Monthly Archives: November 2013

Dining Down the Holiday Homestretch: Choucroute à la Gueuze

Sauerkraut is one of those dishes that can assume multiple incarnations, some on the light side, and some with enough goose fat to sink the Bismarck. After three solid days of eating rich foods over the course of that American holiday of sublime overindulgence, I’m feeling very much inclined to look to the lighter end of the spectrum and to the west of the Rhine.

For this variation on Alsatian-style sauerkraut, Choucroute à la Gueuze (or just plain sour beer sauerkraut, if you prefer), I use gueuze in place of white wine for a zesty crispness that’ll cut through all that turkey and mashed potatoes. I also bundle up a slightly different spice blend than I do when making my soporific duck fat German-style sauerkraut, spices that come together in a flavourful ensemble with the citric tartness of the gueuze. The amounts are approximate – spice as conservatively or intensely as you like.

One of my many sauerkraut variations - this one made with Boulevard's Harvest Wheat Wine

One of my sauerkraut variations – this one made with Boulevard’s Harvest Wheat Wine

Versatility is the hallmark of this dish. You can serve it up with sausages and ham, or you can opt instead for a seafood variation using scallops and halibut. Prepare these simply: salt, pepper, and a quick sauté in a mixture of olive oil and butter before garnishing the platter. You can also add mussels near the end of cooking to echo that other great beer accompaniment, moules-frites. Boiled young potatoes add just enough heft, and sliced, parboiled fennel bulb rounds out the dish.

Vegetarians need not feel left out in the cold either. For depth of flavour, substitute one pound of mushrooms for the bacon and skip the butter if you’re vegan. Crimini mushrooms work well, but chanterelles or oyster mushrooms add a finer touch. Caramelize the mushrooms in a separate skillet, and then combine with the rest of the ingredients when adding the sauerkraut.

The humble cabbage is, of course, the star attraction. You can use canned sauerkraut in an absolute pinch, but a bag or jar of fresh sauerkraut will flatter the dish all the more. Better yet, make your own. All you need is some advanced planning, a little time, and a sharp knife. (Details follow the recipe).

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. fresh sauerkraut, rinsed
  • ¼ lb. slab of bacon, diced
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 green apples (peeled, cored, and diced)
  • 1 cup gueuze or lambic (a light-coloured beer like Lindemans Cuvée René works well)
  • 1 tbsp. juniper berries
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp. cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp. tarragon, chopped (keep a few sprigs aside for garnish)
  • sea salt or kosher salt to taste
  • cheesecloth and cooking twine
  • sausages, meats, seafood, potatoes, and vegetables of your choice

Directions

Preheat oven to 325º F. Rinse the sauerkraut and prep the onion and apples. Tie the juniper, cloves, coriander, fennel, cumin, and bay leaves in cheesecloth to make a spice bag.

In the meantime, render the bacon fat in a heavy casserole set over just shy of medium heat. Swirl in the butter, raise heat to medium-high, and sauté the onions until they turn translucent. Add garlic and apple and sauté another minute or two.

Raise heat slightly, deglaze the casserole with the gueuze, and add the sauerkraut and spice bag, letting everything come to a gentle boil. Check salt and add if necessary, then cover the casserole and place it in the oven.

You could easily let this dish cook for up to three hours for a very tender, nearly melting sauerkraut, but since we’re going for a light touch, an hour will yield sauerkraut with some crunch. You could also braise the sauerkraut on the stove top over low heat, but cooking it in the oven frees up the stove top so you can prep the other fine foods that will garnish your dish.

Remove from the oven and stir in the tarragon. Cover and let sit for another minute or two before garnishing the casserole or turning the contents out onto a platter.

Serve with gueuze, lambic, Flanders red ale, or Oud Bruin. White wines like Rieslings or Gewürztraminers are perfect accompaniments as well.

Turning Cabbage into Sauerkraut

Find a dense cabbage (go for purple cabbage if you’d like some added colour), remove the outer leaves, core it, and then slice it thinly. You could use a food processor, but the result comes out like watery coleslaw. For every five pounds of cabbage you’ll need about 3.5 tablespoons of salt (roughly 2-3% of the weight of the cabbage).

If you own a crock, great. If not, this fermenting fabrication works just as well: two food-grade containers of equal size.

IMG_9497Simple, eh? Just fill the bottom container with alternating layers of cabbage and salt, then fill the top one with water to weigh it down. Top it off with a clean pillow case, draw some whiskers on it, and you’ll keep the ambient critters at bay. Store the container in a cool, dry place and wait about three weeks.

© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Fridays’ Liquiforic Links Round-Up

It’s that time of year in the U.S. again when the Thanksgiving feast gives way to food comas and the occasional hangover. And Black Friday.

If carousing with the host of crazed Black Friday shoppers is not your thing, do what many a craft brewery has been encouraging you to do: relax at home, all the better with a decent beer or two. Or head over to one of your many local craft breweries pouring pints or filling Black Friday growlers.

