Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Reflection of Place, But Dimly (Part I)

One of my favourite food and beverage combinations is a glass of Manzanilla accompanied by shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic, dusted with Pimentón de la Vera, and finished with a shot of Oloroso. IMG_9751The bracingly dry sea-breeze crispness is the perfect foil to the smoky richness of the shrimp. Manzanilla comes from Sanlúcar, a coastal town in Andalucía situated not far from the inland focal point of sherry production, Jerez de la Frontera. Could it be Sanlúcar’s location, buffeted by Mediterranean breezes, that accounts for the salinity of these delicate Manzanillas?

When it comes to other wines that both pair with a wide variety of foods and are perfectly drinkable on their own, I can’t think of too many wines better than a Riesling from the Mosel or Rheingau regions of Germany. Acidity balances sweetness, and the stone fruit aromas and flavours are offset by a refreshing minerality. Touring the villages along the sleepy Mosel River, it’s difficult not to be struck by all the slate roofs. Perhaps this abundance of slate in the area has contributed something to that refreshing mineral quality of a fine Riesling. 100-3066_IMG

In all of these cases and in many more I could enumerate, who can deny the influence of place, geography, climate, location, and – dare I say – terroir?

But as Kevin Goldberg’s recent guest article for Tempest makes clear, terroir is a problematic notion charged with emotive sentiment – as much an article of faith as it is a product of soil, water, and other environmental factors.

If terroir is a tattered term in the world of wine, it arrives at the door of the craft beer world even worse for wear. Not many brewers in North America have the luxury of sourcing their own ingredients within a hundred kilometers of their brewery. And once even they set to work on the grain, hops, and water that eventually become beer, so many human interventions along the way turn the finished product into something that we can’t really call, in good faith, an “expression of terroir.”

Goldberg’s insightful critique of terroir in wine may well have put paid to the notion of terroir and craft beer; even so, the association of beer and “place” seems to be an idea that more of us craft beer enthusiasts are prepared to entertain. I consider myself one of these people. But I still have my reservations about the notion of beer as an “expression of place” or a “sense of place.” What’s more, I’m wary about how hastily some of us rush to substitute “place” for “terroir” without reflecting on how prickly the notion of place itself can be.

On the surface of it, place is simple enough, commonplace, as it were. Something we talk about all the time. Where are you right now? Where are you going later? But not unlike Augustine’s meditation on time in his Confessions, place, too, becomes increasingly complex the more we consider it. Place evokes the hearth, the safety of time spent among kith and kin. We become attached to places, even long for them nostalgically. Like its counterpart, space, place is something to which humans attach meaning. And meaning-making can take on ideological hues. Space is infinity, a limitless horizon. But it also marks the limit of our sense of place. The frontier. The other. He or she who is not of my locale, my place. As geographer Yi-Fu Tuan puts it: “Spaces are marked off and defended against intruders. Places are centers of felt value.” There’s no place like home, said Dorothy when she returned from Oz.

Kronborg Castle (Wiki)But what is it that lends a particular locality its aura? In pondering the question, Tuan recounts an anecdote about the physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg’s visit to Kronborg Castle in Denmark. “Isn’t it strange how this castle changes as soon as one imagines that Hamlet lived here?” remarked Bohr to Heisenberg. “As scientists, we believe that a castle consists only of stones, and admire the way the architect put them together. The stones, the green roof with its patina, the wood carvings in the church, constitute the whole castle. None of this should be changed by the fact that Hamlet lived here, and yet it is changed completely. Suddenly the walls and the ramparts speak a quite different language.”

To drink, or not to drink. Does a beer’s provenance matter? Where is this beer made? Does it, too, exude an aura? Where were the hops grown? Is the raw grain from Germany, the U.K., or Canada? What of the malt? Is the beer local, authentically so? Weyermann Malt Bags (weyermann-de)What do we mean when we say “authentically local”? Who and what do we exclude with these invocations of place?

What started out as a collection of thoughts for a longish comment to Goldberg’s critique of terroir has turned into an essay of sorts, one that I’ll post on Tempest in three parts. Part I, which you have just read, attempts to frame the complexity of place. Part II subjects the notion of place to critical scrutiny. Part III steps back from critique and offers suggestions for how we can make “place” a meaningful part of the craft beer discussion – and not merely another marketing term. I start from the assumption that, save for the possible exception of cases having to do with wild fermentation, we can’t “taste place” in our beer. Rather than understanding beer as an “expression” or even a “sense” of place, I propose, instead, something more modest: that we consider beer as a reflection of the environment, circumstances, and processes surrounding its production – in short, that we consider beer as a reflection of place, but dimly.

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References:

Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977).

Image Sources:

Kronborg Castle: Wikipedia

Weyermann Malt: www.weyermann.de

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

Fondue is a consummately convivial dish in any season. I’ve had fondues in summer, crowded around a communal table at Le Refuge des Fondues, that long-lived Montmartre institution famous for serving barely-drinkable wine in baby bottles. Yes, baby bottles. And I’ve had plenty of fondues in winter. Fondues marked many a special occasion in my family, with mid-December and early January birthdays expanding the holiday calendar on both ends. (Maybe this is why I can’t help but associate fondues with cold and snowy winter evenings.)

