Monthly Archives: December 2013

Winter Nights and Warming Barley Wines from Sussex, Texas, and Québec

Here in my neck of the prairies the late December nights have taken an icier turn. As hearty squirrels forage for the last of the pecans scattered beneath trees that have bidden farewell to their autumn foliage, my imbibing desires call out increasingly for something more warming than my usual favourites. And what beer better conjures up a bright orange fire crackling cheerfully at the frost on the windowpane than a barley wine?

Many readers of Tempest know that barley wine is, in fact, an ale. But the moniker is perplexing enough that authorities in the U.S. have insisted that the beer be labeled “barley wine-style ale.” And I remember well my own confusion when a friend and I encountered our first barley wine at Tanaka-ya in Tokyo. We were more than a little intrigued by both the sleekly-designed tapered purple bottle (Japan often takes first prize in the packaging category) and the mysterious joining together of “barley” and “wine.”

Barley wines aren’t for everyone, though. I know people near and dear whose reaction is a scowl and a scathing comment: “Not that sweet caramel toffee crap again!” I won’t protest, avowed malt head that I am. More for me. Even at its Sierra Nevada Bigfoot hoppiest, barley wine is nothing if not a celebration of malt. Today I have three, each from a different country: a Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale from Sussex; a 2012 Sisyphus from Real Ale in Blanco, TX; and a Solstice d’hiver from Dieu du Ciel! in Montreal, Québec.

What is This Wine We Call by the Name of Barley?

According to British tradition, barley wines were the strongest beer in a brewer’s repertoire. Like many other salutary Old World traditions, this one, too, has made its way across the ocean, often hoppier in interpretation. Apropos of the connection with wine, Michael Jackson relates the following:

In order to achieve high alcohol content, the brew was traditionally left to mature in the cask for many months, and rolled from time to time, so that the yeast would be roused to fight one last battle in the conversion of sugars into alcohol. During this long time in the wood, the ale would have gained a vinous character from the resident microorganisms. (Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer, 1988, 174).

Barley wine is rarely produced in this fashion today, but certain historical stylistic traits carry through to the present. The thick, grain-rich mash yields a high-gravity wort amenable to a fermentation that produces fruity esters and warming alcohol levels ranging from 8% to 14%. Carbonation is on the low end, and the head sometimes virtually nonexistent. Barley wines are typically brewed with pale malts, with the depth of colour derived from lengthy boil times. At this level of malt, alcohol, and (sometimes) hop intensity, barley wines age remarkably well. Reports of fine bottles emerging from the cellar after ten years are not uncommon. (Personally, I haven’t yet had the patience to age a bottle beyond a few years!)

Tasting Notes

Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale is as deep in colour as the night is cold, its tobacco-amber palette giving way to tawny brick hues at the glass’s edge. Harveys Elizabethan AleThe aromas are equally profound, resoundingly on the malty side of the style. Accents fall on dark honey-enriched malt and caramelized brown sugar. Dried fruit aromas suggestive of prunes and Calmyrna figs mingle with toasted toffee and Ovaltine. Undercurrents of Oloroso sherry and chocolate milk emerge as the liquid warms and the aromas evolve. Hops are a spectral presence nestled in with the malt, fleetingly floral and slightly anise-like. Out of the glass, Harvey’s is a rich, sweet, and luscious mouthful of dark cherry, dried apricot, crème brulée, and my Mom’s Christmas cake in all its nutty, fruity, dark-bread splendour. Warming alcohol is present as an afterthought, melding with the apricot jam notes in the long and satisfying finish.

Real Ale’s 2012 Sisyphus furnishes a wonderful golden-amber counterpoint to Harvey’s Elizabethan Ale. Bright, zesty caramelized citrus peel hop notes provide a graceful touch of levity that adds tangerine crispness, cheering the brooding honey-malt aromas reminiscent of lightly toasted toffee.Real Ale Sisyphus Spice aromas and flavours are redolent of winter, with hints of nutmeg blending with raisins and dried persimmon. It is no Sisyphean task to drink this playful beverage akin to wild honey-laced candied orange peel and toasty malt cereal. The beer dances on the palate, finishing with a flourish of marmelade and toast. Even if the balance favours the fruit of the bine, Sisyphus doesn’t overdo the hops. Drink up on the cooler side of cellar temperature before the hotter alcohol notes awaken and intensify the bitterness of the hops.

Dieu du Ciel was one of the brewpubs I frequented during my grad student days in Montreal. Needless to say, I was extremely happy when I found that some of their offerings had snuck across the border with the usual cast of Unibroue characters. Just as many a resident of La Belle Province proclaims the distinct features of Québécois society, Dieu du Ciel’s Solstice d’hiver differs from the two Anglo offerings I’ve consumed thus far. In fact, Dieu du Ciel’s barley wine bears more than a passing resemblance to a Belgian quad or dark strong ale.Solstice_Hiver This copper-tawny beverage features a ripple of malt aromas ranging from dark rustic country bread to toasted toffee, brown sugar, and dark caramel. The malts blend seamlessly with a complex mélange of dark cherry fruit, butterscotch, molasses, and plummy rum-raisin, while earthy licorice notes and the merest hint of lemon tea emerge slowly from the depths. Creamy carbonation lends itself well to this rum-like ale reminiscent of raspberry chocolate-flavoured café au lait with a firmly bitter undertone. The result is a pleasant ensemble that conceals the heady ten-plus percent of alcohol lying in wait for the unsuspecting. As with the other barley wines, savour this one in a snifter. Start off at cellar temperature, and then enjoy how the aromatics evolve as the liquid warms up in the glass.