Recently-featured Abandon Beer Company will be serving up their Black Friday Ale at Finger Lakes Distilling on nearby Seneca Lake. Black Currant Amber and Walnut Brown Ale are also available at their taproom, also open today.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152104576758974&set=a.129205653973.130546.58110473973&type=1&relevant_count=1

Another brewery that has been featured in these pages, Grimm Brothers, is hosting their “Daddy Daycare” event, featuring the release of their Ungrateful Son, a grapefruit-infused amber dry hopped with Cascade.

https://www.facebook.com/events/657628880956608/

According to American Automobile Association estimates, some 43.4 million Americans will have taken to the roads, rails, or airways in search of turkey, mashed potatoes, and good cheer among friends and family. If you’re traveling home by air, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find yourself holed up for a spell in one of these nine craft beer ports featured in Draft Magazine:

http://draftmag.com/features/4-layovers-youll-love/

http://draftmag.com/features/5-airports-with-craft-beer/

During those airport stopovers or time spent as a passenger while en route to the home stretch down to the holiday season, here’s some listmania for you: Wine Enthusiast’s “2013 Top 25 Beers.” Unsurprisingly over-subscribed on the IPA front, the top beer does, at least, offer an interesting twist.

http://buyingguide.winemag.com/toplists/2013/beers

The Barn and the Brewery: A Touch of Tradition and a Dash of Creativity Define Abandon

Grape vines have long been cultivated in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, and the resulting wines – in particular, the Rieslings reminiscent of the Rhine and Mosel –  have spelled growing acclaim for the region. Keuka Lake, one of the eleven glacial lakes that makes up the Finger Lakes AVA (American Viticultural Area), has played a central role in the region’s development, with the town of Hammondsport laying claim to the first commercial viticultural venture in 1862. In the post-prohibition years, personalities such as Dr. Konstantin Frank, a Ukranian immigrant and founder of the eponymous Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars, convinced skeptics that the Vitis vinifera grape varieties of Europe could grow in the region’s cold climate. His untiring work with the vineyard and with Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYAES) in Geneva, NY, helped Keuka Lake and the rest of the region become the pre-eminent food and beverage location it is today.

Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company

Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company

And now the Finger Lakes wineries dotting the shores of Keuka Lake have a new neighbour, one that works with different bounties of the surrounding fields. Not far from the sleepy town of Penn Yann, and up a gravel road with a sweeping overlook of Keuka’s eastern arm, sits Abandon Brewing Company. Abandon began serving up its Belgian-infused farmhouse atmosphere a month ago – just in time for legions of appreciative craft beer drinkers to enjoy their pints on the deck with a touch of autumn in the air.

The Abandon story begins seven years ago when owner, Garry Sperrick, purchased the pastoral land on which Abandon is sited. With nearly eighty vineyards in the immediate vicinity, Sperrick thought something a little different was in order. Why not a farmhouse brewery? Nestled in a carefully restored nineteenth-century barn amidst seven acres of vineyards, apple orchards, walnut groves, and hop bines, Abandon joins fourteen other breweries licensed under New York State’s recently enacted farmhouse brewery bill. The legislation requires that twenty percent of the hops and twenty percent of other ingredients making their way into the brew kettle or fermenter be produced in New York State.

Enter Jeff Hillebrandt, a young brewer with a long résumé that includes time in Germany and at Ommegang – and a brewer with a knack for creating innovative but harmonious beers with the ingredients that grow up around Abandon. I had the pleasure of meeting Hillebrandt at a tasting event earlier this year, and had the opportunity to visit Abandon while the barn was in the late stages of renovation. What I saw and tasted impressed me.

Belying the bucolic scenery of its surroundings, Abandon is driven by a state-of-the-art geothermal system integral to the operation of the brewhouse and tasting room. The system heats both the barn and the water used for brewing and cleaning, serves to chill the water used for the heat exchangers post-boil, and keeps the fermentation vessels cool.

The Abandon barn, pre-renovation. (Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company)

The Abandon barn, pre-renovation. (Photo courtesy of Abandon Brewing Company)

Hillebrandt favours traditional Belgian styles and yeast strains, but doesn’t shy away from experimentation. Unique hybrids are often the result, such as a Farmhouse IPA packed with American hops but fermented with a blend of saison and Brettanomyces yeasts. The rest of the year-rounders run along similar tracks, and include a peppery-spicy Belgian Rye, a malt-driven Abbey Dubbel with a fruity character, and a lower ABV Session Saison perfect for keeping the summer heat at bay. Plans are also in place to turn several of Abandon’s current harvest editions into year-round affairs.

Photo by author

Photo by author

Seasonal offerings showcase the crops that grow on and around Abandon Acres. Walnuts and black currants grace recently-released and soon-to-be-tapped beers, and the Smoking Pumpkin Ale conjures up images of Thanksgivings of yore, lightly spiced and laced with local pumpkin slow-roasted over an apple-wood fire.

Hop aficionados won’t be left wanting either. As much as Hillebrandt is an eloquent advocate for Belgian styles, he’s also fond of bold American flavours. Abandon’s Wet-Hopped Double IPA delivers hints of blueberry from the popular new Mosaic hop variety in combination with other hops grown locally. For added variety, Abandon makes a Hoppe Cider from Cortland apples and Fuggles hops from their farm.