For my family, there was and remains only one way to make a fondue: Zermattequal parts Emmenthal and Gruyère cheese, white wine, and a hearty dose of Kirsch. Even today, this “classic” Swiss fondue remains one of my favourites. But I remember a late spring evening some decades ago in Zermatt, the picturesque town in the shadow of the Matterhorn, an evening that awakened me to the possibilities of this rustic dish. For starters, the restaurant listed not one but several fondues. This, in itself, was a revelation. I settled on the herb fondue, a classic Swiss fondue with so much basil that the fondue was more brilliant green than its typical yellow-cream colour.

IMG_0056Since that evening, I have concocted dozens of variations on the traditional fondue for what has become an annual winter dining tradition chez moi. To keep things interesting, I began experimenting with different combinations of cheeses and ingredients. I might, on occasion, add morels and roasted garlic, or sundried tomato and oregano, or even finely diced pancetta. It was just a matter of time before it occurred to me that I could melt the cheese in a liquid other than white wine.

Following are three fondue recipes straight from the Tempest cookbook, fondues that’ll warm the guests around your dinner table and keep the conversation lively well into the wee hours. The first features hard apple cider as its base, while the second is a richer affair bolstered by Doppelbock. The final recipe may be the only fondue recipe you’ll ever need.

For all of these recipes, you’ll need some way to keep the pot of bubbling liquid and cheese warm at the table. You’ll also need long forks. A fondue set works best, but you can always rig something up. All recipes serve four to six people, depending on how much bread and other accompanying food you’ve prepared.

Gorgonzola Apple Cider Fondue

Ingredients:

  • .3 lb. Gorgonzola dolce, cubed (use Cambozola if you can’t find a less assertive gorgonzola; it’s good to have a mix of creamy and pungent cheeses)
  • .4 lb. Gorgonzola piccante, cubed
  • .5 lb. Gruyère, grated
  • 1 cup hard apple cider, off-dry
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2-3 tbsp. Poire Williams
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • For dipping: broccoli florets, cauliflower florets (parboiled); brown mushrooms (whole); fennel (sliced); 1 loaf sourdough bread or country bread (cubed)

Directions:

Prep the vegetables. Parboil the broccoli and cauliflower, and leave the fennel and mushrooms raw. Cube the bread.

Cube the Gorgonzola and grate the Gruyère. Cut the garlic clove in half, and rub the inside of the fondue pot. Mince the remainder.

Heat the cider and minced garlic over medium heat till liquid begins to bubble, turn the heat down, and begin adding the cheeses slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon: Gruyère first, then the Gorgonzola. When it is all melted, dissolve flour in the Poire Williams and stir in. Check the seasoning, and add pinches of sea salt if need be.

Serve with apple cider, an American pale ale, a crisp northern German Pilsener, or a dry/off-dry Riesling.

Aged Gouda and Doppelbock Fondue

Ingredients:

  • .7 lb. aged Gouda, grated
  • .3 lb. Gruyère, grated
  • .2 lb. Emmenthal, grated
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup Doppelbock
  • ¼ cup Amontillado Sherry
  • ½ shallot, diced finely
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. sherry (Amontillado or Oloroso)
  • 2 tbsp. grainy German mustard
  • cayenne (pinch)
  • nutmeg (pinch)
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 loaf sourdough bread, rye bread, or country bread (cubed)

Directions:

Cube the bread and grate the cheese. Mix the flour into the grated cheese. Heat the beer and sherry till it bubbles. In a separate pan, melt the butter and sauté the shallots. Add the shallots to the bubbling liquid, then slowly incorporate the cheeses. Add the pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne. Once melted, finish with the sherry-mustard mix. (If fondue doesn’t appear thick enough, dissolve more flour in the sherry-mustard mix). Check seasoning, and add sea salt if needed.

Fondues aren’t for those watching their waistlines, and this one’s at the far end of the richness scale. I find that Doppelbocks aren’t the best accompaniment – too much of a good thing. Try a Hefeweizen, or a lighter Weizenbock like Weihenstephan’s Vitus. A glass of Amontillado complements this dish wonderfully.

Swiss Fondue (Family Recipe)

Ingredients:

  • .5 lb. Emmenthal, grated
  • .5 lb. Gruyère, grated
  • 1 cup dry and fruity white wine
  • 1-2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
  • 2 tbsp. Kirsch
  • freshly ground nutmeg (pinch)
  • freshly ground black pepper`
  • 1 loaf french bread, cubed

Directions:

Cube bread. Grate cheese, and mix with flour. Rub fondue pot with garlic. Heat wine in fondue pot over medium heat till it simmers. Reduce heat. Slowly stir in the grated cheese.

Image Source: www.switzerlandcheese.ca

Image Source: www.switzerlandcheese.ca

Once the cheese has incorporated into the wine, add the kirsch. (If the fondue appears runny, dissolve a bit of flour into the kirsch beforehand). Stir in freshly-ground black pepper and nutmeg, then transfer to fondue burner. Et voilà.

Beverage choices for this kind of fondue are fairly wide open. White wine from Swiss, German, Austrian, or eastern French regions are typical accompaniments, but you could also opt for a red wine like a Beaujolais, even a lighter Pinot Noir. As for beer, try an aromatic and lower-IBU American IPA, or a southern German Pilsener.

Guten Appetit!

Related Tempest Articles

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

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Zermatt Image Source: Wikipedia

Fondue Pot: F.D. Hofer

© 2014. F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Rogness: A Plethora of Beers from Pflugerville, Texas

Photo by author.

