Monthly Archives: December 2014

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer

Anyone who lives in or has been to Central Europe at this time of year has likely warmed him- or herself with a mug of spicy mulled wine (Glühwein). I remember well my first encounter with this aromatic winter elixir. The gray sky hung low over Saarbrücken, and an icy drizzle coated the paving stones leading to the Sankt Johanner Markt in the center of town. But something was different about this day.100-2705_IMG Aromas of baking spice and roasted nuts mingled with grilled bratwurst and pine boughs. I rounded the corner and was greeted by a cheerful panorama that seemed to defy the dark afternoon: my first Christkindlmarkt. The square had transformed itself into a collection of open-air stalls decked out for the season, many selling Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers and other handmade wooden toys, some selling Lebkuchen and candied almonds, and others selling beer and Glühwein to wash down the Fleischkäse, sausages, and other delectables. It is a winter scene that plays itself out all over Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and parts of Alsace and the South Tyrol.

Since that day in Saarbrücken in the early nineties, Glühwein has become an annual holiday tradition wherever I happen to call home. And since I’ve never been known to leave a perfectly good recipe be, I’ve cooked up several variations over the years. Why not a tankard of mulled beer in place of Glühwein?LiefmansGluhkriek (www-bier-deluxe-com) After all, every now and then you’ll find a Christmas market stall selling Glühbier. And the Belgians, too, are no strangers to warm beer, having once enjoyed a popular holiday concoction of old lambic, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and beaten eggs. Recently, producers such as Liefman’s have revived the tradition with Glühkriek meant to be served warm.

Before giving you my recipe for Glühbier, I’ll start with the process for making Glühwein. Whether you’re making Glühwein, mulled beer, or wassail, the basic ingredients are simple: red wine, beer, or cider; some form of citrus juice; sugar (or some other sweetener such as honey); spices; and brandy. Amounts for each ingredient will depend largely on how much Glühwein or Glühbier you want to make, and how spicy you want it. The cooking process drives off plenty of the alcohol (along with about ten percent of the volume), so don’t worry about knocking your guests out.

* * *

*Red wine. Four bottles of wine (3 liters) should keep about ten of your friends happy. The same rule of thumb that applies to cooking wine also holds true for Glühwein: You don’t need to waste your fine bottles of wine on something to which you’ll be adding plenty of sugar, spice, and other things nice, but nor do you want to use a wine that you wouldn’t also want to drink while you’re making the Glühwein.100-2679_IMG A good Syrah or Grenache should do the trick. For now, just keep the wine aside until you’ve made your tea mix.

*Tea. For your Glühwein, you want something like Earl Grey, or a subtle herbal tea. For four bottles of wine, I make about two cups (500mL) of tea with about five teabags. Once you’ve made your tea, pour it into the large pot you’ll use to cook the Glühwein and bring it to a simmer. You’ll add all the ingredients to the tea, starting with the sugar, followed by the oranges, spices and, finally, the wine.

*Sugar. You’ll need more than you think you need. I add sugar by the handful. Start by dissolving it in the tea, and then add to the wine over the course of cooking. Figure on using a half cup or more.

*Oranges. Mandarin oranges work best. Wash the outsides, and then peel them straight into the kettle. In a separate bowl, muddle the orange wedges with a wooden spoon, and then add it all to the kettle. I use at least six oranges in a pot of Glühwein.

*Ginger. Optional. I’ve used it once or twice, and it adds a nice zing. Peel and grate straight into the kettle.

*Spices. Here’s where you get to play around a bit and put your own stamp on your mulled wine. The key is to make sure that you start with whole spices. Cloves and cinnamon are de rigueur, but you can add nutmeg, allspice berries, peppercorns, star anise, even juniper berries or green cardamom. Remember that a little goes a long way when it comes to cloves. With cinnamon sticks, crush them lightly before adding. In the case of whole nutmeg, grate it straight into the pot. If you’re pressed for time, you can also use ground spices.IMG_2070 Three cinnamon sticks, about eight cloves, and about a third of a whole nutmeg (or two to three good pinches of powder) makes a good starting point.

Now you can add the wine! Stir it all in, and then bring the mix to just below boiling point before reducing the heat and simmering the mixture for an hour or more.