Months before the brewery even opened its doors, Abandon was drawing attention from the regional and national media. Anticipation for Abandon’s opening ran so high that Sperrick and Hillebrandt began contemplating expanded production. The current three-barrel system has kept the tap room guests happy thus far, but with plans for bottling and wider distribution on the horizon, the two opted for a ten-barrel system that arrived last week from Prince Edward Island. (The land of Anne of Green Gables, Malpeques, and the ill-fated Charlottetown Accord makes brewing systems?!) With the larger system in place, Hillebrandt will reserve the smaller system as an outlet for his creative impulses.

Even though the weather has turned winter, Abandon will still be pouring pints in their taproom and beer hall located at 2994 Merritt Hill Road, Penn Yann, NY, from Friday to Sunday between noon and 5pm. Keep an eye out, too, for regional events featuring Abandon’s beers.

Abandon - Logo

Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

’Tis the season for rich dishes that combat cold evenings. If you’re looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous turkey (or if you just plain like pork), this dish echoes the flavours and aromas of the bourbon barrel-aged beers I featured last weekend. It would also accent the maltiness of English-style barley wine quite nicely. Serve your favourite kale dish as a side so that you don’t feel too bad about eating and drinking such an ample combination.

Maple-Glazed Bourbon and Apple Cider Pork Belly

IMG_6394

Ingredients

  • 2.5 to 3 lbs pork belly, rubbed generously with coarse sea salt and pepper
  • 1.5 cups apple cider
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 pinches salt (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery sticks, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp mixed peppercorns
  • ¼ cup dry vermouth
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup for the glaze

Directions

Rub pork eight hours beforehand or, preferably, the night before. Remove from fridge about twenty to thirty minutes before cooking and preheat oven to 300 degrees. While the pork is coming up to room temperature, prepare the vegetables and the braising liquid (apple cider, bourbon, chicken stock, apple cider vinegar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves).

Heat about 1 tbsp oil in a heavy casserole. Cut the slab of pork in half, and brown each piece over medium-high heat, one at a time, until golden brown. Drain fat, reserving 1.5 tbsp.

Add the vegetables to the reserved fat and sauté. Scrape all of this to the side, and deglaze with the pot with vermouth. Gently score the fat side of the pork belly slabs, return to the pot, and  add the braising liquid. Bring up close to a boil and, if need be, adjust salt level before placing in the oven.

Cook in oven for 2 hours, and then turn the oven down to 200 degrees for the next 1.5 hours or so.

Remove pot from the oven, and remove the pork slabs. Strain and de-fat the sauce, and then begin reducing it. While the sauce is reducing, add the maple syrup. Continue Reducing until the sauce coats the back of a spoon.

Cut the pork slab into large cubes, and crisp each fat side in a skillet or stainless steel pan over medium-high heat. Place on a plate, and spoon the glaze over the cubes.

Wine complements this dish just as well as beer. A lighter red wine would do just fine, but don’t forget about the compelling possibilities of white wine. Try an aged Chenin Blanc from the Loire region of France – an excellent match with the maple and bourbon in the glaze – or even a crisp sparkling wine from California or the Finger Lakes.

Bon Appétit!

Related Tempest Articles

The Fonduementals of Beer and Cider: Recipes to Warm Your Weekend

Bourbon in Michigan: Barrel-Aged Beer along the Great Lakes

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Of Isinglass and Other Fine Additives, Or, Is That a Fish Bladder I Spy in My Beer?

Last night I finally got around to brewing my chocolate peanut porter. With the cocoa nibs and peanuts I’ll add to the fermenter, the beer is no poster child for the German Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law), but at least I got the peanuts from the local farmers’ market. Like many homebrewers, I added a smidgeon of Irish moss toward the end of the boil so that the beer will be relatively clear when I bottle it.

IMG_9467

Irish moss is actually seaweed, a red alga that we also know as carrageenan. Irish moss combines with haze-forming proteins, and precipitates out of the beer. But Irish moss doesn’t aid in clearing yeast strains that don’t flocculate well. (A highly flocculant yeast strain is one that drops out of suspension quickly). To round up these reluctant yeasts, some brewers historical and contemporary turn to isinglass to perform the feat.

Isinglass is fish bladder.

Wait, fish bladder in my beer? The very notion of it has spawned (ahem) a spate of articles expressing righteous indignation at breweries for lacing their beer with, well, fish guts. I’ll address one of those articles here – Food Babe’s “The Shocking Ingredients in Beer” – mainly because it just made its second appearance in as many months on friends’ Facebook feeds.

Food Babe is “hot on the trail to investigate what’s really in your food.” With her article on beer, she turns up all manner of scandalous brewing transgressions, from GMO ingredients and high fructose corn syrup to harmful food colouring additives. And fish bladder.

Source: edibleprogress.com

Source: edibleprogress.com

She takes particular umbrage at the paucity of information on the labels – an issue I think merits debate. But aside from a belated nod to craft brewers and the Germans, she concludes that “if you decide to drink beer, you are definitely drinking at your own risk for more reasons than just the crazy ingredients that could be in them.”