Photo by author.

I first met Forrest and Diane Rogness at last year’s Great American Beer Festival. I was “exploring” the less-beaten paths of the festival when a place name caught my eye: Pflugerville. I had lived on a street called Pflügerstrasse while living in the Neukölln district of Berlin, so I was immediately intrigued. (Narrowing down tasting options at the GABF sometimes comes down to these kinds of serendipitous coincidences.) The couple were pouring their Rogtoberfest, a style of which I’m particularly fond, so I had even more reason to stop by the booth. The rest of their full-flavoured beers made a significant impression amid the sea of beer that was flowing that weekend, and I made a note to pay their brewery a visit if in Austin some day. That day came sooner than expected. All the better.

Pflugerville got its start in the mid-1800s when a German immigrant, Henry Pflüger, settled in the area with his family. An erstwhile wealthy farmer in his native land, Pflüger lost his holdings in the wake of the turmoil surrounding the First Schleswig War. After fleeing the conflict and journeying across an ocean and into the heart of a continent, Pflüger and his family put their skills to work raising corn, wheat, rye, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and cattle. Texas seemed a safe bet for the Pflügers to start anew. Relatives had arrived in the area before him as part of a wave of immigration that saw ethnic Germans comprise more than five percent of the population of Texas by 1850. The descendents of Pflüger and other Germans attracted to the area built up a small but thriving community that witnessed the establishment of a Lutheran church in 1875 and the arrival of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad in 1904. But the Great Depression dealt the town a blow from which it almost didn’t recover. By 1949, a mere 250 souls inhabited Pflugerville.

Fast forward to the new millennium. Sited about fifteen miles northeast of Austin, the community benefitted handsomely from that city’s astounding growth in recent years. Pflugerville now boasts pfun for the whole pfamily. (No, I didn’t make that up – the town even has a newspaper called the Pflugerville Pflag.) And, since March 2012, Pflugerville has its own brewery – Rogness Brewing Company – located right on the seam separating light industry from pastoral fields.

The Rognesses are no strangers to brewing. The couple took up homebrewing in 1990 while working together at a camera shop in Iowa City. Upon landing in Austin later in the decade, the Rognesses purchased (and still own) Austin Homebrew Supply, for which they have developed over a thousand recipes as part of their beer kits. That experimental homebrewing ethos makes for some refreshing surprises that buoy quite an array of perennials, seasonals, and limited edition beers spanning both beloved and underrepresented styles.

Source: Rogness Website

Source: Rogness Website

Take, for example, the Yogi. Diane Rogness can’t go very long without a cup of chai. And daily samples of beer come with the territory of owning a brewery and homebrew shop. Why not combine some of the typical spices of chai with an amber beer, she thought? The result is a potpourri of peppery cinnamon, clove, and ginger intermingling with Belgian yeast aromatics and rich caramel.

A touch of southern France graces the Rogness saison, Joie d’été, a beer that also pays tribute to the long summers of Texas. True to their desire to brew unique beers that don’t sacrifice that all-important element of balance, the Rognesses have managed a deft saison with mild aromas of lemon zest and just the slightest hint of lavender. (I think I might just toss a dash of lavender in the next witbier or saison I brew.)

If the saison evokes warm breezes rippling through Provençal lavender fields, the Raspberry Tenebrous Stout is a beer to drink in praise of shadows. Raspberries add a ray of brightness to classic dry stout notes of roast barley and dark chocolate crisply accented with espresso bitterness.

A porter, pale ale, IPA, Scotch ale, and even a bière de garde round out the beers regularly available at the tasting room and in 22 oz. bottles available locally and in other Texas metropolitan areas. Though I didn’t sample it myself, the Rogness Shandy was also popular among the tasting crew that accompanied me to the brewery. Coming soon (pending label approval) is the second in their limited edition series, Sophina. A sour mash promises to deliver a tart zing counteracted by caramelized pineapple added after fermentation.

Courtesy of Rogness

                              Courtesy of Rogness

In the time since it opened its doors, Rogness Brewing Company has become a community hub for the surrounding exurbs of Austin. Recent changes to the laws regulating the sale and distribution of alcohol in Texas has translated into a tasting room where you can buy beers for drinking during their weekly events nights, or for enjoying the early evening with friends in the beer garden. (No growler fills to go in Texas yet. Still, that’s much better than the situation in neighbouring Oklahoma. Slowly do those legislative wheels grind.)

Rogness - Yappy HourTrivia nights are popular, as are the monthly firkin nights and the recently-inaugurated “Yappy Hour” for well-behaved four-legged friends. Thanks to the generosity of a local independent cinema that passes along films to Rogness, Saturday evenings feature independent and documentary film screenings right in the brewhouse. Recent screenings include Cinema 6 and Beer Hunter: The Movie, a documentary about the pioneering beer writer, Michael Jackson. Films are free. The Rognesses frequently donate the partial proceeds from a given event night’s beer sales to charities, a few of which have included Pflugerville Pets Alive and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. So you can drink rest-assured that you’re imbibing for a good cause.

Rogness recently upgraded from a seven-barrel system to a thirty-barrel system to meet growing demand for their beers. Barrel-aging is also on the horizon, with the couple currently considering a quarterly funk release. And as if Forrest and Diane Rogness don’t already have enough to do with an increasingly popular brewery and a thriving homebrew shop, the two have already begun work on their cidery in the warehouse next door. Named after a mythical shape-shifting seal from Iceland, look for a dry and off-dry cider from Selkie Cidery to hit the market at some point in 2014.