Now drink one more of each and let the barley wine solace the cold winter evening. Better yet, invite some friends over and spread the warming cheer. Or do as I do and let the purple prose flow.

Flix Brewhouse: Craft Beer at a Theatre Near You

Establishing shot: Silhouettes of people seated before a screen, barely discernible in the darkness of the theater. The projector stirs. The on-screen action intensifies and the sound of explosions fills the room. The flickering of the screen illuminates a cylindrical object filled with liquid. A hand reaches out for the glass and takes a long draft, calming the mounting anxiety. Cut to the front of the house.

Now here’s something you don’t see every day: a cinema that serves beer and food inside the inner sanctum of its theatres. Flix - Theater Exterior 2And not just any beer, but beer that is brewed in a compact copper brewhouse showcased at the entrance to the cinema complex.

Flix Brewhouse bills itself as the only first-run movie theatre in the world to incorporate a fully-functioning microbrewery, and has been screening beers and pouring pints in Austin’s northern reaches since 2010. All six of what Flix calls their “dining room” theaters feature comfortable high-back chairs and retractable tables augmented by high-definition digital cinema projection and wall-to-wall curved screens. And beer.

Cinema goers have the option of purchasing food and drink before the film, or can press a button near their seats once the film starts. Thanks to the stadium-style seating, servers can reach every seat in the house without creating too much of a commotion.

If you’re not a fan of first-run Hollywood flicks, that’s OK, too. Flix - Interior Brewpub Area 1The Flix Mix brewpub caters to the imbibing needs of the Round Rock community with nine in-house brews and thirty-eight guest taps and a straightforward food menu, no ticket required. Which is good, because I didn’t come here to see the latest Hunger Games archery display.

On this balmy central Texas “winter” afternoon, head brewer, Justin Rizza, cuts straight to the chase and pours me a sampling of Flix’s non-cinematic offerings. A native son of those heady Colorado beer climes, Rizza has led a peripatetic existence that has taken him from cleaning kegs at Breckenridge Brewery, through the hallowed halls of Great Divide, and on to Tuscany for a short stint with Birra Amiata after honing his skills at Seattle’s Hale’s Ales. Flix - Brewhouse-Justin 1Like so many who have heeded the siren call of Austin in recent years, Rizza returned from Italy to take up a position as head brewer at Austin’s Independence Brewing Company before being handed the reins of Flix Brewhouse.

Flix’s lineup consists of six perennials and three rotating taps for seasonals and limited-edition runs – flexible enough to cover several Belgian- and Scottish-inflected interpretations alongside North American standards like the ubiquitous IPA and the by-now de rigueur sour/barrel-aged offerings.Flix - 10day Scottish The 10 Day Scottish Ale weaves an amber montage of chocolate, toasted almond, and smoky roasted barley not unlike Japanese mugi-cha (cold barley tea) – a suitable accompaniment to any Kurosawa film starring Mifune Toshirô. Saison de Walt renders homage to a fixture of the Austin craft brew community who passed away recently. Befitting its status as a tribute beer, this saison is unique, with pink peppercorns and Styrian Goldings making cameo appearances. After fermentation, the beer is blended with a dash of aged saison that has passed through a series of casks, solera-like, spending some time with Brettanomyces along the way. If somewhat on the funky side, the result is an earthy-herbal saison bearing aromas of lime, hay, and white pepper.

Toward the seasonal and experimental end of the tap line, the predominantly Mexican observance, Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), is the inspiration behind Flix’s Beer of the Dead. This pecan-hued ale alludes to the ingredients that find their way into the bread baked for the occasion, incorporating oranges, fennel seeds, and Mexican chocolate in a potent chocolate liqueur-like beer. Too many of these and the feast day might take on a literal meaning, turning you into an extra for the set of Dawn of the Dead. By far the most compelling of Flix’s offerings is its Brambler Sour, a Flemish-style red ale that rests for sixteen months on oak, mingling fleetingly with blackberries during the last few weeks of its slumber. Bright sour cherry aromas star in this ruby-brown beer, while aged balsamic vinegar, farmhouse funk (straw and horse blanket), and peppery Cabernet Franc-like nuances play supporting roles. Nutty, citrusy, and peppery notes on the palate conceal a hint of caramel, with blackberry acidity rounding out the background.

Sipping these kinds of beers in the midst of others engaging in the willing suspension of disbelief is a concept that has proved successful enough that Rizza and company will be taking their show on the road. Plans are in place for expansion across the U.S., with imminent Flix Brewhouse openings slated for Des Moines, IA, and Carmel, IN. If first-run Hollywood films and craft beer sound like an ideal combination, keep your eyes on the listings and head out for a drink when Flix comes to a theatre town near you.

~Roll Credits~

Flix - Logo

Flix Brewhouse is on the northern edge of Austin at 2200 S IH 35, Round Rock, TX, 78681.

For show times and listings, visit flixbrewhouse.com.

All images compliments of Flix Brewhouse.

Word of the Day: Cenosilicaphobia

Despite the relative dearth of posts over here at A Tempest in a Tankard, it’s been quite an action-packed week. Kevin’s provocative article on beer and terroir generated an equally thoughtful (and ongoing) discussion, both in the comment section to the article, and in a Beer Advocate thread that took up Kevin’s challenge to consider the implications of terroir. If you haven’t already joined the conversation, feel free to leave a comment in the “Replies” section to Kevin’s article. A brief contribution of my own to the ongoing debate is in the works, but before I put pen to paper, my cenosilicaphobia needs attention.