 

Addressing one of Food Babe’s main concerns – the use of GMO adjuncts, particularly corn, by many of the large brewing conglomerates – is fairly straightforward: stop drinking mass-produced beer and head in search of your closest craft brewery.

Source: foodbabe.com

Source: foodbabe.com

Whether you’re choosing artisanal products from Europe or beers produced in your neck of the North American woods, the odds are in your favour that you’ll be getting beer made with ingredients of the highest quality.

And not only of the highest quality but, increasingly, local. New York State is only one of the most prominent examples of this steadily growing promotion of local agriculture. Aided by the recently enacted farm brewery legislation, craft brewers in New York State have helped re-introduce hop cultivation to New York, spur grain production in parts of the state, and spin off ancillary industries such as Farmhouse Malt in Newark Valley. (In the near future I will feature two Finger Lakes breweries that source ingredients grown in-state: Abandon Brewing Company, and Hopshire Farm and Brewery).

Now back to that pesky fish bladder in my beer. Food Babe’s startling revelation is doubly skewed, first by suggesting that all that ground up fish bladder is sitting there in your beer holding up Guinness’ famously resilient foam, and second by implying – via association with GMOs and high-fructose corn syrup – that isinglass is somehow bad for you. (Again, point taken on the ambiguity of labeling, especially if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or among those who have an allergic reaction to isinglass.) But isinglass is a fining agent, which means it doesn’t stay in suspension in the liquid; the amount of it that makes it into your glass is miniscule, if it even makes it in there at all.

Originally manufactured from sturgeon and later from cod, hake, and catfish, this dried and treated bit of fish innards has a long history in beer, mead, and wine production. Writing about porters in 1760, brewer Obidah Poundage looks back at the intervening years since porter’s 1722 inception and lauds the advances made since then:

“I well remember for many years it was not expected, nor was it thought possible [for porter] to be made fine and bright, and four and five months was deemed to be sufficient age for it to be drunk at. The improvement of transparency has since been added to it by means of more and better workmanship, better malt, better hops and the use of isinglass.” (Daniels, Designing Great Beers, 264).

Isinglass and other fining agents such as gelatin, carrageenen, and even egg white yield a clear glass of beer, wine, or mead by bonding with proteins, tannins, yeast cells, and other compounds. Fining agents attract these compounds, which contribute to a cloudy haze that some find unappealing, causing the compounds to precipitate to the bottom of the fermentation vessel or bright tank.

Most of your favourite alcoholic beverages, be they beer, wine, or mead, will clear with enough time. But time adds up in the form of storage space and lagering capacity. Many larger craft breweries will filter their beer or run it through a centrifuge, but these pieces of equipment are usually beyond the means of smaller breweries just starting out.

Among the smaller craft brewers that I have polled – an admittedly very small sample, since I’ve been polling for less than forty-eight hours now – kettle additions of carrageenan are common. One brewer with a long résumé noted that, in his experience, nearly all breweries add finings of some sort to the kettle. Another brewer pointed to his brewery’s selection of a yeast strain that ferments quickly and efficiently, leaving the beer clear. Some beer styles like IPA throw a mild haze from the hops, but many brewers eschew the fining or filtering of beers post-fermentation so as not to strip the beer of flavour and aroma.

So there you have it, fellow imbibers. That clear glass of wine or beer you’re drinking is quite possibly the result of a fining agent used at some point in the process.

Bottoms up.

__________

I’d like to thank the brewers and beer writers who shared their knowledge with me on short notice.

Further Reading:

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (Penguin, 2002).

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Scribner, 2004).

Jancis Robinson (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford UP, 1994).

Ken Schramm, The Compleat Meadmaker (Brewers Publications, 2003).

Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles (Brewers Publications, 2000).

Bourbon in Michigan: Barrel-Aged Beer along the Great Lakes

With its rich aromas and flavours, bourbon barrel-aged beer evokes late fall hues and heralds the coming of winter. In this, the first of what I intend be an occasional series of posts tracking barrel-aged and sour beers across North America, I sample some of what the Michigan shores of the Great Lakes have to offer: Founders’ Backwoods Bastard, and New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk.

Despite its recent and growing popularity, barrel-aged beer is far from new. Lambic and Flemish red ales call to mind examples of traditional European beer production in which wooden barrels have long been a fixture. What is relatively novel and entirely indigenous to the United States, though, is the selection of a particular vessel for aging beer: the bourbon barrel. Goose Island’s venerable Bourbon County Stout dates back to 1992 and is, according to the brewery, the beer that originated the bourbon barrel-aged category.

Beer Barrels 2

On this side of the pond, bourbon has made a distinct and indelible impression on the craft beer drinker’s palate – to the tune of seven bourbon barrel-aged beers occupying the first twenty-five spots on BeerAdvocate’s “Top 250 Beers” list. Not only is the acronym “BAB” gaining traction, barrel-aged beer now has its own feast day of sorts inscribed on the craft beer calendar. For those who missed out on this year’s Barrel-Aged Beer Day, mark October 3, 2014, on your calendars so that you, too, can partake of the excitement of yet another “Beer Style XYZ Day.”