*Brandy. You can use any kind brandy, or Kirsch if you have it. Add the brandy at the beginning of the simmer, just a splash at a time. Taste now, keeping in mind that cooking will drive off the harsher alcohol. By the time all is said and done, I will have added about one to two ounces of brandy. (Be careful with hard liquor around an open flame, or you may end up with a more fiery version of Glühwein than you bargained for.)

After an hour, taste the mixture. If it’s too sweet, add more brandy. If it’s not sweet enough, add more sugar. Adjust any other seasonings. If you needed to adjust it, let it all simmer for another twenty to thirty minutes. If it tastes fine to you, strain it before your guests arrive and keep it simmering over low heat on your stovetop.

Voilà. Now your home will smell like a Christkindlmarkt!

Glühbier (Serves ten to twelve)

  • 6 bottles (500mL) of a rich and malty beer like Bock or Doppelbock
  • 6 mandarin oranges
  • 3 tsp grated ginger
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 8 cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • ¼ of a whole nutmeg, grated (or two good pinches of powder)
  • 1 to 2 ounces dark rum

Follow the same procedure as you would for Glühwein, omitting the tea.

Happy Holidays!

Related Tempest Articles

When Once They Drank Beer Warm: Cocktails and Concoctions from Olde Albion

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

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

With the exception of the Liefman’s Glühkriek (www.bier-deluxe.com), photos of Potsdam, Berlin, and Glühwein spices by F.D. Hofer.

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

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Craft Beer Enthusiast

If you’re like me, last-minute holiday shopping is a fact of life. December 18? Plenty of time! Whether you’re of the last-minute persuasion, or whether you’re still scratching your head wondering what the perfect gift might be for the classy imbiber in your life, Tempest’s annual holiday wish list has you covered. And even if the über-cool DrinkTank growlers are on back order till February, an I.O.U. with a picture of a growler tucked into a stocking might just be your ticket.

Glassware

Time to branch out beyond that old pint glass. You won’t have much difficulty in finding glassware that is deeply rooted in the culture of a particular locale, or that offers enhanced gustatory and aesthetic pleasures.Pauwel Kwak (rakuten-com) Nothing beats the look of a well-poured Hefeweizen, but for sheer uniqueness rivaled only by the British yard glass and the German boot, here’s my choice: the bulbous Pauwel Kwak glass with its own wooden stand. Brouwerij Bosteels, which brews Pauwel Kwak and markets the accompanying drinking vessel, claims that the apparatus was designed in the nineteenth century by an innkeeper named Pauwel for coachmen who would pass by his inn. The design made it easy to hand the glass to the coachman, who could set the stand securely beside him for the ride. Apocryphal or not, the stories you’ll dig up about the glass are sure to be augmented by more recent stories of you or your friends trying to drink out of the set-up without wearing your beer.

Lebkuchen

For those who like to experiment with food and beer pairings, Lebkuchen from Leckerlee in NYC makes for an ideal dessert that complements the rich, caramelized fruit-accented malt notes of Doppelbocks and barley wines alike.Leckerlee - Lebkuchen Tin Lebkuchen is a seasonal baked good that originated with the Franconian monks of the Middle Ages. Akin to gingerbread, regional bakers distinguish their wares with honey, aniseed, coriander, cloves, allspice, almonds, or candied fruit. Lebkuchen is a fixture of many a Christkindlmarkt stall across the Germanic countries at this time of year, where it is often served as an accompaniment to mulled wine. The baker behind Leckerlee’s Lebkuchen went straight to the Franconian source for inspiration, spending a year developing her recipe for these tasty Nürnberger Lebkuchen.

Beer Is OK Bottle Opener

You’ve got the glassware now, and some kind soul has given you some fine beer. No doubt, you already have plenty of bottle openers kicking around, but what’s the harm in having one more, especially if it comes in the shape of the State of Oklahoma? And really, how many other U.S. states or Canadian provinces lend their shapes so well to bottle openers?IMG_2052 You don’t even have to be from Oklahoma to appreciate the merits of this opener worth its weight in the metal from which it’s crafted.