And what better way than a visit to Austin is there to keep my tankard full? In the few days that I have been here, I’ve managed to visit several breweries and brewpubs while meeting some interesting characters. A visit to Texas Saké Company is also on the agenda. The beer’s been great, the conversation even better. Stay tuned for profiles on individual breweries, along with a general write-up on what and where to imbibe should you find yourself in Austin.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for last-minute holiday gift ideas for the craft beer lover in your life, check out my write-ups on beer-inspired books and provisions – perfect antidotes for any symptoms of cenosilicaphobia you may be experiencing this holiday season.

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

Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine

In this, the first of many guest posts to come on A Tempest in a Tankard, I’m extremely happy to welcome wine scholar, Kevin D. Goldberg, a friend and fellow German history colleague who has researched and written extensively on the nineteenth-century German wine trade. In his contribution, Goldberg trains his critical lens on a concept taking root in the craft beer industry: terroir. As many drinkers of craft beer know, the craft beer renaissance was touched off by a profound dissatisfaction with the factory-produced and mass-marketed beer brands that dominated North American markets in the wake of the Second World War. As part of the larger counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and 1970s, the nascent craft beer industry eschewed factory-produced food and beverages, and encouraged us to consume locally. But as Goldberg reminds us, this turn to the local is laden with historical baggage. As we craft beer producers and enthusiasts attempt to set ourselves apart from mass-produced beers by grasping at vaguely construed notions of “nature” and “terroir,” Goldberg forces us to ask if our sometimes ambiguous and unreflexive deployment of these terms has obscured what craft beer is: a product of the “talent, ambition, and hard work of generations past of beer makers who fused together technological know-how and gustatory delight.”   

Barley Field (Wiki)

Terroir is dead. Long live terroir. Speaking on behalf of the wine world, let me welcome you to the passé-chic realm of the exotically obvious; that an agricultural product is, in some immeasurable way, influenced by its roots in the world. Tillers of the soil have known this for millennia, pushers of the pen are still trying to sort it all out. Derived from the Latin terra, meaning of the earth or land, terroir has become a kind of commonplace refrain to verbalize the indefinable effects imparted to a wine by the soil and climate of the origin vineyard.

Image via Uncorked Remarks

Image via Uncorked Remarks

Writers and readers of wine magazines and wine-themed blogs have exhausted themselves in debating terroir, but without reaching much consensus. We might very well say that terroir’s appeal is precisely its uncertainty. If we could in fact measure the uptake of “place” in our wines it would surely be much less deserving of popular conversation (how long does the fun really last even in semi-spirited discussions of residual sugar and tannins, both among the many measurable or perceptible qualities of wine?). Proust (F Wiki)Terroir remains something that we all want to believe in. It gives us something to think deeply about. It’s our Proustian transporter to vacations past. It justifies more and greater purchases. It satisfies our thirst for subtle social differentiation. Terroir is a matter of faith, and faith is, if nothing else, an unyielding belief in the unknowable.

In spite of its hazy existence, some generalized assertions about terroir are possible, two of which I’d like to mention here. First, place does matter. Campaigners for terroir are selling more than just tulips in Amsterdam. There is a legitimate product behind the claims. The American wine critic David Schildknecht stands as one of the most sensible and passionate advocates of terroir. Equally passionate (if a bit more quixotic) is Terry Theise, a renowned importer whose heartfelt catalogs have become cult reading among terroir buffs. These intelligent and experienced voices leave us no doubt that soil and climate have some role to play in shaping taste in wine. Second, terroir is marketing. In spite of terroir’s genuineness, doubters and naysayers can and do have reasonable suspicions. Growers, importers, distributors, critics, and merchants have frequently been less than forthcoming about the technological side of the winemaking process. The fact is that the taste profile of the great majority of wines purchased in the U.S.—smoke, vanilla, espresso—is determined not by nature but by overt and intrusive cellar practices. To be clear, this is not unethical or even out of the ordinary, but in spite of what the label may say, this is not terroir.

That beer terroirists now look to wine terroirists for direction is a bittersweet irony (deny it all you want, but craft beer enthusiasts have by now been long-intoxicated by vinous plotting and scheming). The concept of terroir—if not direct use of the word by consumers—was mainstream in the wine trade by 1900. The dual phenomena of industrialization and urbanization in the 19th century brought with them massive changes in alcohol consumption. The mechanization of factory production allowed for the inexpensive manufacture of consistently good beer. From Chicago to Manchester to Hamburg, the spectacular growth of cities gifted beer companies their bread and butter; the wage laborer.Wine-Terroir Beer would become the drink of the modern man in the modern age. As a result, winegrowers and wine merchants, already feeling the pinch of their exclusion in the working class tavern, decided to fight back against the tide of steam, steel, and the 12-hour workday by making appeals to the very thing that industrialization and urbanization had abandoned: the good earth.

Historians have actually documented well the middle class reaction to the rapidity of change in this period, explaining how respectable men and women came to understand their evolving relationship with nature in marvelously new ways. Seemingly timeless things like dirt, love, sex, and well, even time, were given new meanings as human sociality shifted from the farm to the city. As part of this shift, pitched battles were fought over the production of food. Many food and beverage trades, including meat, dairy, and wine, were rocked by adulteration scandals grounded in the then contemporary conflation of food grown/raised in nature and food made or altered through technological processes. These adulteration scares, as well as the continuous losing of market share to beer consumption, helped spark wine’s return to nature.