The Great Lakes region is home to a number of reputable bourbon beers. Along with Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout, Three Floyds in Indiana produces a series of bourbon barrel-aged offerings that have included renditions of their Black Sun Stout and Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout. Michigan, too, has no shortage of renowned bourbon beers, with bourbon-inspired variations of Bell’s Black Note Stout, Dark Horse’s Plead the 5th Imperial Stout, and Short’s Bourbon Wizard Barley Wine, offering craft beer enthusiasts some compelling choices along the way. (Like many brewers that have been bitten by the barrel bug, Dark Horse rolls out not one, but several, bourbon beer offerings.) So entrenched has the enthusiasm for bourbon beers become that Carson’s American Bistro in Ann Arbor is poised this Thursday to offer an autumnal repast of Citrus-Cured Pork Belly, Duck Confit, and Pumpkin Tres Leches Cake to pair with a selection of bourbon beers.

If you’re in the market for some bourbon beer to pair with your own Thanksgiving feast, and if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area with solid distribution of “Michigan bourbons,” neither Founders’ Backwoods Bastard Scotch-style ale nor New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk stout will let you down.

The 2013 edition of Dragon’s Milk has teeth aplenty, clocking in at a weighty 23 degrees Plato and 10% ABV.

NewHolland DragonsMilk 1

The aromas of this ruby-tinged dark brown beer layer a mélange of earthy vanilla-butterscotch oak tones on top of high-octane mocha coffee reminiscent, at times, of Kahlua. Dark cherry, maple syrup, black pepper, and licorice mingle with the malt aromas. A little like liquid brown sugar on the palate, the beer has a velvety texture checked by a firm hand with the bittering hops, reprising the dominant fruit, wood, and mocha aroma notes. An ideal accompaniment to dishes accented with sweeter sauces (maple syrup-glazed pork belly, anyone?), and, of course, dessert.

Founders’ Backwoods Bastard also carries a daunting 10.2% ABV, sure to induce a sound sleep if consumed alongside one too many crème brulées.

FoundersBackwood 3-pack

The bottle I had was from 2012, so wood aromatics of cinnamon sticks and sandalwood from the aging process formed a nice accompaniment to the complex Ovaltine-like malt and vanilla bean nuances. As this elegant brick-red/pecan-brown beer opened up, oak, shortbread, and brown sugar-dusted earthy licorice came to the fore. Expansive and incredibly buoyant on the palate for its ABV heft, Backwoods intertwines flavours of honeyed figs, black cherry, and spice box, with a warming and lasting bright bourbon cherry finish.

New Holland is drinking well now, but could use more time to round out the rougher edges of the roasted coffee, bitter-sweet chocolate, and sharper alcohol tones. With an extra year of age to its advantage, the Founders was more settled and harmonious, presenting an exquisite balance between fruit and malt characteristics of milk caramel, toasted toffee, and molasses-brown sugar.

For some fun, why not practice your blending skills to produce a “Backwoods Dragon”? And don’t forget to drink these beers on the warm side of cellar temperature.

Related Tempest Articles

Bourbon Squared: Maple-Glazed Pork Belly Meets Barrel-Aged Beer

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Celebration Time? Women and the Craft Beer World

*The inspiration for this piece comes from early November’s The Session topic.

Here’s a scenario that was making the rounds in many a cultural sensitivity workshop about a decade ago. It goes something like this:

A doctor was driving home early one evening and came across the scene of an accident. On the sidewalk lay a boy with broken limbs who had been clipped by a car while riding his bike. The man pushed his way through the crowd to administer first-aid. To his horror, he saw that the person was his son. An ambulance arrived, and whisked the child to the hospital. There, the emergency room physician gasped, “That’s my son!”

These days, many of us would undoubtedly be quick to pick up on what’s happening in this riddle that seemingly bends the dimensions of time and space. But let me put it another way.

A woman walks into a homebrew club meeting. Those who didn’t notice that she walked in with her partner look at her politely but quizzically, some venturing to suggest that maybe her friends are in another part of the bar. The ones who did notice that she walked in with her partner offer her some homebrew and attempt to break the ice by asking what kinds of beer her partner likes to brew.

Turns out she’s the homebrewer.

Despite many an optimistic prognostication that women are taking the craft beer scene by storm, certain stereotypes die hard. I align myself with those who celebrate the narrowing of the gender gap in the craft beer world, but alas, I see a glass half empty sitting on the table.

Increasingly, women are turning up at the helm of breweries. Kim Jordan is co-founder and CEO of New Belgium Brewing, one of the largest craft brewers in the United States. Tonya Cornett, formerly of Bend Brewing Company and now brewmaster at 10 Barrel Brewing, continues to attract attention. And Teri Fahrendorf, herself a brewer with twenty years’ experience under her belt, heads up Pink Boots Society, an organization that “empower[s] women beer professionals to advance their careers in the brewing industry through education.”