DrinkTank Stainless Steel Growler

Not only do DrinkTank’s variously-hued growlers look impressive, they are, according to the company, “cast from high quality 18/8 stainless steel and do not sweat due to a double wall vacuum insulation design.” If you’re like me and stuff books and beer into the same backpack, you’ll readily appreciate this feature. You can choose from eleven colours and finishes, and you can even trick out your growler with a CO2-charged Keg Cap that’ll keep your beer fresh for up to five days.

DrinkTanks - ProductLine_revised (www-drinktanks-com)BeerLoved

If you’re still completely stuck, BeerLoved.com stocks a wide range of beer-related goods, apparel, gadgets, and munchies, many of which run in the $20-$50 range. Chillsner (beerloved-com)How about a Chillsner by Corksickle to keep your beer cool on those hot summer grilling days? BeerLoved carries plenty of perfect stocking-stuffers in the under-$10 price bracket as well. Raspberry Lambic Caramel Sauce, anyone? Hint: When you try to leave their site, they give you a “second chance” coupon good for 10% off.

And a Few Books

Garrett Oliver. The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food (2003). With so many quality beer offerings to choose from these days, 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 Brewmaster’s Table. Got 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.” 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. The Brewmaster’s Table is book to which I return again and again, and not merely for the beer and food pairings. A pleasure to read.

John P. Arnold. Origin and History of Beer and Brewing: From Prehistoric Times to the Beginning of Brewing Science and Technology (1911; reprint issued in 2005). For many a craft beer drinker with a casual interest in reading about the liquid in his or her glass, beer writing originated with Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter extraordinaire.Arnold - OriginHistBrewing 1911 (amazon) Sure, Jackson played an inestimable role at a crucial juncture in combating the host of mass-produced lager that threatened to confine less-popular beer styles to the proverbial dustbin of history. But just as we’ve been drinking beer for eons now, Jackson, too, has his predecessors. John P. Arnold, a one-time student at Chicago’s Wahl-Henius Institute of Fermentology, penned his magisterial Origin and History of Beer and Brewing on the occasion of the institute’s twenty-fifth anniversary. More than a mere overview of scientific developments, Arnold’s work is a cultural history of an order rarely attained in contemporary writing about beer. I stumbled across Origin and History of Beer and Brewing in Cornell’s Rare and Manuscript Collection while doing some research on the pre-Prohibition hop industry in New York State, and was even happier to find that it had been issued as a reprint in 2005. (Don’t be put off by the sole two-star Amazon review of this reprint. The author of the review has clearly failed to grasp the difference between 1911 and 2010.) This gem is a connoisseur’s book –– a history of the brewing industry that is a primary source in its own right. Perfect for the beer-drinking scholar on your list.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

More Tempest Gift Ideas

Gift Ideas for the Craft Beer-Drinking Bookworm

Accoutrements and Provisions for the Classy Imbiber

Images

Pauwel Kwak glass: www.rakuten.com

Lebkuchen tin: https://www.facebook.com/leckerleenyc

Beer Is OK opener: F.D. Hofer

Growler Line: www.drinktanks.com

Chillsner: www.beerloved.com

Arnold’s Origin and History of Beer and Brewing: www.amazon.com

_______________

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

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

It’s that time of year again –– time to dust off your steins and head to your nearest purveyor of fine lagers to celebrate Craft Lager Day.

But where to go to find a decent lager outside of a well-stocked bottle shop? After all, not too many craft breweries outside of regions with historically high rates of German immigration feature lagers in their lineups. For starters, lagers suffer from an undeserved image problem on this continent. On top of that, lagers are notoriously difficult to brew. The clean fermentation profile of lager yeast leaves nowhere for faults to hide.KansasCity BierCo (Logo) And from a purely monetary perspective, lagers tie up fermenters for much longer than ales –– weeks if not months longer.

If you’re lucky enough to live in or near Kansas City, you may already have heard of Kansas City Bier Company. If you haven’t, make your way posthaste to the leafy southern precincts of the city for an afternoon or evening in this chic oasis of German-style food and beer. Don’t live in KC? Mark Kansas City Bier Company on your itinerary if you’ll be passing anywhere near Kansas over the holiday season and beyond. It’s that good.

Before we step into KCBC’s airy taproom, though, let’s pause to consider what distinguishes a lager from an ale. No worries if you don’t know – you’re not alone. According a the Samuel Adams infographic compiled for last year’s 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.