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Odd lots:

Image Courtesy of Rogness

Image Courtesy of Rogness

  • The Rognesses sell soap that a local craftsperson has made based on inspiration from their Yogi, Ost, and Joie d’été beers.
  • The artwork that adorns the tasting room walls? Those pieces issue from the hand of their daughter, who, at eight years of age, already knows that the main ingredients of beer are grain, hops, water, and yeast.

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Sources:

  • For the historical background influencing Pflüger’s decision to emigrate to the United States, you can consult the German Historical Institute’s German History in Documents and Images website. The section entitled “From Vormärz to Prussian Dominance, 1815-1866” gives a brief contextual snapshot of Central Europe at the time.
  • On the history of Pflugerville’s development, see this section of the official Pflugerville website.
  • The Texas Historical Association’s website has an informative article on the development of the “German Belt” that ran from the humid Coastal Plain near Houston to the Hill Country outside of Austin.

After Hell and Damnation Comes Redemption: Brouwerij de Molen’s Imperial Stout

Brouwerij de Molen is one serious brewery. No brightly coloured logos or designs. Spare black-and-white text-centric labels are clean and to the point. Colour and bittering units. Brewing date: 02 March 2011. Bottling date: 08 April 2011. IMG_9739Ingredients. Bottle 889 of 2144. Drink at 15 Celsius. Original Gravity: 1115. Final Gravity: 1031. Translation: not a Munich Helles. About two-thirds of the way down, the label issues what reads like an implicit provocation: “Good for 25 years.” And if I partake too early, is Hel & Verdoemenis (hell and damnation) my fate?

Twenty-five years is an eternity in beer years – and in Tempest years.

I moved halfway across the continent this past summer, right into the middle of a heat wave. I took all the necessary precautions to protect my age-worthy beers and wines from the elements. But who knows? Maybe, just maybe, the heat got to the beer over those thousands of miles. After all, if I were to age this for a prolonged period of time, wouldn’t it be wise to have a baseline for comparison? Ah, the easy justifications. And then I thought about my recent article praising subtlety in beer. What better way to follow it up than to crack a 10.2% ABV beer with the consistency of motor oil and a riot of flavours and aromas? Life’s worth some damnation from time to time.

Brouwerij de Molen’s Hel & Verdoemenis issues forth from a windmill constructed in 1697, and is of a piece with the brewery’s penchant for high-octane beers capped with names that portend doom and gloom.Brouwerij de Molen - Windmill Like their 15.2% Bommen & Granaten barley wine, for example. If a case ever exploded, it would probably light up a small neighbourhood. Hel & Verdoemenis is an imperial stout – a beer that epitomizes the antipode of subtlety. The style emerged in late-1700s England, and, like its cousin, porter, was a child of the Industrial Revolution. The scale of its production made it eminently suitable for trade. Long voyages across high seas and vast lands meant that these beers had to be brewed with malt and hops aplenty to survive a journey destined for Hanseatic German and Baltic ports, Poland, Scandinavia, and Russia further afield. By the time the casks arrived in St. Petersburg, they had been rendered sufficiently complex by secondary fermentation that they attracted the notice of the Russian imperial court.

Today’s versions of this historical style known variously as “Russian” or “imperial” stout split broadly into Anglo-European and American interpretations. Hel & Veroemenis plants its flag firmly in Europe, using Czech Premiant hops as the bittering agent, and German hops from Hallertau for finishing.

Now, before we drink this, we’d do well to use the force and follow the label’s advice: Drink at 15 Celsius. I say “use the force” because it’s counter-intuitive for most North American beer drinkers to drink a beer at or near room temperature. Let’s also go in search of a brandy snifter to hold this viscous, dense, inky jet-black stout. The snifter helps to concentrate the aromatics, of which there are many. Don’t be alarmed if there isn’t much of a head on the beer. That’s common for high-gravity beers. But be careful at the end of the pour, unless you want that dose of Vitamin B contained in the sediment.

And now for those cascading waves of aromas and flavours worthy of a barrage of adjectives and the occasional foray into purple prose. In a word, profound, like the depths of a forest at dusk. Dense, concentrated, kettle-caramelized malt intermingles with dark country bread and freshly-crushed grain. Earthy licorice root and star anise shade into aged saké, with a wisp of roasted barley, smoke, and leather in the folds. Chocolate anchors the aromas and flavours, now fruity and acidic, now rich and smoky, spanning a spectrum from sweet cocoa to bitter-sweet hot chocolate. Coffee of the robust, nutty, and mildly acidic kind announces its presence, and dark caramel puts in a belated appearance.

On the palate, this chewy stout is as thick as Turkish coffee is rich. Stewed and concentrated plum emerge as the beer opens up, finishing on a high note of smoky bitter-sweet chocolate. With such concentrated flavours, the mild-but-firm hop spice is a more than welcome touch, and the chocolate acidity gives the dark caramel, dark fruit cake, and molasses characteristics sufficient lift.

But alas, even an abundance of adjectives cannot succeed in composing a pitch-perfect beer. For all its wonderfully viscous intensity, the beer’s complexity is more variegated than interlaced at this point. Drinking superbly now, a few more years should help meld the at-times cacophonous elements into a more harmonious chorus.