All good. But it’s important to recognize how persistent the notion is that women, if they drink beer at all, drink light and fruity beers, to say nothing of brewing beer.

Men dominate both the brewhouse and distribution channels. Julia Herz cites numerous optimistic stats charting the involvement of women in the craft beer world, but even she admits in a 2012 article for CraftBeer that a scant ten percent of American breweries employs women brewers.

Meg Gill of Golden Road Brewing in L.A. recalls how, early in her career, people mistook her for the “Bud light girl handing out stickers.” Women – and the beer they drink – are often pigeon-holed into their respective gender receptacle, with bartenders routinely pointing women in the direction of fruit beers, or so-called “beginner beers.”

So where do we go from here? I have a few observations that might double as starting points for conversations and suggestions.

Homebrew Clubs:

I’ve been homebrewing for a few years now, and look forward to monthly homebrew club meetings, wherever home might find me at that particular moment. The homebrew clubs I’ve come to know over the years embody magnanimity, welcoming even the most wayward of travelers. But women are always conspicuously under-represented.

The STEM streams – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – are vastly overrepresented by males among homebrewers and professional brewers alike. Nothing surprising there – but the situation also mirrors the gender distribution in physics, math, and engineering more generally. Given this critical mass at club meetings, it’s also not surprising that a certain kind of technological discourse permeates discussions. It’s not that these clubs are unwelcoming; it’s just that the standard diet of brewing processes and equipment specs can, at times, sound like the tech talk at your local garage, minus the centerfolds.

Marketing Perceptions

If I had a brewery, I’d give some consideration to the semiotics of my labels and marketing. We may take umbrage at the way in which brands from the U.S to Japan objectify women to sell their product.

Sapporo Beer Woman 30s

But what about marketing and branding practices in the craft beer sector? I’ll take but one example: Flying Dog. And let me preface this by saying that I don’t single out this brewery lightly, for their politics seem to align, at points, with my own. What’s troubling is the way in which sexism is veiled in the cloak of counter-cultural progressivism. No naked women to be seen on their labels that claim an intimate relationship with contemporary American counter-culture literature, but a kind of misogyny is present no less.

With its progressive pedigree, how could one raise objections to Flying Dog? Hint: the labels. Without the assurance on the label that this is a counter-culturally approved product, some of it comes across as sophomoric. I would hasten to add, though, that I’m not advancing some sort of plea for label censorship. Far from it. But labels have a powerful influence on purchasing decisions; and though I know good people who are fans of Hunter S. Thompson and of Flying Dog, I tend not to buy Flying Dog beers.

_____________

What are your thoughts and experiences? If you live outside of North America, what’s the situation where you live? Feel free to join the discussion in the comments.

© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

 

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Milling against the Grain: Grimm Brothers Goes All-Germanic

On a continent awash with American renditions of India Pale Ale, it’s a rare and pleasant surprise to come across a North American brewery that does not have an IPA of some sort on its menu. Grimm Brothers Brewhouse, just a stone’s throw away from Fort Collins in Loveland, Colorado, continues this week’s Tempest in a Tankard German theme, venturing where few North American breweries have tread. With a bold all-Germanic line-up of beers that eschews the standard-issue IPAs, pale ales, and hopped-up ambers, even Grimms’ porter lays claim to German heritage.

The folks at Grimm Brothers not only brew up a wonderful array of medal-winning German standards such as their Fearless Youth Dunkel Lager, which brought home a bronze in the European-style Dunkel category at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, and Little Red Cap Altbier, which took bronze in the German-style Altbier category at last year’s GABF. The brewery also has a penchant for resurrecting long-forgotten German beer styles, featuring an eastern German Kottbusser-style ale (Snowdrop, available year-round) and a seasonal Lichtenhainer-style ale (Gustavus, a kind of Berliner Rauchbier), along with its soon-to-be-released Broyhahn Bier called Pack of Scoundrels, a spicy stab at historical interpretation that traces its roots to Hannover. (If you’re in the Fort Collins area on November 16, you won’t want to miss this release.)

Grimm Bros - Scoundrels Sales Sheet

And though I can’t vouch for the authenticity of a brettanomyces-laced harvest bock – craft brewers in the U.S. have, after all, embraced the sour beer and wood-aged beer phenomenon with aplomb – Grimm also pours a seasonal Willow Wren Erntebier Brett Bock. Now drink three of those and say that four times.

When I visited co-owner and vice-president, Aaron Heaton, at the Grimm Brothers’ coolly minimalist tasting room back in October, one of my first questions concerned the connection with the Brothers Grimm.

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As the story goes, Amelia Chapman, wife of Grimm Brothers co-owner, Don Chapman, is a teacher, and much enamoured of the Grimms’ fairy tales. Heaton and Chapman were initially skeptical of the Grimm idea, but with over two-hundred-and-fifty fairy tales to inspire their grain- and hop-inspired poetic fancy, they decided to run with the idea. With the help of graphic designer, Josh Emrich, the beers found their visual muse. (A standout among Emrich’s labels is his witty citation of Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting, Napoleon Crossing the Alps, for the Master Thief German Porter. In the spirit of good fun, I’d be inclined, though, to challenge Emrich to produce a more historically accurate, albeit fictitious, painting entitled Disraeli Crossing the Channel.)