Cold storage temperatures constitute part of the difference between lagers and ales. (The German verb “lagern” means to store.) Historically, this meant tucking barrels of beer away in frigid alpine caves to let the beer mature.IMG_1874 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. These strains prefer cooler fermentation temperatures (5-13º C; 40-55º F), and the resulting beer requires a period of cold-conditioning. In comparison with their ale cousins, subtlety is a typical hallmark of good lagers. Notably, though, subtle does not mean “fizzy, yellow, and bland,” the majority of mass-produced lagers notwithstanding.

In the days before the tide of fizzy yellow liquid swept the globe, Bavaria was the center of lager production. As Horst Dornbusch asserts in his Prost! The Story of German Beer, “Bavarians are the world’s lager pioneers.” And indeed, when we think of the lagers ranging from Munich Helles, Dunkel, and Märzen to Bock, Doppelbock, Schwarzbier, and Rauchbier, all of these styles were perfected in Bavaria, even if some of them originated elsewhere. What unites these kinds of lagers is an emphasis on rich, bready, and sometimes sweet maltiness that sets them apart from crisper and hoppier lager siblings, the northern German Pils, Westhphalian Dortmunder Export, and Bohemian Pilsner.

Fortunately for the thirsty malt devotee who also happens to be fond of lagers, KCBC excels at virtually all of the Bavarian-inflected styles of lagers, with some well-crafted Weissbiers thrown in for good measure.IMG_1557 Not an IPA in sight here.

On that balmy Sunday afternoon in September when I stopped in for a meal of Bratwurst and German-style potato salad to accompany my beer, I met Jürgen Hager. Hager, a gregarious Bavarian, is one of the two principals behind Kansas City Bier Company. The delicious potato salad recipe is his mother’s. But Hager doesn’t brew the beers. That task falls to Steve Holle, Hager’s long-time friend and Kansas City native who studied German in college, fell in love with German beer, and eventually went on to learn the art of brewing in Germany. All the better for Kansas City that he decided to stake his reputation on these oft-neglected German styles of beer.

After a few more drinks and a tour of KCBC’s cavernous production facility, Hager confesses that American-style IPA is one of his favourite beers (delectable irony there). But he quickly adds that the beer of his hometown, Munich, holds a special place in his heart. So we’ll start our tasting with KCBC’s Munich Helles. Pale straw-yellow in colour, this richly bready beer evinces a graham cracker-like sweetness buttressed by a clean, crisp minerality. The delicately spicy-herbal hop presence is suggestive, by turns, of cedar and of muscat grapes. Exquisitely balanced.

As for their southern German-style Pils, the first line of my notes sums things up perfectly: “Crazy good!” What makes this beer so? Its lively spicy-floral hop character with but the slightest trace of rose, for one. Its slightest hint of malt sweetness, for another. Smoothly bitter, this effervescent Pils finishes with a harmonious interplay of fresh almonds, spice, and white raisins. Round yet crisp.

For those who like their lagers heavier, Kansas City Bier Company brews a heady Doppelbock that exudes enough complexity to switch any adjective addict into overdrive.IMG_1558 Rich, toasted bread crust, cocoa, caramelized sugar, creamy malted milk, and dark cherry and raisin-plum weave a colourful tapestry of aromas. The slightest trace of herbal tea-accented hops makes its presence felt from time to time, lending a hand to the toasty dark bread and brandy-like alcohol in their efforts to ensure that this otherwise tolerably sweet beer finishes relatively dry.

KCBC also brews a Festbier that took me right back to the leafy beer gardens of the Augustiner Bräustuben in Salzburg. Their divine Weizenbock is in the tradition of light-coloured, honey-accented Weizenbocks. KCBC uses Andechs yeast to brew a Hefeweizen of which they’re justifiably proud. And their mildly bitter Dunkel is redolent of fresh dark bread with a dusting of cocoa powder. All in all, Kansas City Bier Company is quite the ideal brewery for this lager advocate and writer of MaltHead Manifestos. Two Tankards.

Related Articles

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Odds and Ends

Yet another in a long line of “feast days” exalting this or that style of beer, National Craft Lager Day appears to have links with Sam Adams. No matter. Lager deserves more recognition. And besides, the folks at Sam Adams have rewarded us with this useful infographic.

