Monthly Archives: January 2015

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

2015 is barely four weeks old, and already we’ve seen the craft beer scene light up with plenty of fireworks. Perplexingly, Tony Magee of Lagunitas filed a trademark lawsuit against Sierra Nevada, only to back down after being “seriously schooled” by the good folks on Twitter. About a week before that hue and cry, a blogger in the New York State capitol region ignited a firestorm of his own, claiming that “[f]lights are dumb, and you’re dumb if you like them.IMG_9985 Needless to say, not everyone agreed. Just last week, news broke that Anheuser-Busch InBev has continued its craft beer shopping spree, scooping up Seattle’s Elysian a mere three months after the ink had dried on its deal to acquire 10 Barrel Brewing of Bend, Oregon. I suppose Elysian will have to quietly discontinue its Loser Pale Ale, or at least erase the “Corporate Beer Still Sucks” tagline from the packaging.

Less dramatic but no less significant, Andy Crouch’s article on Sam Adams registers Jim Koch’s amazement and displeasure that hipster millenials, concerned as they apparently are with “authenticity,” have abandoned the old-school pioneers of the craft beer scene, especially those erstwhile pioneers who head some of the largest American-owned breweries in the land. Crouch notes that Koch’s iconic beer brands have become so run-of-the-mill among thrill seekers that an increasing number of bars have opted not to sell the Boston Lager that was instrumental in floating the rising tide of craft beer.100-4032_IMG

Now, even if I’m not the biggest fan of many of the seventy-five-odd beers that Sam Adams has rolled out over the years –– Cherry Wheat cough syrup, anyone? –– I’d be the last person to suggest that we shouldn’t expand our gustatory horizons. But what concerns me, defender of lagers that I am, is the alacrity with which many a commenter discussing Crouch’s article dismisses Sam Adams on the basis of its ostensibly staid flagship lager. (To be sure, Sam Adams was not without its many defenders on the long list of comments to Crouch’s Boston Magazine article and on the even longer comment threads on BeerAdvocate.) One commenter expressed frustration with Boston Beer Company, the maker of Sam Adams, for putting so much marketing weight behind Boston Lager at the expense of the other beers in its vast portfolio. Another person who commented directly on Crouch’s article was more pointed: “To call Sam Adams Lager ‘exceptional’ is an impossible stretch of the imagination. Sure it’s better than Bud, but that’s like saying river water is better than ocean water.”

I have a suggestion.

Fellow imbibers-in-arms, let us stop this fruitless denigration of lager. Let us not be shy in asserting that subtlety and nuance can also be a mark of quality. Let us distinguish between quality and an indiscriminate taste for attributes such as bitterness, sourness, and hoppiness. And let us now praise lagers in all their yellow, amber, copper, black, dry, hoppy, sweet, and smoky glory.100-4036_IMGFor this edition of the Saturday Six-Pack, I’ll include six different lager styles and mix things up between the U.S. and Central Europe, but I’ll refrain from including some of the more compelling versions of Munich light lagers I’ve found in North America in today’s six-pack. You just won’t find them far beyond the precincts where they’re brewed. Two such beers, should you find yourself in Kansas City or Austin, are these: KC Bier Co.’s Munich Helles, and the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company’s Hell Yes Munich light lager. Simplicity as sublimity.

On to it.

Pilsener: Hans’ Pils, Real Ale (Texas)

When people think of the long tradition of lager brewing in the U.S., chances are their first thoughts are of Milwaukee. There, German immigrants with names like Schlitz and Müller (Miller) unleashed a tide of then-fashionable lagers from the shores of Lake Michigan. Not to be forgotten, Texas, too, welcomed a large contingent of German immigrants in the nineteenth century.Real Ale - Hans Pils It should come as no surprise, then, that Texas is also home to innumerable lagers that aren’t called Shiner.