Little Red Cap references the Rotkäpchen fairy tale better known in English as “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Grimm Bros - Red Cap Sales Sheet

Snow Drop draws on the Snow White tale. And Fearless Youth finds its inspiration in “The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was” – which, like all Grimm fairy tales, is a far from G-rated affair.

Heaton, an erstwhile accountant, and Chapman, an engineer in his former incarnation, were both one-time members of Fort Collins’ Liquid Poets homebrew club, a storied community of homebrewers that has spawned the likes of Funkwerks, Equinox, and Pateros Creek. Shortly after opening their doors in July 2010, the pair became three after joining forces with Russell Fruits, who handles sales and marketing. Though they still brew on the same ten-barrel system that got them off the ground, the trio has been so successful that they have increased their fermentation capacity, added 22-ounce bottlings, and expanded to a nearby unit to house their tasting room.

Alas, for the time being, Grimms’ excellent beers are available in Colorado only. Future plans include distribution to other states, but in the meantime, you’ll need to make sure friends traveling to Colorado bring you back a few treats. If on a winter’s night in Denver, you might also stop by Colorado Liquor Mart, which carries a selection of Grimm bottlings.

Further Reading:

Last year marked the two-hundredth anniversary of the publication of the Grimms’ fairy tale collection, Kinder- und Hausmärchen. You’ll find plenty of literature that will introduce you to the Grimm brothers and their cultural significance, including Maria Tatar’s bicentennial annotated edition of the Grimms’ tales. (For an interview with Tatar on Tom Ashbrook’s NPR radio show, “On Point,” click here.) Another German literature scholar, Jack Zipes, has published a number of works on German fairy tales and the Grimms, including The Brothers Grimm: From the Enchanted Forest to the Modern World (1988), and, more recently, The Irresistible Fairy Tale: The Cultural and Social History of a Genre (2012).

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© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Featured Beer: Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe “Bonator”

Today’s featured beer is brought to you by the letter G for Germany. It’s also brought to you by a date: November 9, a rather infamous date in Germany’s often turbulent twentieth-century history.

Many remember this date as the evening when an unexpected event ushered in the end of the Cold War. During one of his regular press conferences in the heady autumn days of 1989, the East German Politburo spokesperson, Gunter Schabowski, discussed regulations that signaled an easing of travel restrictions for East Germans. The ink had barely dried on the text of the regulations, and Schabowski had not been fully briefed about the timeline of their implementation. A reporter asked when the regulations would come into effect. Caught off guard, Schabowski hesitated for a moment. His improvised answer: “Sofort. Unverzüglich.” (Effective immediately, without delay). West German media outlets – whose signal was transmitted into most of East Germany as well – broadcasted this stunning news on their evening programs. Crowds began amassing at the Berlin border crossings within minutes, and as the evening wore on, the vastly outnumbered border guards opened the flood gates to the tide of humanity that would swell back and forth across what was only recently a deadly boundary.

Though many in Berlin and Germany will celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, other November 9ths have etched themselves, sometimes more dimly, into German collective memory. Ninety-five years ago today, deputy chairperson of the Social Democratic Party, Philipp Scheidemann, stepped out onto a balcony of the Reichstag and proclaimed the establishment of a republic. With this proclamation, Scheidemann put paid to the German monarchy. Within days, the First World War was over. Five years later, a failed artist and lance corporal from Austria who bore a striking resemblance to Charlie Chaplin, led his SA men in what has come to be known as the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. But this man was no comedian. By 1933 his Nazi party was firmly entrenched in power; on the evening of November 9, 1938, he succeeded in unleashing an anti-Semitic frenzy in Germany. Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, witnessed an intensification of anti-Semitism that culminated in the Holocaust.

Some of these November 9ths lend themselves eminently to celebration; others, to reflection. Tonight I raise my glass to the fall of the Berlin Wall while remembering other events of German history that were not so festive.

On the evening when the wall came down, I’d hazard to guess that not many were drinking Doppelbock. Sekt (German bubbly) was more likely the beverage of choice. Since I have none of what Napoleon called “the Champagne of the North” (Berliner Weisse) on hand, it’s only fitting to drink a bottle of Bonator, a beer that recalls Germany’s patron saint, Boniface.

Bonator

Brewed by one of the oldest breweries in the Bavarian region of Franconia, Bonator pays tribute to the first archbishop of Mainz and founder of the Franconian diocese of Würzburg. As Weissenohe traces its roots to the local Benedictine monastery, it’s no surprise that they brew a Doppelbock, the rich and hearty beer that got many a monk through Lenten fasts.