Sam Adams CraftLagerDay Info 1

Images

With the exception of the Kansas City Bier Company logo and the Sam Adams infographic, all photos by F.D. Hofer.

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

The MaltHead Manifesto

A spectre is haunting the craft beer world –– the spectre of Sir Maltalot. Laid low by a tsunami of IPA, the wild yeasts have set in to consume his legacy. Extreme beerists have entered into an unholy alliance with sharp-fanged sours, enlisting sturdy barrel-aged beers to confine Sir Maltalot within their cavernous depths. Buried under layer upon layer of rum, oak, bourbon, and peppers, his spirit lies in wait.

Like an illumination of the darkest night, the repressed memory of Sir Maltalot’s lush aromas has begun to stir. Lovers of Scotch Ales and Doppelbocks, aficionados of lagers light and dark, let us band together to fight for a craft beer world in which value is not measured by the bitterness unit,IMG_0152 in which a hundred IBUs does not automatically equate with one-hundred Beer Advocate points! A revaluation of values! A world in which brown ales are not cast aside for their seeming ordinariness!

Maltheads, conceal your views and aims for not a moment longer! Emerge from the shadows and proclaim with unfaltering voice your affinity for Munich malt, crystal malt, Maris Otter, Pilsener malt, and Golden Promise! And let the lovers of the Seven Cs tremble at the prospect of a Malthead revolution. Maltheads of the world, unite! Come together to break the bitter tyranny of the IBU imperium. We have nothing to lose but our scythes.

PostScript

Installment #94 of The Session comes to us courtesy of Adrian Dingle at DingsBeerBlog, and inquires after our perceived role in the beer scene. Friday took me by surprise,Session Friday - Logo 1 as did December in general, so I wanted to write something short that was playful yet pointed at the same time. Hence my Malthead Manifesto.

I love sitting down to a rich imperial stout (as a matter of fact, I’m drinking one with chilis as I write), and my fridge is stocked with Belgian sours, American wild ales, and all sorts of beers containing ingredients that would make the crafters of the Reinheitsgebot roll over in their graves. But I do think that some styles have gotten short shrift in recent years. Lager of just about all stripes springs immediately to mind, along with other styles that don’t push the proverbial envelope in any appreciable way.

Anyone care to join me for a glass of Munich Helles later?

High ABV, high IBU, intense sourness, and anything else “extreme”: these are the discursive markers that dominate the contemporary North American craft beer landscape. What’s more, these markers have become conflated with quality. (A glance at any of the “best-of” lists making the year-end rounds quickly bears this assertion out.) People new to the community enter a world of predetermined codes, a canon of taste that prescribes which beers are worthy of attention, and which ones aren’t.

Anyone up for grabbing a six-pack of brown ale this evening?

Aside from the pleasure I derive from writing about the stuff I like to drink, I suppose one of the main reasons I approach writing about beer in the manner I do is because I’d rather not see our choices diminished by powerful taste trends. There’s a certain irony here: Our current range of beverage choices in North America could not be more extensive, but with increasing competition for shelf space and tap lines, I’m wary of a consolidation that favours the dominant tastes I mentioned above. And I’m wary of perfectly good beer styles –– beer styles excellent in a subtle way that doesn’t call forth a cascade of adjectives to describe them –– being eclipsed by certain styles deemed “better” merely be virtue of having higher this and more intense that.

Maybe we can order a few pints of Scottish ale when we’re done with our English mild.

I drink with a catholic embrace. I drink wine, bourbon, Scotch, and tequila. And I drink saké. I even drink my share of IPA. Better yet, make it a double IPA. But when we’re in Berlin, let’s head to a pub in Neukölln instead of lining up at Stone’s new location.

The first round of Hefeweizen is on me.

Related Tempest Articles

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

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Becoming Munich Dunkel.

Becoming Munich Dunkel

With the exception of The Session logo, images by F.D. Hofer.

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

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses

Take two engineers, a linguist, a surveyor, a school administrator, a mycologist, an entomologist, and a historian. Add a dash of homebrewing expertise, BJCP judging experience, Scotch connoisseurship, and a general love of hops and malt. Mix all of this together with a beer-laden table on a Sunday night shortly after Halloween, and what do you get?