This is a literal claim. Unlike factory-manufactured beer, winegrowers and other wine tradesmen saw themselves as resisting the onslaught of modernization by remaining tied to nature, with wine still a product of natural processes. Of course, an irony within the irony here is that this was also a remarkable period of growth for viticultural technology and the science of enology, both of which fostered a sense of urgency in those seeking to reclaim wine’s natural origins. In Germany and the United States, where industrialization and urbanization were most intense, advertisements for “natural wine” were most ubiquitous. The concept of natural was the central feature in the increasingly popular “single-vineyard” wines of Europe, with astronomical prices being paid for wines from well-known vineyards along Germany’s Mosel and Rhine Rivers, and in the French regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux. By 1900, the two essential components of terroir—naturalness and place—were firmly in place.

As with anything else, though, the terminology of wine and beer discloses a system of established, underlying beliefs.Hallertauer Hop Flower (Wiki) “Winegrower” is a far more terroir-friendly occupational status than “winemaker” presumes to be. The former apparently guides the wine already provided by nature while the latter seemingly makes the wine out of whole cloth. But rather than artificially imposing the language of terroir on the production of beer, I suggest that beer enthusiasts embrace the notion that beer is more a product of human hands than of terroir. Similar to the way a term like “winemaking” points to human decisions and interventions at every stage of the process, a term like “craft beer” has the virtue of honesty: it describes that very human element of beer production. DebatingTerroir - appellationamerica - GoldfarbAcknowledging craft beer for what it is – as much an industrial as an agricultural product, even at the artisanal level – means refusing to conceal the human in the language of terroir. Rather than making beer into wine, I would suggest recognizing the talent, ambition, and hard work of generations past of beer makers who fused together technological know-how and gustatory delight. In a word, what differentiates beers is the quality of the craftsmanship, not the origin of the hops.

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In addition to the many Schildknecht pieces widely available on the internet, you can hear his and other intelligent explanations of terroir on graperadio.com’s 2008 podcast: http://www.graperadio.com/archives/2008/04/07/soil-weather-terroir-and-wine/.

Terry Theise’s most recent catalogs can be found here: http://www.skurnikwines.com/msw/theise_catalogs.html

Jonas Frykman and Orvar Löfgren, Culture Builders: A Historical Anthropology of Middle-Class Life (Rutgers University Press, 1987).

Amy B. Trubek, The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir (University of California Press, 2009).

Kevin D. Goldberg (Ph.D. History, UCLA) is an instructor of History at Kennesaw State University. From 2011-2013 he was a Cogut Center Postdoctoral Fellow at Brown University, where he organized a symposium on “Terroir in the Humanities.” Recent publications include articles in Food & Foodways and Agricultural History, as well as a forthcoming translation of Weinatlas Deutschland (Wine Atlas of Germany, University of California Press). Goldberg is currently writing a book, The Fermentation of Modern Taste: German Wine from Napoleon to the Great War.

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Image credits:

Barley Field: Wikipedia Commons

Proust: Wikipedia France

Soil-Encrusted Bottle: Allwine

Hallertauer Hop Flower: Wikipedia

Terroir/Winemaker Cartoon: Appellation America.

Roughtail Enters the Ring with a Selection of Heavy-Weight Beers

For travelers not already flying over the high plains and open prairie, Oklahoma is often little more than a pit stop on the superslab that has replaced the storied Route 66. But as so many peddlers of Route 66 nostalgia for faded youth and a bygone era of bustling Main Streets are wont to remind us, life begins at the off-ramp.

prairieghosts.com

prairieghosts.com

Oklahoma presents an instructive study in contrasts when lined up next to so many other regions in North America where craft beer culture is burgeoning. When Oklahoma joined the Union in 1907, it was the only state to have done so as a dry state. That unfortunate legacy – amplified by Prohibition’s hangover – still pervades state laws governing the production and sale of liquor. Today, the number of Oklahoman craft breweries would not exhaust the digits of your extremities. Tasting rooms are few and far between. Brewpubs do not abound, for it is illegal for the same entity to own more than one tier of beer distribution above the “low point” (3.2% ABW) level. Brewpubs offering a standard-issue American IPA would be in triple violation of these statutes with their combined roles as producers, distributors, and retailers of their goods.

All of this might tempt the intrepid traveler heading between the relatively greener craft beer pastures of Missouri and Texas (or Illinois and California) to drive on. But thanks to the tenacious efforts of a small but growing band of brewers offering up a well-crafted diversity of beers to an appreciative and growing public, a sea change is in motion. Despite a state-wide ban on homebrewing lifted only in 2010, the Fellowship of Ale Makers, or FOAM, of Tulsa has been going strong for some years now, hosting a yearly competition and nurturing a cadre of beer judges. In November of this year, the state finally gave the green light to brewers to offer up to four 3-ounce samples of their wares. Tasting rooms, long a fixture of other craft beer locales, are now slowly taking root in Oklahoma’s famed red earth. With these and other salutary changes sweepin’ on down the Oklahoma plain, the mantra of the Main Street boosters bears repeating: life begins at the off-ramp.