Copper-brown with garnet-mahogany highlights, Bonator issues forth from a swing-top bottle bearing aromas of fresh country bread, toasted malt, cocoa, and milk caramel, with just a hint of licorice and aniseed. Woody and earthy hop aromas are subtle but present in the depths, reminiscent of tea with lemon. The beer is a meal in itself, with a complex and richly malt-forward palate that mingles black cherry and plum with chocolate cake. Unsurprisingly, at a hefty 8.2% ABV, the beer is sweet; but the subtle earthy-citrus hops meld with the bready, toasty, fruity milk chocolate malt, assuring that the beer stays this side of cloying, finishing on a pleasant apricot-peach preserve note.

As with any Doppelbock, don’t drink it even remotely chilled. (Trust me. Use the force on this). Crack it at cellar temperature, and then let it warm as you drink it. And don’t drink too many, lest you need to go in search of a Salvator the next day.

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© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Never the Twain Shall Meet? Thoughts on The Great Beer Culture Debate of 2013

The early days of September 2013 are days that will not go down in infamy in many places. But in a small corner of the interwebs, the September installment of “The Session: Beer Blogging Friday” generated no small quantum of sound and fury. These sessions have become somewhat of an institution among people who appreciate and write about beer, with topics that typically provide plenty of grist for those inclined to ruminations over fine beverages. Each month, a prominent beer scribe is called upon to frame an issue for debate. Recent topics range from the economics of the beer industry (a craft beer bubble?) to the issue of gender in a male-dominated beer world (beer feminism).

September’s Session Friday was nothing short of a provocation. Indeed, it would not be too much of a stretch to christen the event in retrospect “The Great Beer Culture Debate of 2013.” Adrian Dingle, a self-described Englishman “marooned in the beer culture desert that is The South of the USA” (his emphasis) and amusingly irascible creator of dingsbeerblog, detonated the following incendiary device:

“What the hell has America done to beer?, AKA, USA versus Old World Beer Culture.”

Unsurprisingly, Ding’s formulation – a stark binary opposition if ever there were one – set off a tidy little tempest. Responses ran the gamut from reasoned engagements with, to outright rejections of, Ding’s question and subsequent position statement.

Nothing like a good dust-up, Trainspotting style. – And a more than apt point of departure for this, my first A Tempest in a Tankard musing on beer and culture.

On several points I would agree with Ding – often wholeheartedly. But other aspects of the argument are less carefully wrought, as many critical interlocutors have been quick to point out. Here’s where I think Ding’s polemic misses the target.

Near the outset of his position piece, Ding references George Bernard Shaw’s likening of England and America to two countries separated by a common language. Ding then proceeds to use beer culture in the two places to illustrate the proposition, with England working overtime for the entirety of the Old World. To invoke yet another British author, one might be tempted to ask: And never the twain shall meet?

Culture is not a static entity. Nor is it a monolith. Dominant cultures may leave their mark on certain regions – but each regional culture is made up of a tapestry of subcultures. And so it goes with those enthusiastic about their choice of beverage. To suggest that each and every American craft beer enthusiast is an unsophisticated and unreconstructed hophead – or worse, a dupe of rampant American consumerism – is to paint with brush strokes far too broad.

In choosing to shine a light on drinking culture – more precisely, a nostalgic longing for the pub culture of old Albion – Ding is careful to decouple his argument about the United States’ ostensibly negligible contribution to drinking culture from his endorsement of American beer. But is it so easy to disassociate the product from the cultural moment and context that gives rise to a particular beer? Even if one were to argue that the U.S. lacks a distinctive “drinking culture” beyond beer pong and keg stands, the U.S. still has plenty to offer in terms of its cheerful embrace of all sorts of different traditions and styles, be it wine or beer or other spirits.

Here’s a brief personal anecdote. When I lived in Paris, the ubiquitous wine shops carried the best and the worst of French wines, but I was hard-pressed to find a bottle of claret that bespoke a different land. A mere handful of Italian wines had managed to slip past customs and into Italian delis in the Montmartre district. German wines? Not a chance. That was 1994-1995, so maybe things are different now. Living in Berlin during 2008 and 2009, I was able to find some stellar German beers. Who can beat Aventinus for about $1.10 per bottle? Aside from a decent selection of Eastern European beers and some Belgians for good measure, though, it was as if the U.S. did not exist as a beer-producing country. Perhaps things have changed during the intervening five years in Berlin too. (I’ve been hearing some promising rumours). The broader point, however, is this: unencumbered by a long and complex set of historical associations that link parts of France with particular grape varietals and Germany with certain kinds of beer, the U.S. has been free to experiment. Sangiovese in California? No problem. Turns out Riesling does well in the Finger Lakes, so how about Rkatsiteli too? Bourbon barrel-aged stout? Excellent results. Imperial Pale Lager? Well, the jury’s still out on that particular experiment.

In the end, reductive as many of Ding’s rhetorical moves may be, his sustained tirade does us a useful service by forcing us to reflect on how cultural contexts encode canons of taste. Rather than following Draft Magazine’s example and enumerating a mere list of events as a rebuttal to Ding’s position, we would do well to engage with some of these provocations, if for no other reason than to develop a deeper appreciation of the contexts that influence how we perceive and taste what’s in the glass.

Stay tuned for further engagements with the issue of culture and taste.

Till then, Prost!

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© 2013 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.