The Oklahoma Six-Pack Project. Beer Is OK (Opener-Logo)

The task: Choose six favourites in a blind tasting of some one-and-a-half dozen Oklahoma beers.

* * *

Rewind back about a year. I was just getting Tempest up and running and had come across Bryan Roth’s This Is Why I’m Drunk, an informative and entertaining beer blog that quickly became one of my regular reads. I found one of Bryan’s category listings particularly intriguing: the Six-Pack Project. Bryan’s aim with his Six-Pack Project is to have beer writers from far-flung places highlight the best of their local beer culture. “If someone is coming to visit,” Bryan asks, “what bottles or cans would we want to share?”Six-Pack Project (Bryan Roth) I noticed that Oklahoma wasn’t on the list. I sent Bryan a note and embarked on a few months’ worth of drinking my way through virtually the entire gamut of Oklahoma beer offerings.

Now, Oklahoma isn’t exactly a craft beer mecca, so drinking my way through the state was not as Herculean a task as it may sound. This isn’t Colorado, after all. According to the most recent Brewers’ Association stats from 2013, Oklahoma ranks forty-fourth in the U.S. in terms of breweries per capita. Along with a smattering of brewpubs that serve up low-point 3.2 ABW beer on premises, only a small handful of breweries package beer at their own production facilities or under contract with one of those operations.

Even if the number of craft breweries in Oklahoma is of a Lilliputian order, quality is generally high. Some breweries, such as Prairie Artisan Ales, have garnered a national following for their beers, and within the Oklahoma craft beer scene just about every brewery has at least one beer in their year-round or seasonal lineup that commands legions of fans.IMG_0887 Thirsty Oklahomans are nothing if not loyal to their local breweries, something that portends very well for the future of craft beer in the state.

* * *

One of Bryan’s guidelines for the broader Six-Pack Project reads as follows: “This isn’t simply a ‘best of’ list. The goal is to pick a collection of six beers that represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.” With these sentiments in mind, I narrowed down the field to a selection of styles both appealing to a range of drinkers and appropriate to the different seasons. But I did bend Bryan’s guidelines a tad, leaving the results up to the group of convivial imbibers gathered around the table for our blind tasting.

Beers were divided into seven flights, each flight containing two to three beers. Flight One eased us in with session beers and wheat beers, Flight Two was a walk on the farmhouse wild side, and Flights Three and Four hopped up the tasting with American pale ales, ambers, and IPAs. Flight Five featured the richer end of the Belgian-style beer spectrum, Flight Six left us contemplating the depths of the stout abyss staring back at us, and Flight Seven induced vertigo with high-octane seasonals that included an imperial porter, a double ESB, and an imperial black IPA.

Without the influence that a brand name or a label can exert, we came up with a six-pack that surprised many of us when the list was unveiled, and that will likely surprise many Oklahoman craft beer drinkers. One among us exclaimed that he had always held XXYY to be his favourite Oklahoman beer. To everyone’s amusement, the beer didn’t even make it into his six-pack selection.

How It All Shook Out

Sixth Place: F5 (COOP Aleworks) COOP f5-ipa (coopaleworks-com)

F5 pays wary tribute to a sublimely destructive force that all too often tears across the Southern Plains. “A straightforward malt body supports the distinctive bouquet of Columbus and Falconer’s Flight hops that impart citrus, grapefruit and pine notes characteristic of the West Coast style. F5 is a belligerent hop reckoning.” For those not conversant with tornado lore, an F5 is the strongest on the Fujita scale, with estimated wind speeds between 261 and 318 miles per hour (419-512 km/h). Though crisply bitter, this IPA is actually a bit more nuanced than a tornado, with a clean and lightly honeyed malt profile forming the backdrop to clearly delineated, resinous hop notes of tropical fruit (mango and pineapple), citrus (grapefruit zest and tangerine), and pine.