The off-ramp in question here is the US-62 exit off the I-35 in the northeastern reaches of Oklahoma City. Roughtail Logo 2If you drive not too far into the sunrise through a collection of gas stations and industrial parks interspersed with gently rolling hills and wind-scoured prairie, you’ll happen upon Roughtail Brewing Company, one of the newest stars in Oklahoma’s craft beer firmament. Heeding the siren call of many a homebrewer before them, co-owners Blaine Stansel and Tony Tielli (also head brewer) hatched the idea of fleeing the boredom of their day jobs while members of the Red Earth Brewers. Within a short time, their seven-barrel brewery was open for business.

Roughtail’s motto is “Aggressive. Flavor Forward,” and these gents do not have a low-point ABW bone in their bodies. As co-owner and head brewer, Tony Tielli, relates, Roughtail wanted to distinguish itself early on among its craft beer-brewing peers by brewing beers with character. A brewery like COOP Ale Works includes a flavourful F5 IPA in its line-up (F5 is a reference to the strongest category of tornado), and Oklahoma stalwart, Choc Beer Company, ventures into historical styles like Gose and Grätzer. Roughtail takes this flare for both intensity and experimentation a step further, tipping its hat to hop-forward stylistic iterations common to the likes of Colorado, California, Oregon, and Washington State. Seasonals like Roughtail’s Pumpkin Porter and their soon-to-be-tapped Weizenbock might occasionally explore the rich potential of malt, but for the most part, Humulus lupulus reigns supreme.

Roughtail is also a prime example of how the nascent craft brew industry is contributing to the economic revival that both Oklahoma state and city have been enjoying in recent years. Roughtail has been brewing at capacity since October, prompting Tielli and Stansel to hire two new sets of brewhouse hands within the past month.

Canning Line

Canning Line

Out-of-state distribution is also on the distant horizon, and a few wine barrels may soon arrive to hold court with Roughtail’s recently-acquired compact canning line. True to character, Tielli speaks about wanting to do something different once the barrels are on hand: white wine barrel-aged Kölsch, anyone?

Apropos of the canning line, Roughtail now has three regulars in 16-ounce tall boys to accompany their limited-edition 750 mL bottlings on the shelves of Oklahoma’s bottle shops. With its grapefruit-citrus aromas layered over earthy toasted malts bearing a trace of licorice, 12th Round is an American strong ale that pays tribute to a particularly arrogant but well-loved beer from San Diego. 12th Round is unique in that it features a high proportion of Victory malt – upwards of 15% – a malt usually as prominent as a viola in a Berlioz symphony. In this case, Victory combines with the hops to give the beer a distinctly hop-toast character and a pleasant dried apricot finish. Roughtail - PolarNightPolar Night is a dry-hopped American stout that exudes aromas of the Yakima Valley. Crisply defined dry stout notes of roasted barley, fruity dark chocolate, and a touch of espresso slowly emerge from underneath the bed of fresh hops. This beer benefits from serving temperatures on the warm side of cellar, lest the hops inadvertently steal the show. The Roughtail IPA derives its herbal-mint, tropical fruit, and tangerine aromas from a combination of Summit, Columbus, Nugget and Cascade hops, and the dank, resiny flavours are sure to please hop devotees.

Still a work in progress, Roughtail’s tasting room at 1279 N. Airport Blvd, Oklahoma City, welcomes visitors by appointment and conducts the occasional tour of its facilities, usually on a monthly basis. (Check their website or Facebook page for details.) Business is booming at Roughtail, so if you’re in the area and want to volunteer to get your hands dirty in the brewhouse bottling or canning, contact them here.

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For more information on Oklahoma’s up-and-coming beer scene, The Thirsty Beagle will satisfy your needs for information served up au courant. Nick Trougakos, the transplanted Torontonian behind the Beagle, has emerged as an expert on, and impassioned proponent of, craft beer in Oklahoma.

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

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Grab your tankards and beer steins, folks, it’s National Craft Lager Day! Judging by what I could glean from the chatter circulating on the interwebs, this latest in the line of XYZ beer days appears to have been dreamt up by the marketing department of Sam Adams.

No matter. Lager deserves more respect than it gets on this continent where craft beer enthusiasts sometimes confuse IBU levels and high-octane ABV with quality. In the rush to embrace the newest discovery, or the boldest, most extreme rendition of a style, novice and veteran craft beer drinkers alike have a tendency to overlook the subtleties of lager. If you need convincing on this point, BeerAdvocate’s ongoing “Top 250” is a particularly instructive read, as are many of the “Best of” beer lists that appear with soporific regularity. It doesn’t help matters much either that lager suffers from an image problem of continental proportions owing to its association with Bud, Miller, and Coors.

The result? Lager gets left out in the cold.Ice Cold Beer

Bad puns aside, raise your hand if you know what distinguishes a lager from an ale. No worries if you don’t – you’re not alone. Yours truly used to consume all beers with equally gleeful abandon until relatively recently. And according to the Samuel Adams infographic compiled for National Craft Lager Day (see below), sixty-three percent of Americans over the age of twenty-one do not know the difference between lager and ale. (Thirty-seven percent apparently do. Not bad at all.)