2 Tankards, with the proviso that more age will likely propel this beer into the 3 Tankard realm.

Final notes:

  • This is a beer that behaves like a wine. Open it, drink, let it open up, drink some more.
  • Excellent with soft cheeses like Jasper Hill Farm’s herbal and tangy bark-wrapped Harbison, Hel & Verdoemenis also makes a great slow-sipping night cap that will not lead to perdition, provided you don’t have too many.
  • At about $9 for a 330mL bottle, it’s not the cheapest bottle on the shelf. I’m skeptical that any bottles I buy in the future will make it to twenty-five years, but if this initial taste is any indication of sublimity to come, I’m in for the long term.

IMG_9740

Related Tempest Posts:

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

Winter Nights and Warming Barleywines from Sussex, Texas, and Québec

Sources:

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Crystal Springs and the Music Teacher Turned Brewer

Crystal Springs Brewing Company is a veteran newcomer on Colorado’s Front Range brewing scene. Veteran because Tom Horst and family have been brewing popular beers out of their garage for the past four years in Sunshine Canyon, a scenic drive into the mountains west of Boulder. Newcomer because the Horst family moved their operation into a new and larger-capacity facility on the other side of Boulder in the autumn of 2013.

Though both the garage brewery and the Louisville taproom are of recent vintage, the name of the brewery harks back to local nineteenth-century brewing lore.

Image Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

Image Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder CO

In 1875, two German brothers-in-law, Frank Weisenhorn and Charles Voegtle, purchased a site overlooking Boulder Creek near where the Boulder Public Library stands today. With fresh mountain spring water flowing past in abundance, the Boulder City Brewery (precursor to the historical Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company) began servicing the drinking needs of local residents. Reports from the time confirm that their lagers and bocks commanded respect. Upon sampling beer from the kegs the in-laws brought on promotional tours to the town newspapers, writers there averred that they could “speak from actual knowledge when we assert that it is the best ever presented to this market.”

When Samuel Pell bought the brewery around 1900, he changed the name to Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company. In case you’re wondering about the reference to ice, Weisenhorn and Voegtle were, of course, brewing in the days before the advent of electrical refrigeration. Crystal Springs - Bottle (historical)Massive blocks of ice were needed to keep the beer cold during fermentation and lagering in the concrete cellars built into their new brewery. By the time Pell purchased the brewery, the pair had constructed an onsite ice pond and ice house.

Alas, Crystal Springs Brewing and Ice Company did not survive Prohibition, but Tom Horst is bent on assuring that the legacy lives on in his reiteration of Crystal Springs, even if he doesn’t brew lagers and bocks or cut blocks of ice from a pond. In what was a nano brewery before the term took hold, Horst began brewing up beers in his “two-thirds-barrel brewery,” many of which live on as staples at the new brewery and taproom in Louisville, CO. The smaller scale suited him well initially, for it meant that he didn’t have to quit his day job as band director and music teacher at Boulder High School. But demand for his Doc’s Porter, Summertime Ale, Tic Wit, and Black Saddle Imperial Stout convinced Horst that it was time to share his brewing music with a larger audience.

When I arrived for my visit on an early October morning with the autumn foliage of the Front Range in full splendour against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountain foothills, Horst was getting accustomed to the larger brewing system and putting the finishing touches on the tasting room. I sat down for a few samples after touring the newly-operational facilities and noticed the logo gracing the mats under the sampling glasses: a flying eagle grasping a numbered cask. The eagle is a direct historical reference to the former incarnation of Crystal Springs, but what of the ostensibly unlucky numeral emblazoned on the barrelhead of that cask clasped firmly in the eagle’s talons, I wondered? Crystal Springs - Logo (large)As it turns out, the number thirteen is a number that recurs with such reassuring regularity in the lives of the Horst family as to suggest its auspiciousness. Horst was born on the thirteenth, and so too was his son, granddaughter, and even a niece who shares his birthday. And there are subsequent details surrounding the number thirteen sure to inhabit the realm of apocrypha when next century’s craft beer enthusiasts and historians speak of Crystal Springs. During the design and layout stage of the taproom, Horst and company found that exactly thirteen of their chosen bar stools would fit around the bar. Even before that, Horst’s wife, Kristy, was curious about the commute between their Sunshine Canyon home and the new brewery and taproom in Louisville. Exactly thirteen miles.

Crystal Springs’ beers have names as colourful as the brewery’s ancient and recent history. Stage House 1899, a beer brewed exclusively for Boulder’s Kitchen Restaurant, pays tribute to the history of the building – an erstwhile tavern – in which the restaurant is housed. Marilyn is named after Horst’s mother. marilyn lablelRelates Horst: “It’s a golden strong, and so is she. The caricature of a girl in a bathing suit on the label is taken from a picture taken of her in 1942 when she was eighteen years old.” Solano is a beer reminiscent of summer. A solana is a terrace or garden oriented to take advantage of the sun, and the name evokes both the original brewery in Sunshine Canyon and the locally-sourced chilies from Weber, CO, that radiate heat in the beer. (Horst admits that the transliteration crept in at the time of their TTB label application. So now Solano it is.) Uncle Fat recalls Horst’s grandma’s portly brothers, at whose knees Horst had his first samples of homemade beer and dandelion wine. And Horst’s flagship, Doc’s Porter? The high school music teacher happens to hold a Ph.D. in Musical Arts from the University of Iowa, and his students have been calling him Doc for over thirty years.