Fifth Place: Brandy’s Imperial Sundae (Saddlebag Series, Mustang Brewing Company)

The label announces this beer as “a rich, creamy Imperial Vanilla Porter,”Mustang - Brandy Porter (label) 2 and though the vanilla loses its way among the expansive dark fruit, caramel-maple syrup, and roasted aromatics, the vinous quality and malt complexity of this cola-hued ale sealed the deal for most of us. Not quite in Baltic territory, this robust porter is still an impressive seasonal/specialty release from a brewery known more for its workaday year-round offerings. The Saddlebag Series gives free rein to head brewer Gary Shellman’s creative ambitions, so if you find one of these less-widely available beers, it’s worth picking up.

Fourth Place: Native Amber (COOP Aleworks) COOP - NativeAmber (coopaleworks-com)

COOP’s tawny-orange Native Amber looks like liquid caramel in a glass––a prelude of good things to come. Native Amber offers as much hop complexity as its IPA cousin, but with a malt complexity that plays well in concert with the hop aromas. Native Amber is the kind of beer you’d want to drink by the fire as the sun is setting on a cool and smoky autumn day. Brown-sugared hops, caramelized citrus zest, and toasted pine needles set the aromatic stage for a richly malty brew that holds up the harmonious hop palate without effort. Less bitter than the F5, the hops are, nonetheless, out in force, lending the beer a smooth, aperitif-like bitterness, and ensuring that the caramel malts don’t steal the show. Native Amber’s 55 IBUs will keep your hophead friends happy while satisfying those who like a stronger dose of malt with their hops.

Third Place: Uroboros Stout (Anthem Brewing Company)

This dense and chewy American stout packed with flavours of darkly-roasted coffee and burnt raisin pushes up against imperial boundaries with its heady 8.5% ABV. In the spirit of regeneration symbolized by the mythological Ouroboros, Anthem describes its stout as one “reborn here as a Belgian-inspired creation. Roasted and chocolate malts, dark candi sugar, oak spirals, and Belgian yeast circle in harmonious union.”Anthem - Uroboros (label) This was one of the more polarizing beers of the evening, but satisfied enough of us to land it in the six-pack just ahead of the Native Amber. I enjoyed the mocha and Black Forest cherry character, but found that the notes suggestive of over-roasted coffee lent a slightly astringent bitterness to the beer. That said, one of us described it as “pitch black and bodacious”––an enthusiastic enough endorsement for you to buy this beer when your friends come to town.

Side note: Anthem was one of the brewing companies that was taken out when a tornado hit OKCity Brewing Co. on May 31, 2013. Mustang, which owned the facility, was also affected. So was Black Mesa. Fortunately, no one was in the brewery when the tornado touched down, but the brewhouse was rendered inoperable. The craft beer drinking community rallied behind all three breweries, and after stints of contract brewing elsewhere, Mustang and Anthem are now ensconced in separate new facilities. Black Mesa continues to brew ale “hand-crafted by our tornado recovery team in O’Fallon, MO.” Such are the hazards of brewing beer in Tornado Alley.

Second Place: Signature Dubbel (Choc/Pete’s Place)

Choc (pronounced “chock,” and short for Choctaw beer, a historical style in its own right) traces its roots back to a time when Pete Prichard (né Pietro Piegari) took to slaking the thirst of the English, Irish, Welsh, and Italian immigrants who flocked to the area in search of jobs in the nearby coal mines. Prichard’s prototypical homebrewing operation kept right on trucking through Prohibition at Pete’s Place, his family-style Italian eatery that fast became an institution in southeastern Oklahoma.

Since the dark days of Prohibition, Prichard’s descendents have served their home-brewed beer and home-vinified wine to an impressive roster of state politicians, governors, U.S. senators, athletes, and movie stars, all while home-fermenting was illegal in Oklahoma. Eventually, the Prichards went pro, and were among the first craft breweries in the state.Choc - Dubbel 2 Nowadays, Choc brews much of Prairie Artisan Ale’s beers, has helped Elk Valley get on its feet, and even contributed brewing space to help Mustang weather the storm until its new brewing facility opened. With all that contract brewing going on, Choc is, unfortunately, less ubiquitous than it once was.