Cold “lagering” temperatures constitute part of the difference between lagers and ales. “Lagern” in German means to store. Historically, this meant stowing beer away for a stretch in frigid alpine caves. The other difference has to do with yeast, which, in turn, is related to fermentation and lagering temperatures. Isolated in the nineteenth century, Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly carlsbergensis) is the yeast that yields lager; Saccharomyces cervesiae is lager’s opposite number in the ale world. Lager yeast prefers cooler fermentation temperatures (5-13º C; 40-55º F), and requires a period of cold-conditioning. Thanks to the yeast and the longer process, lager is sometimes smooth, sometimes crisp, and nearly always clean-tasting if done well. Ale yeast prefers warmer temperatures (18-22º C; 64-72º F), and the resulting beer is ready to drink within a shorter period of time. Those fruity aromas reminiscent of dark cherry, plum, apple, pear, apricot, or dried fruit? That’s likely the particular strain of S. cerevisae yeast showing its character.

The takeaway: lagers are (usually) more subtle than their ale cousins. And subtle does not necessarily mean “fizzy, yellow, and bland,” the majority of mass-produced lagers notwithstanding.

To celebrate the “canonization” of lager with its very own feast day, I’m going to deliberately ignore the “national” modifier of Craft Lager Day to introduce you to a style of beer that doesn’t often wash up on these North American shores: Landbier (“country beer”). Landbier is an easy-drinking, everyday table beer that is hopped with a light hand. It comes in filtered or unfiltered versions, is often golden-yellow, and steps over to the dark side from time to time. ABV is in the modest 4.8%-5.3% range, making the beer a quaffable reward for a hard day’s work.

Kapsreiter Landbier hails from the Upper Austrian baroque frontier town of Schärding overlooking the Inn River. Kapsreiter Landbier CoasterThis country beer’s crystal-clear honey-golden colour hints at the toasty malt and nuanced honey sweetness within. Aromas of country bread, Swiss milk caramel, and fresh cream give way to earthy herbal-fennel accents suggestive of hops. Creamy and of medium body, the toasted malt and caramel interweave with nuts and mild earthy licorice, and a touch of apple carries through to the pleasant almond-apple finish. Balanced and harmonious, mildly hopped yet deceptively rich and satisfying, this is not a beverage that will hit you over the head. But at a manageable 5.3% ABV, it would make an agreeable picnic companion underneath the canopy of a chestnut tree on a breezy spring day. Drink this one cool but not cold, and think wistfully of April.

Sam Adams CraftLagerDay Info 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Accoutrements and Provisions for the Classy Imbiber

Aside from puzzling over gifts for those of my friends who scorn the pleasures of barley and hops, holiday shopping for me is fairly straightforward: buy beer. Beyond the eminently sound gift of beer, however, lies a whole realm of possibilities. Part One of this short series on holiday gift ideas is sure to keep the Bookworm Beer Enthusiast occupied between sips. (For those of you who missed Part One, it’s here.) Part Two of the series puts some of those ideas to work.

As with Part One, so too with Part Two: I’m going to assume that not all readers are avid homebrewers. But why not become one? Homebrew kits come in all shapes and sizes. Most kits will get you started for just shy of $100, sans ingredients. Chances are there’s a homebrew shop near you, but if not, a number of reputable outfits will ship to you, including Midwest Supplies, Northern Brewer, Austin Homebrew Supply, MoreBeer, High Gravity, and Brooklyn Brewshop.

If cash and space are restricted commodities, you can get friends and family members brewing up batches of IPA in a Manhattan-sized studio apartment with some of the one-gallon kits available on the market. One-Gallon Kit 1If the recipient doesn’t like the hobby, at least the person will have a cool one-gallon jug and a batch of beer to drink. But these kits generally suffer from one very major drawback: no hydrometer. I began my brewing adventures on just such a kit, and promptly brewed up a batch of bottle rockets. Hubris had gotten the better of me. If I can cook, surely I can brew. Who needs a hydrometer? Let’s just say it wouldn’t hurt to read up a bit – especially about the importance of hydrometers – before whipping up your first batch. (See the Papazian gift suggestion from Part One). If vendors of these otherwise convenient little kits are reading, just stick a hydrometer in with the package! It won’t make the kit any less affordable. And it might keep someone from losing an eye.

For those who like to experiment with food and beer pairings, Lebkuchen from Leckerlee in NYC makes a unique addition to the epicure’s repertoire. Lebkuchen is a seasonal baked good that originated with the Franconian monks of the Middle Ages. Somewhat akin to gingerbread, regional bakers keep their wares distinct with honey, aniseed, coriander, cloves, allspice, almonds, or candied fruit. Leckerlee LebkuchenLebkuchen is a fixture of many a Christkindlmarkt stall across the Germanic countries at this time of year, where the aromas of Lebkuchen mingle with mulled wine. The baker behind Leckerlee’s Lebkuchen went straight to the Franconian source for inspiration, spending a year developing her recipe for Nürnberger Lebkuchen. Now those of us on this side of the pond can find Lebkuchen that complements the rich, caramelized fruit-accented malt notes of a German Doppelbock. Barley wines and Scotch ales from the other side of the North Sea also make nice drinking mates for Lebkuchen.

Coffee and Lebkuchen sometimes find themselves dining at the same table, too. If that’s the case where you reside, a mug from Planet Beer will signal to others that you haven’t given up on the malted fermentables.