Horst is also a self-styled maestro of beer and food pairings. As he puts it, Crystal Springs’ Kölsch-style Summertime Ale “gets along well with so many types of foods,” including mild cheeses, lasagna, light fish dishes, salads with citrus-based dressings, and sausages straight from the grill. Horst is also a fan of chocolate and beer pairings, and suggests trying the Southridge Amber with chocolate or as a counterpoint to salted caramel. Crystal Springs’ Black Saddle Imperial Stout also complements a panoply of rich chocolate desserts, but you could easily turn it into an adult float by adding ice cream. Speaking of icy after-dinner treats, Horst counsels whipping up a batch of Doc’s Porter Ice Cream. You can find the recipe here, along with other beer and food pairings.

The taproom at Crystal Springs has been open since mid-October 2013, and has been attracting craft beer drinkers with a creative mix of weekly sports screenings (this is Broncos territory, after all) and events that reflect Horst’s background in pedagogy. Crystal Springs periodically offers discounts to Horst’s former students, and Faculty Friday has drawn an ever-larger number of area teachers and University of Colorado faculty. If you’re a teacher or university faculty member travelling through the Rockies or in the area for a conference, be sure to stop by. Located at 675 S. Taylor Ave, Unit E, Louisville CO, 80027, the taproom serves up beers between Tuesday and Saturday, 4pm-9pm (closing at 8pm on Saturdays). Happy Hour happens from 4pm-6pm, Tuesday through Friday. AHA (American Homebrewers’ Association) members receive a ten-percent discount at all times, and educators with valid IDs receive Happy Hour prices all night on Faculty Fridays.

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Tasting Notes:

SR3Horst and company were in the midst of transitioning their production from the garage brewery to the new facility on the day of my visit, so I wasn’t able to try their full range of beers. Here’s a quick sampling of some the beers I did taste.

  • South Ridge Amber is one of Crystal Springs’ flagships and is available regionally in cans. Solidly in the American brewing tradition, this refreshing amber derives its fullness from crystal and Munich malts, and features a liberal sprinkling of Chinook, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo, and Zythos hops.
  • The Summertime Ale started life as a seasonal offering, but quickly became popular enough to merit year-round production. It has all the delicate fruitiness of a German-style Kölsch, with pear and citrus notes combining with a peppery spiciness reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.
  • Using Doc’s Porter as its base, the aromatic Rum Barrel-Aged Porter (limited edition seasonal) is one to drink on the warm side of cellar temperature. The profile is bold: roasted malt, espresso, and earthy dark chocolate balanced by a touch of acidity and infused with warming rum.

Attributions:

Creative History: A Guide for Researching Local History is more localized than the name of the website would indicate, focusing primarily on Boulder and its environs. As part of their “Closer Look” spotlight on local industries such as mining, railroads, agriculture, and flour milling, the site features an article on brewing that informed much of my section on the history of Crystal Springs.

Historical Crystal Springs Image Information: The Illustration drawn by Joseph Sturtevant dates from around 1905, and shows the approximate layout of the brewery and ice house. Source: Carnegie Branch Library for Local History, Boulder Historical Society Collection, 207-1-25

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

For this, the eighty-third installment of The Session, Rebecca of The Bake and Brew puts forward the notion of tasting “against the grain.” She urges us to consider how much our taste or opinion of a craft beer is affected by a few of the following factors: hype, taste inflation, the opinions of friends, and the ubiquitous ratings pumped out by the craft beer community. I’ll address this fascinating topic in more than one installment over the coming weeks. Today’s first part grapples with our taste for extremes; a subsequent installment will deal with how we can challenge these canons in our everyday drinking lives.

Session Friday - Logo 1A Taste for the Extremes

To drink craft beer is to make a statement. The connotations of this statement are multivalent, ranging from support of local business and agriculture to rejection of bland beverages. It is also a declaration of taste that gives rise to distinctions. Drinking craft beer often means going against the grain of mass marketed beers.

But the craft beer tasting community is itself marked by distinctions and hegemonies. “In every era the attempt must be made anew to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it,” wrote the great Weimar German literary critic, Walter Benjamin, in his Theses on the Philosophy of History. As a leftist thinker faced with the rise of fascism, Benjamin’s concerns were of much greater consequence than the question of craft beer tastes, but his words help put us in the frame of mind for critiquing the dominant craft beer tastes of the moment.

Heavily hopped beers have achieved a certain preeminence on the North American craft beer stage, to the point where it wouldn’t be a stretch to speak of a virtual conformism gripping the North American craft beer imagination. Craft breweries and brewpubs that do not have at least one iteration of the American-style IPA along with several other Pacific Northwest-inflected hoppy brews are almost as rare as sightings of the elusive sasquatch.Sasquatch - Wiki Sour beers, barrel-aged beers, and imperial XYZs also compete for our attention on the periphery of this conformity that, ironically, seeks out the extremes of novelty, rarity, and intensity. Just as Robert Parker defined the taste of a generation of wine drinkers in the United States and beyond, contemporary media convergences in North America have dialed in a rather predictable palate. If enough writers at X Magazine, raters at Y Website, or judges at Z Competition suggest that styles of particular intensity are the embodiment of the American beer renaissance, a canon of taste is born.