Hans’ Pils from Real Ale is but one fine example of the lagers that keep Texans cool during the humid summer months. As with any well-crafted Pilsener, this crisply spicy beer with its subterranean bready sweetness is not the kind of beer that calls forth a stream of descriptors. Marked by herbal hops and a mineral austerity, Hans’ Pils is less like the softly floral Pilsners of southern Germany, paying tribute instead to the bracingly dry Pilsners of northern Germany. Bonus points: Hans’ Pils took home a silver medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

Czech Dark Lager: Czechvar Dark Lager, Czechvar (Bohemia)

If you can appreciate the malty richness of a Munich Dunkel and the subtle smoky roast coffee character of a Schwarzbier, chances are you’ll enjoy Czechvar’s dry and hop-inflected interpretation of a style we don’t see that often on North American bottle shop shelves.Czechvar - DarkLager 6er Czechvar began exporting their dark lager across the Atlantic in 2012, so with any luck we’ll start seeing more Czech dark lager. Czechvar’s garnet-limned black beer glistens like onyx in the glass, and a whiff of smoke wreaths complex malt aromas of chocolate and walnut-like nuttiness. Taut and ascetic, the woody and earthy tones anchor dark fruit notes of prune, lending the typically floral-spicy Saaz hops a more brooding cast en route to a softly medicinal herbal licorice finish.

Vienna Lager: LTD Lager Series Vienna-Style Lager, Full Sail (Oregon)

The label of this, the fifth recipe in Full Sail’s LTD Lager Series, throws down the gauntlet for those who love amber ales, proclaiming that what’s in the bottle is “a Vienna-style Lager so crazy good, you might convert to Lagerism.” Full Sail’s on to something here with this emphatically malty beer.

One of the classic world beer styles, Vienna Lager was once at the forefront of a new breed of lighter-coloured beers when it was first introduced by brewing legend, Anton Dreher, in 1841. Vienna Lager gets its distinctive dark golden to amber-orange hue from the kilned malt bearing the same city name. Darker than British pale ale malt yet not quite as dark as Munich malt, the light kilning process brings out a toasty, slightly fruity sweetness that dries out in the finish.

These days, Vienna Lager is a rare bird indeed in any craft beer taxonomy. As Michael Jackson once quipped, “Like Vienna’s role as an imperial capital, its style of beer seems to have faded as abruptly as the last waltz” (Jackson, 1988, 192). An unfortunate state of affairs, this lack of popularity. Full Sail - LTD Vienna

Full Sail to the rescue. And full steam ahead at that, with a beverage rich in toasted bread and toffee, malted milk, malt ball candies, nougat, and subtle dried cherry notes, all undergirded by faintly perceptible earthy, musky noble hops. Despite its silky sweetness, Full Sail’s Vienna Lager still manages a relatively dry finish reminiscent of marmalade toast and dried apricot, thanks in part to the unobtrusive herbal-spicy hop component.

Schwarzbier: Black Bavarian-Style Lager, Sprecher (Wisconsin)

Sprecher has more than ably carried the torch of Milwaukee’s storied German lager past, and at a price so reasonable as to make many other craft beers look embarrassingly expensive. If you have friends who swear they don’t like dark beers because dark beers are “too heavy,” this ruby-tinted deep brown-black beverage is the perfect remedy to such intractable conditions.Sprecher - Black Lager Smoky dark-roasted malts with just a touch of coffee and dark chocolate meet earthy licorice and dark caramel in this crisply playful glass of good cheer. With its long, mildly smoky cherry-plum finish, you might find yourself in the mood to fire up your grill in the dead of winter.

Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, Brauerei Heller (Bavaria)

If that tantalizing undercurrent of smokiness in Sprecher’s Schwarzbier has piqued your interest, you’ll be happy (or perhaps slightly disturbed) to learn that Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen ramps up the beechwood-smoked malt intensity to campfire levels. Smoked meat, bacon, and even aromas of smoked oysters appear front and center alongside a steely minerality. Who said lagers were boring? Inhale more deeply and the rich, toasty dark cherry calling card of Munich malt will leave no doubt that this is a well-crafted Märzen through and through.Aecht Schlenkerla - Maerzen II You’d be forgiven for thinking that a beer of such quixotic aromatic density would have the deftness of lead on the palate, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen is clean and smooth, and a dash of minty eucalyptus hop flavours near the finish adds crispness to this already deep and complex beer. A true classic that every beer drinker should try at least once in his or her life.

Doppelbock: Korbinian, Weihenstephan (Bavaria)

Weihenstephan - KorbinianAll I’m going to say is that Doppelbocks are among my favourite beers, and Korbinian is one of my favourite Doppelbocks. Don’t drink this one cold, or it won’t be among your favourite beers.