And what’s a good lager or ale without a decent drinking vessel? Normally I’d recommend proper glassware, but a glass-bottomed tankard introduces a sprinkle of historical legend into your pintly partakings. Tankard - Classic PewterThe glass bottoms ostensibly played a role in avoiding military conscription in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain. As legend has it, recruiters pressed the unsuspecting into service through a number of subterfuges, including placing a shilling in the bottom of a tankard. This “King’s shilling” was a form of earnest payment (a deposit of sorts) given to potential recruits who agreed to enlist in the Royal Navy. If the drinker drank deep of the draft, he “took the King’s shilling,” unwittingly sealing his agreement to enlist. The glass bottom allowed the wilier denizens of the dockside taverns to “refuse the King’s schilling.” Alas, I don’t yet have a logo for A Tempest in a Tankard, but check back next year for tankards festooned with something fitting. In the meantime, Amazon lists plenty of purveyors of these prized drinking vessels.

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

Gift Ideas for the Craft Beer-Drinking Bookworm

In many a craft beer-drinking clime, falling snow and frosted windowpanes herald the coming of the holiday season. If you’re a craft beer enthusiast or homebrewer, chances are you’ve filled up your holiday wishlist with beers to carry you through the winter season and gadgets aplenty to augment your home brewhouse. But maybe you know a kitchen virtuoso who could round out his or her repertoire with some beer-themed dinner pairings, or maybe you have a friend who needs a little encouragement to take plunge into homebrewing.

Since I’m a loyal devotee of the printed word, the first in this short series on holiday gift ideas is geared toward the Bookworm Beer Enthusiast.

Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont’s coffee table book, The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to the Beers of the World (2012), fills the void left by Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) with an aesthetically appealing journey through the wonderland of contemporary beerdom. The World Atlas of Beer, by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont. (Supplied)Opening with a salvo of useful tips on buying, storing, serving, and tasting beer, the authors introduce readers to the origins of beer, the different styles of beer, and the elective affinities between beer and food. Thus provisioned, the journey begins, making calls at familiar harbours of brewing before setting off for distant shores. Rounding out the images of landscapes, breweries, labels, and posters is a judicious selection of beers to slake the traveler’s thirst.

As the quality of beer offerings has begun to rival wine, that consummate friend of food, it’s no surprise that craft beer types have begun to pay more attention to pairing the tastes and aromas of beer with what’s on the plate. Brooklyn Brewery maestro, Garrett Oliver, obliges those who want to go well beyond beer and bratwurst, offering up a cornucopia of pairing possibilities in his The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food (2003). Books - BrewmastersTable 2Got a Rodenbach Grand Cru you’d like to feature with dinner? Oliver lets you know why this particular beer complements game, “especially wild wood pigeon and partridge.” Rodenbach is round and sweet on the palate, “with caramelized malts quickly countered by firm acidity. Sherry, fruit, and oak play through the juicy center to a long sweet-and-sour finish.” No wild wood pigeon in your neighbourhood? No problem. Gamey liver patés will do just fine, as will tangy dishes like ceviche and pickled herring.

North Americans have developed of late a salutary penchant for savouring beer as part of those special moments with friends and family, but fewer have paused to ask where all these fine ales and lagers came from. Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer (2006) takes us back to the summer of 1844 and a bustling, growing city in Wisconsin Territory to trace the humble beginnings of Schlitz and Pabst. Books - AmbitiousBrew 1From Milwaukee, her tale travels down the Mississippi to the St. Louis home of Anheuser-Busch, setting the stage for the dueling ambitions of nineteenth-century industrial brewing magnates. In what amounts to a Hegelian narrative, we read about the rise of the temperance movement and learn how Prohibition intersected with anti-immigrant sentiment directed at the predominantly German-American brewing community. The Prohibition beast vanquished, a new antithesis arrives on the scene in the guise of the intrepid craft brewer who does battle with the corporate brands grown fat and bland off the post-Prohibition feeding frenzy of consolidation. No reservations in giving away the ending, for we drinkers of fine beverages already know how the new heroes – tenacious innovators like Fritz Maytag (Anchor), Ken Grossman (Sierra Nevada), Jim Koch (Boston Brewing Company/Samuel Smith) – touched off the craft beer revolution.

And that very revolution sent many of us back into our kitchens and garages, feeding attempts at concocting our own steady supply of fresh beer. The books on homebrewing are by now fairly legion. Some serve particular niches (like Stan Hieronymus’s graceful Brew Like a Monk dedicated to trappist, abbey, and Belgian strong ales), while others (such as Jamil Zainasheff’s Brewing Classic Styles or Ray Daniels’ Designing Great Beers) elevate homebrewing to the next level. But I’m going to assume that not everyone reading Tempest is a homebrewer. Or it might be that you know a homebrewer who just purchased his or her first kit. Whatever the case, the book that set many a brewer down the path of no return is Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewing. Books - JoyHomebrew 1The third edition (2003) of this classic contains many useful – and some positively quaint – DIY suggestions, with recipes for several beer styles that will help launch your brewing career. Just enough of the science behind this mad alchemy assures that you won’t brew too many bottle rockets, and a light touch runs throughout, epitomized by Papazian’s motto: “Relax. Don’t Worry. Have a Homebrew.”

I think I’ll do just that.

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Next up: Accoutrements for the Classy Imbiber

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

Cultural Archeology, Hopshire Style: The Revival of Hop Cultivation in New York

By the 1990s, the craft beer renaissance was in full bloom, and North Americans were developing a taste for Pacific Northwest hops redolent of pine, citrus, and tropical fruit. On the other side of the continent, where the last beer produced with New York State hops rolled off the bottling line in 1953, the memory of hop production had all but fallen into oblivion.

