cellar temperature. Even if you’re not drinking a lager, if your ale is served ice-cold, it’s being refrigerated in a way that is completely unnecessary. Turn the thermostate up a few degrees, and save some watts.

Love yeast. Naturally-fermented beer requires no extra piping of CO2, no extra pump pressure to force beer through a filter, and no extra cooling. And, you get smaller bubbles (which make for thicker head) without bothering with a Guinness-style nitrogen “widget”.

So there you have it. Drinking green – good for both you and the Earth. If you’d like to read more about the benefits of drinking beer responsibly, I recommend Christopher Mark O’Brien’s Fermenting Revolution.

-Bryan

P.S. This post is part of Blog Action Day. Yes, I agree that actions speak louder than words, but I already act on the words I wrote above, so I figured adding the words couldn’t hurt.

P.P.S. I know it’s been a while since I posted here, and this post isn’t likely to be on the topic many of you were hoping. But, I assure you that there is BeerRiot development going on. I’ll be posting about it soon.

American Beer Fest Review

Night of the Lagers was awesome. There were quite a few beers there that really did break from the stereotype of Fizzy Yellow Water ™. In particular, I’d call attention to The Tap’s Pilsnaah – really a great example of what I think a pilsner-style beer should be.

There were also beers that didn’t appeal to me, of course, but the big news of the evening was Harpoon’s absence. The brewery sponsor, with their Official Beer of the fest, Pre-Prohibition Lager, didn’t even show up Friday night. The word is that the “Pre-Pro” turned out so bad that they refuse to serve it. Very sad, if not fitting that the recipe from the old days fell to the problems of the old days – you never knew what would come out of a barrel after months of storage.

Anyway, I’ve added the rest of the line up for Saturday’s sessions under the same tag. Please log in, rate, and comment if you’re going today. There are quite a number of beers on the list that I really wish I could be there to try myself!

American Beer Fest

Alas, BeerAdvocate’s American Beer Fest is upon us. If you haven’t bought your ticket yet, get out there and find one. I know a lot of people like to joke about the quality of American beer, but these fests really prove that the joke is only funny to those that don’t know anything about beer. We really produce some wicked good beer here.

I’ve gone ahead and added all of the beers that will be available Friday’s Night of the Lagers. That should make it easy for all of us to record our impressions Saturday morning.

Us?! Why yes, if you happen to be at Friday night’s session, we may bump into each other. You’ll recognize me. ;) Don’t be afraid to say hi – I’d love to hear what you think of the site.

Don’t forget your pen – it’s almost impossible to remember which beer was which 12 hours later.

P.S. I’ll probably add the beer list for the Saturday sessions sometime Saturday morning, unless someone else beats me to it.

BeerRiot – Local

As some of you may have noticed, BeerRiot – Local is live. Thanks to Corey for planting the seed – it’s a mashup of Brewery locations and Google Maps. It’s not exactly what I had planned at the outset, but I think it may be even better. :)

I call it “Local”, but in reality, I just dump all of the breweries I know about onto the map. If you scroll away from wherever the map started, you’ll find all of the other breweries in the proper places.

This makes things a little slower – there’s over 100 pins on there. I checked out ACME’s “Clusterer”, but I just wasn’t happy with the interaction it gave. I’ll have to come up with some other solution soon, but for now, it looks like things actually run pretty decently as long as I’m not browsing with the G4 on which I’m also running my SQL server, web server, Safari with 10 other tabs, iTunes, emacs… You get the idea.

So, why Local as the next feature? Well, it has been one of the most requested features for one thing. For another, I really think it’s important to drink locally. Drinking locally immerses you in the culture of the location, supports the smaller-scale guys honing their craft, and saves energy. Try some homebrew for the ultimate in local, but barring that, seek out any professional in your area and find our what they’re pouring.

If you’re interested in more reasons that drinking locally (or even just drinking beer in general) is a good idea, I recommend finding a copy of Chris O’Brien’s Fermenting Revolution. Hey – and it looks like Chris has a wordpress blog too.

BeerAdvocate’s “Judging Beer”

BeerAdvocate Magazine’s Defending Beer article in the May 2007 issue, titled “Judging Beer”, speaks directly to the problem that we at BeerRiot are trying to solve.

“Beer, by its very nature is an inherently subjective commodity,” writes Andy Crouch. The rest of the article continues to list a number of the flaws in official contests and the fickle nature of popularity.

I couldn’t agree more. No expert can cover the tastes of every individual. Nor can any majority. It doesn’t matter how many people like a beer. If you like it, you like it – the fact that someone else dislikes it shouldn’t change that.

This is the aim of BeerRiot. Rather than bore you with the opinion of yet another expert, or confuse you with yet another popularity contest, we attempt to find those people that are actually more likely to have opinions you agree with. The scores you see here are based only on the opinions of those people.

We hope it will be just like learning about beers from your close friends. You know exactly which ones to trust and which ones to question. Here we hope to enable you to filter a much larger population automatically.

(By the way, if you are anywhere near Boston the weekend of June 16, you owe it to yourself to get tickets to BeerAdvocate’s American BeerFest. Nowhere will you find more beers to taste at one time.)

The Case Against Styles

It was one of my first decisions, and it resulted in one of the first feature requests submitted. BeerRiot does not acknowledge “style” as an intrinsic property of beer. Beers are not classified by any of the terms people toss about in relation to beer today.

Here’s why.

First off, what does it matter what style the beer is? If you like the beer, you like the beer. I want to try to help people not to pigeon-hole themselves. I’ve seen far too many people decline to try a beer because, “I don’t like stout.” (or whatever the style happened to be at the time)

What do you mean by “stout”? Terms are so overused these days. I’ve had stouts that are thick, thin, bitter, sweet, and different in many other ways. About all I can be assured of any more is that a beer labeled “stout” will be dark in color. That doesn’t help me in my beer selection. The same goes for other styles, but stout comes up often.

Is that stout really a porter? Not to harp on stout more, but it seems like a brewery will choose to call a beer either “stout” or “porter” depending on which way the wind is blowing that day. I’ve not heard a good explanation for the difference other than in official contest rules. Those rules seem not to apply outside the contests.

According to many beer afficionados, that which we call porter today has very little to do with the porter of yesterday. In fact, some say we don’t even know what made up the original porter. (Yes, I know those last two sentences can be contradictory – take them in the way that they are not so.) This seems to happen with more styles daily. Just a month ago I heard some pundit refer to “brown ale” as Altbier – a personal offense to one of my favorite styles.

Finally, what about those beers that really do span styles? Many, but by no means all, wheat beers contain fruit, which would make them fruit beers. But, there are fruit beers that are not wheat-based. Clearly a fruit-wheat beer fits in more than one style, and a separate fruit-wheat style seems like overkill.

So, given that styles don’t give much information, and that information is constantly changing, I chose to just leave the whole lot out.

However, I do recognize that more than wanting to know what kind of beer is being recommended to her, a rioter may want to explore a particular style of beer. For that purpose, I think tags fill the requirement nicely.

With tags, rioters can mark a beer “fruit” as well as “wheat”, “porter” as well as “stout”, or even just “dark-colored”. No endless debates about whether a beer should be moved to a different category. If the shoe fits, put it on. If no shoe fits, make another shoe.

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