Choc’s Signature Dubbel is not a looker, but once you take your eyes off of the turbid copper liquid in the glass, it all gets much better very quickly. Many of us liked the raisin, date, and prune aromas and flavours that give the beer its port-like quality. Others praised the beer’s kettle caramelization, hint of herbal hoppiness, and spiced pumpkin earthiness. For me, the beer was like a Spanish chocolate fig cake, and had a subtle but distinct dark cherry acidity that kept the rich malt balanced. Serve this one at 55F or above for maximum aroma impact. And try it with a plate of lamb fries at Pete’s Place.

First Place: OPA (Choc)

After tasting Choc’s Oklahoma Pale Ale blind in one of the elimination round tastings I had done, I was fairly confident that it would make the six-pack when we got around to our evening of tasting. But first place?Choc - Beer Glass (www-petes-org) Ah, the merits of blind tasting––and a reminder that price and quality are not always equivalent values. (A 12-oz single of OPA will set you back a whopping one dollar and sixty one cents.) What we appreciated about this deep golden beer is its complex yet finely balanced hop-forward character. Aromas featured a panoply of tropical fruit, citrus zest, and fir tree needles on a bed of clean and subdued toasty, honeyed malt. Crisply bitter, the beer manages a pas de deux between smoothness and peppery spiciness.

Taking Stock … And a Few Substitutions Thrown In

*Among the surprises that greeted us when all was said and done, two breweries getting their share of positive press these days weren’t among the breweries represented in our blind-tasted six-pack. That doesn’t mean that these breweries don’t produce beers worth searching out. I’ll pick up this thread again shortly.

*In tasting my way through Oklahoma’s many compelling offerings, I was struck by how few good porters or brown ales there are in this state. The same goes for lower-ABV stouts.

*I found myself wishing that Choc would produce their Signature Series in more quantity. Bring on the Gose and Grätzer!

*Our blind-tasted sixer is light on session beers. Unfortunately, Oklahoma doesn’t really excel in this category. Some of the high-point breweries have taken note of this deficiency, with COOP, Prairie, and Roughtail having just begun to roll out lines of 3.2 beers within the past few months.Prairie - Birra (prairieales-com) Honourable Mention in our tasting goes to McNellie’s Pub Ale from Marshall in Tulsa.

*If I had visitors coming to stay with me during the height of a scorching Oklahoma summer, I’d want something in my fridge capable of quelling the heat while we’re waiting for our food to cook on the grill. Prairie, famous for high-ABV stouts like Prairie Bomb! and its numerous spin-offs, does a better job, in my opinion, of turning out excellent lower ABV farmhouse ales like Prairie Standard or Birra. Both are reliably crisp, refreshing, and quaffable. But if you must, knock yourself out with a Bomb.

*Roughtail was also among the surprise no-shows in our six-pack. But even if the popular brewery placed no beers in the blind-tasted sixer, its Roughtail IPA and Polar Night Stout each hold the distinction of having garnered as many top-six votes as two of the beers that made the cut.Roughtail - PolarNight You can’t go wrong subbing either of these beers for others in the six-pack.

*Last but not least, a doff of the ole hat to Nick Trougakos (aka The Thirsty Beagle) and to Tom Gilbert of What the Ale fame. Both have done an immense service to the Oklahoma craft beer scene with their writing.

Postscript

If you’ve made it this far, don’t forget to check out Bryan Roth’s writing over at This Is Why I’m Drunk. Not only is he a master of “beertography,” but he has also put together some insightful analyses of all things craft beer. His recent “Beer Advocate and the United States of Beer” is a series that probes the connection between ratings and ABV.

Related Tempest Articles

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

Gose Gone Wild: Anderson Valley, Bayrischer Bahnhof, Choc, and Westbrook

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie, Goose Island, Victory

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Images

Beer Is OK. You can even order the real deal at Etsy. Hefty enough to double as a meat cleaver in a pinch.

The Six-Pack Project Logo: Courtesy of Bryan Roth

Near the Kansas border: F.D. Hofer

F5: http://coopaleworks.com

Brandy’s Imperial Sundae: Mustang Brewing Co.

Native Amber: COOP Aleworks

Uroboros Stout: Anthem Brewing Co.

Choc Signature Belgian-Style Dubbel (750mL label): beerstreetjournal.com

Choc Glassware

Prairie Birra: http://prairieales.com

Roughtail Polar Night Stout: www.roughtailbeer.com

Tall Grass Prairie Preserve: F.D. Hofer

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