There was a time, though, when New York State supplied the hop needs of the nineteenth-century industrial brewing behemoths of Milwaukee, St. Louis, New York City, and Chicago. New York State played host to the United States’ first commercial hop operation in 1808; by 1849, New York was at the national pinnacle of hop cultivation. Centered around Otsego, Oneida, Madison, Schoharie, and Montgomery Counties, the state churned out nearly ninety percent of the United States’ total hop crop before the industry was laid low by the double blow of downy mildew outbreaks and the onset of Prohibition.

Until that time came, hop cultivation transformed the pastoral landscape of upstate New York as family farms rushed to build hop kiln additions to their barns. Even as Prohibition and the eventual demise of upstate hop production spelled the end of the functional hop barn, many a material trace of these pyramid-shaped structures dotted the rolling hills and valley floors. These were vestiges forgotten by many, but discernible to the preservationists and hop enthusiasts of the 1990s who rekindled an interest in the New York State hop industry.

Hop Kiln in Otsego County (Photo by Richard Vang)

Hop Kiln in Otsego County (Photo by Richard Vang)

These early forays into preservation provided the impetus for the Northeast Hop Alliance (NEHA), founded in 2001 and incorporated as a non-profit business alliance in 2010. Fueled by the combined efforts of NEHA and the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Madison County, hop production has soared from a mere fifteen acres three years ago to close to one-hundred-and-fifty acres today.

The NEHA also spearheaded the initiative that led to the New York farm brewery law of 2013 (which I’ve touched upon here and here.) One of the driving forces behind this piece of legislation is NEHA board member, Randy Lacey – also head brewer and co-owner of the family-run Hopshire Farm & Brewery, which opened in May of this year.

Hopshire - Logo

What sets Hopshire apart from other farm breweries is its homage to the pre-Prohibition hop farms. Its hop kiln, poised to dry the eventual bounty of Hopshire’s four-acre hop yard, is a prominent architectural feature of the newly-constructed brewery and tasting room. The brewhouse, too, bears witness to the material history of agriculture and brewing in New York State: Lacey procured the brew kettle from nearby Horseheads Brewing Company, and has repurposed several vessels from the dairy industry in the construction of his seven-barrel system.

The Hopshire Brewhouse (Photo by author)

The Hopshire Brewhouse (Photo by author)

Lacey got his start as a homebrewer at the instigation of his son, Sam. From there, he spent several years creating innovative brews for appreciative members of the Ithaca Practitioners of Alemaking homebrew club, and gathering ideas during road trips to  brewpubs and breweries far and wide in the company of his wife, Diane Gerhart. Together with Gerhart, their two sons, and their daughter-in-law, Lacey and family assure that a steady stream of sought-after brews keeps the tasting room crowd coming back to the recently-opened brewery.

Unsurprisingly for someone who had a hand in drafting what eventually became the farm brewery law, Lacey sees to it that all of his beers showcase local ingredients like honey, cherries, maple syrup, and, of course, hops and malt. Lacey sources the ginger for Hopshire’s Zingabeer from a farm in nearby Trumansburg, and even uses hops grown by Ithaca homebrewer, Clair Haus. Hopshire’s Beehave, a honey blonde ale, and Blossom, a delicately scented cherry wheat ale, are both crafted from one-hundred percent New York State ingredients.

Hopshire's autumn coHOPeration event

Hopshire’s autumn coHOPeration event

Hopshire’s line-up of perennials and seasonals fall into “mellow,” “middling,” and “mighty” categories. Odds favour the Daddy-O English Pale Ale and the Shire Scottish Ale to keep the looming upstate winter at bay; both blend appealing dark fruit aromatics (plum, dark cherries) with complex, layered expressions of malt flavours. Beehave and Blossom find their niche in more humid seasons.

Hopshire has recently added Hop Onyx, a bracing black IPA featuring Falconer’s Flight, a hop blend starring the so-called “Seven Cs” of Pacific Northwest hop fame – Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Citra, Cluster, Columbus, and Crystal. New to the seasonal hearth is ’Round Yon Virgil, a spiced brown ale with a warming blend of brown sugar, fresh ginger root, cinnamon sticks, cloves, and allspice. (The reference is not to the Aeneid, but  rather to a nearby hamlet.)

Winter is at the gates, but Hopshire will continue to serve guests in the taproom and sell growlers to weary travelers at their farm and brewery located at 1771 Dryden Road (State Route 13), Freeville, NY. Opening hours are Wednesday to Friday, 4-8pm; Saturday, 11am-6pm; and Sunday, 1-6pm.

The Hop Kiln at Sunset (Photo Courtesy of Hopshire)

The Hop Kiln at Sunset (Photo courtesy of Hopshire)

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For discussions of the history and revival of the New York State hop industry, see:

Amanda Garris, “Hop yard takes root in Geneva,” Cornell Chronicle, July 8, 2013 (Link here.)

Blaine Friedlander, “For first time in more than half a century, a brewer makes beer entirely with New York-grown hops, with help from Cornell,” Cornell Chronicle, February 19, 2004. (Link here.)

Lucas Willard, “In New York, More Local Ingredients Make More Local Beer,” WAMC Northeast Public Radio, November 27, 2013. (Link here.)

Richard Vang, “The Past, Present, and Yes, Future of the Hops Industry,” Upstate Alive Magazine 1:4, 1996. (Link here.)

If you find yourself in the upstate area wanting to learn more about the history of hops in New York, stop in at The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY. Among other family-friendly activities, visitors can help plant, cultivate, and harvest the hop crop on the Lippitt Farmstead.