In a recent article analyzing how rating sites such as Beer Advocate and Rate Beer have molded the North American craft beer palate over the past several years, Bryan Roth of This Is Why I’m Drunk uncovers a surprising trend. Isolating styles and brands that occupy the top twenty spots on these sites’ respective yearly “best of” lists, Roth observes that ABVs (alcohol-by-volume) have fallen off rather steeply from a consistent average of 11.45-11.53% ABV between 2007 and 2010, to a relatively meager 9.76% in 2013. (Yes, you read that correctly. Now you can pause for a moment to catch your breath. The top twenty beers on these lists averaged around 11.5% ABV for four years running.) Roth’s account of this three-year downward trend is convincing enough. The explosion in the number of breweries has translated into ever more variety as these newcomers seek to distinguish themselves among an increasingly crowded field of bottles, cans, and tap handles.

But I think there’s more to it, something we can’t merely reduce to variety driving down the average ABV of “top-ranked” beers. ABV may continue to drop, but this may have less to do with an embrace of sessionability than it does with the recent rise in popularity of sours and saisons (usually of lower ABV) in North America. We’d even be justified in drawing an analogy between the infatuation with high ABV and the recent turn to sours and funky beers. Arguably, these fruits of wild yeast and bacteria are, in North America at any rate, markers of a taste for the extreme. I may be wrong, but I suspect we won’t see a lager inhabiting any top-ten spots on these lists any time soon – unless it’s an imperial lager geared to appeal to a North American craft beer palate primed for big and intense flavours.

More often than not, though, these amped-up offerings are overrated reflections of a palate bias for particular styles and intensities. And if you’ll allow the generalization, it is a palate that sometimes confuses boldness and intensity with quality.

I’m aware of the risks of making such a sweeping pronouncement. As seventeenth-century master of the epigram, François de La Rochefoucauld, once noted, “Our pride suffers condemnation of our tastes with greater indignation than attacks on our opinions.” LaRouchefoucauld - Maximes (Wiki Fr)So let me modulate what I just wrote lest I lose half my readership. I’ve often been misunderstood by friends who think I don’t appreciate hops. I do. I just don’t think that beer should be a mere vehicle for hop character. It also doesn’t mean I think that bourbon barrel-aged beers and sour beers can’t be “good” – in fact, these styles are among my favourites.

That said, I wouldn’t be the first commentator to observe that the multitude of “best of” lists tends to give short shrift to subtlety in beer craftsmanship. Like lagers, for example. You’d be hard pressed to find a refreshingly austere northern German pilsener or a Märzen (Oktoberfest beer) with a deeply complex malt profile among the American-style IPAs, the imperial stouts, and, increasingly, the wild-fermented and/or barrel-aged beers that round out many a “best of” list.

But if the rumblings issuing forth from some quarters are any indication, 2014 might well signal grounds for hope. Beer writers like Bryan Roth represent a segment of the craft beer community concerned with how ratings drive consumption. Among this growing chorus of critical voices, John Frank has written a newly-minted article stressing a return to sanity and focus on quality, and Jeff Alworth of Beervana hails the return of lagers to the Pacific Northwest, a region where you couldn’t give them away a few years back. As an avowed malt head, I’ll drink to those potential changes.

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Postscript: You can read my follow-up article on beer and taste here:

Tasting Against the Craft Beer Grain

Other Related Tempest Articles:

The MaltHead Manifesto

Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.3)

Image Sources:

Sasquatch: Wikipedia

La Rochefoucauld: Wikipedia (France)

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

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North by Northwest: Fine Food to Accompany Beers Novel and Classic

If North by Northwest conjures up images of swooping crop dusters and dazzling chases across Mt. Rushmore, you might be confused by the name of this elegant brewpub in a city famous for South by Southwest. But fear not. After a few beers, you’ll forget all about Hitchcock and the festival. NXNW - Grain SiloNestled amid chic-industrial corrugated iron grain silos, North by Northwest (NXNW) is housed in a sleek brick-and-iron structure meant to evoke far-away mountain lodges. Acclaimed by Austinites and visitors alike not only for the beer but for its food menu, North by Northwest recently took home Austin Beer Guide’s 2013 “Editor’s Choice Best Brewpub” award.

NXNW has been a fixture of Austin’s food and beverage scene for over a decade, but energetic founder Davis Tucker’s craft beer history stretches back even further. His first sip of German pilsener in 1984 marked a point of no return, and shortly thereafter he teamed up with another pioneer on the Texas brewing scene, Donald Thompson. Together with Thompson, whose erstwhile Reinheitsgebot Brewing Company in Plano bore the distinction of being the first microbrewery in the Southwest, Tucker established the Copper Tank Brewery before heading northwest of the city center. NXNW - PilsNXNW’s current offerings bear the traces of this history, with brew master Thompson’s Central European-style lagers and wheat beers occupying a prominent place on the menu.

Today, Kevin Roark tends to the daily brewing operations and crafts recipes that have been taking NXNW in new directions. Roark was bitten by the brewing bug during his college days at UT Austin, but it wasn’t until much later that he satisfied his desire to brew professionally. While out for a walk with his wife one afternoon in 2007, Roark looked into the abyss of an unfulfilling career in computing and had an epiphany. With his wife’s encouragement, Roark decided to jettison the comfort and security of his job and put his previous bar-managing experience to work at NXNW. Roark was again ensconced behind the bar, picking up volunteer shifts at the brewery when he could. Head brewer since 2010, Roark has overseen the development of NXNW’s sour beer and barrel-aged beer program.

As I imbibed the cozy wood-fired ambience of the brewpub,NXNW - Brewhouse 1 I couldn’t help but appreciate the productive tension between NXNW’s “old” and “new” beer styles. Contrasting and yet eminently complementary, Thompson’s Reinheitsgebot-inflected approach and Roark’s brews inspired by the wilder mysteries of fermentation provide the perfect backdrop to a good-natured debate over a few pints. Aficionados of lagers and hefeweizens can draw on NXNW’s well-crafted Central European styles to attune their hop-enamoured friends to the merits of nuance, while the lovers of lupulus can counter with boldly flavoured offerings before everyone moves on to the sours and barrel-aged beers.

NXNW’s founders have a long-held affinity for the northwestern regions of the U.S. and Canada, an affinity apparent in the names of some of NXNW’s flagship beers. Northern Light is a rich and bready lager spiced with Saaz hops, and Okanogan Black started life as a Schwarzbier (German-style black lager) before its reincarnation as a maple and brown sugar-scented ale. Spelled Okanagan in Canada, the First Nations name refers to the semi-arid lake region straddling British Columbia and Washington State.

Barton Kriek, NXNW’s ode to cherry lambic, hews closer to home with its play on the seasonally flowing creek that wends its way through the Austin hill country. Released twice per year in conjunction with American Craft Beer Week in the spring and Austin Beer Week in the fall, Roark’s Kriek has already garnered a bronze medal at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival, and a gold at the 2012 World Beer Championship.

The Duckabush Amber, Py Jingo Pale (the name of which recalls Jack London’s The Call of the Wild), Bavarian Hefeweizen, Okanogan Black, and Northern Light are the stalwarts, but Roark gets to indulge his creative streak with the seasonal offerings. Autumn hails the Cactus Jack prickly pear saison, and the soon-to-be-tapped Hey Joe strong coffee stout provides a suitable antidote to a steel-skied January day. Next up on the sour calendar of offerings is Nighthawk, a bourbon barrel-aged black ale aged with raspberries.

The Barton Kriek may have been tapped dry by the time of my December visit, but seasonal cheer flowed freely enough after Roark poured a flight of four Holiday Ales. NXNW - Growler-LogoIf you’re able to find a recent vintage and can hold onto it for awhile, your patience will be rewarded. Black cherry and dried fruit overlay the malt aromas of the newest of these barley wines (2013). The 2012 edition reprises the fruitiness, but also exhibits a richer and more delectably creamy malt and toasted toffee profile. With a subsequent year of age (2011), the beverage takes on the earth and mushroom tones of aged saké and develops rich caramel notes. Four years out, the 2010 edition echoes some of the flavours and aromas of the previous three years, but with a pleasant Oloroso sherry character.

NXNW plays host to a full slate of monthly and seasonal events. Cask Night kicks off at 7 P.M. on the last Monday of every month, and usually features seasonal brews with a whimsical twist. St. Paddy’s Day always provides an excuse for a pint or two, and NXNW’s family-friendly celebration won’t disappoint fans of cask-conditioned Irish Stout. Not surprisingly, Oktoberfest is an annual tradition at NXNW. Big tents adorn the parking lot, housing beer booths, food booths, activities for kids, and a stage for live Bavarian-style music. Part of the proceeds go to local charities, typically a dog rescue or cancer research group.

And what’s great beer without a little food to wash it down?

Head brewer, Kevin Roark (L)

Kevin Roark (left), with assistant brewer, Joel Edwards

Roark and chef George Powell collaborate regularly to devise food and beer pairings for their quarterly brewer’s dinners, a fixed price menu featuring four or five courses matched with an equal number of beers. I’ll let Roark take over with his enticing suggestions while I go fix myself some lunch and pour myself a drink.

One of my favorite pairings is the Kodiak IPA paired with our bacon wrapped quail appetizer. It’s a jalapeno and goat cheese stuffed quail wrapped with bacon and grilled, then served over golden raisin rosemary polenta and balsamic reduction. With our IPA or Pale Ale it is absolute perfection! Our current seasonal Cactus Jack (prickly pear saison) pairs well with the seared Salmon salad with mangoes and whole-grain mustard vinaigrette. For entrees, you can’t go wrong with the grilled rib-eye topped with garlic butter and served with bleu cheese scalloped potatoes paired with the dark yet hoppy Darkside Cascadian dark ale. I also really like our bourbon barrel-aged Blackjack paired with our Chocolate Torte. Barton Kriek also goes really well with the bittersweet chocolate pecan terrine with sun-dried cherry and chocolate sauce.

Sound tempting? I’ll say.

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North by Northwest is located at 10010 Capital of Texas Hwy North, Austin, TX, 78759. You can view their beer and food menus here.

In light of recent legislative changes in Texas, NXNW will be able to offer its beers beyond its walls. They have installed two 15-barrel bright tanks dedicated to servicing distribution needs. The plan for now is to distribute kegs to local bars and restaurants, then to expand to bottling or canning for retail. NXNW’s sights are set on Austin and the surrounding community, but wider distribution isn’t out of the question.

Images courtesy of North by Northwest and Kevin Roark.

NXNW - Exterior