* * *

So what ever became of that Sam Adams Boston Lager that touched off these musings? Grab one off the shelf and drink it alongside the other Vienna Lager in your six-pack. Sam Adams’ Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hop showcase really isn’t half bad at all, and its dry-hopped brightness relative to the Full Sail might even appeal to the hopheads in the crowd.

Related Tempest Articles

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

Images

With the exception of label images, photos by F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison (The Sour Sessions)

Brew it and they will drink.

Mixed-culture fermentation has a long history in North America stretching back to the days prior to Prohibition. Brewers with British roots arriving in the great port cities of the east fanned out across the continent, some of them continuing the tradition of tart, oak-aged stock ales. German immigrants also left their mark, not only in the form of Pabst, Coors, and Anheuser-Busch. In the late nineteenth century, Baltimore was a thriving center of Berliner Weisse production.

Alas, none of these tart and sour styles survived the assault of Prohibition, and it wasn’t until the 1990s that indigenous mixed-culture beers began to reappear, ever so cautiously at first.New Belgium - La Folie (www-newbelgium-com) Michael Tonsmiere, author of American Sour Ales, credits Kinney Baughman of Cottonwood Grille and Brewery (North Carolina) with the first post-Prohibition sour beers –– beers that were, incidentally, the result of a fortuitous accident. By 1999, New Belgium had released La Folie under the stewardship of Peter Bouckaert, formerly of the venerable Brouwerij Rodenbach in Belgium. Right around the same time on the other side of the Rockies, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing Company had just acquired his first two Chardonnay barrels that would hold his first barrel-aged beer: the Brett-spiked Temptation. But tart and sour beers still constituted a mere trickle of the rising craft beer tide. As late as 2002, the Great American Beer Festival attracted but a handful of entrants upon introducing its first sour beer category: fifteen all told.

What a difference a decade-and-change makes. When Ron Jeffries founded Jolly Pumpkin in 2004, he was among the first of a generation of brewers to focus exclusively on mixed fermentation in conjunction with barrel-aging.IMG_1987 Nowadays it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that sour beers and wild ales are nearly as popular among the craft beer cognoscenti as the ubiquitous American-style IPA, with breweries like Jester King and Crooked Stave having taken up positions alongside Jolly Pumpkin.

* * *

For this first edition of the Sunday Sour Sessions, I dug into my consumable archives for a bottle from Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Beer series: the iO Saison brewed with rose hips, rose petals, and hibiscus. I first encountered this intriguing beer at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, but it wasn’t until I visited the Jolly Pumpkin Café and Brewery in Ann Arbor this past August that I came across this rare gem again. The bottle’s back label declares that beer is “an art form that excites our senses and stirs our imagination.” Inspired by Baudelaire’s words –– “A breath of air from the wings of madness” –– the good brewers of Jolly Pumpkin resolved to follow their creative muse to “a romantic world, dimly lit by distant memory.” The result of their poetic inquiry is a whimsical beer that starts with the effervescence and crisp lime-pepper bitterness of a Saison, and ends as a delicately floral sour beer that will pair extremely well with most any season.

Substitute the dim lighting of distant memory for a dimly-lit room set for dinner, et voilà! A tolerably poetic backdrop that flatters this luminescent amber-orange beer with its billowing ivory foam cap blushing o-so-slightly pink:IMG_2621 an intimation of the rose and hibiscus to come. Unlike so many beers in which the special ingredients either lurk in the shadows offstage or overpower the ensemble, the floral performers in this chamber orchestra play their solo pieces elegantly, leaving enough space for the wild yeast’s pineapple-mango fruit to register its presence with a firm clarity. The hibiscus tartness harmonizes well with a citrusy acidity that soars above the nutmeg-spiced honeyed malt notes, building to Saison-like lime-pepper crescendo before subsiding into mellow reminiscences of freshly-mown fields.

Three Tankards.

Cellar Notes

The bottle that inspired these musings bears a palimpsest-like date stamp that appears to read “02/16/2014.” Laced as it is with Brettanomyces, the dry and elegant iO Saison is a beer that you can lay down for a spell to see how it develops. I purchased my bottle in August and cellared it for six months. Drinking date: 01/24/2015.

Further Reading

Michael Tonsmeire, American Sour Beers: Innovative Techniques for Mixed Fermentations (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2014).

Related Tempest Articles

A Twist of Sour: New Belgium’s 2013 La Folie and Verhaeghe’s Duchesse de Bourgogne

Three Vintages of Goose Island’s Sofie

A Rodenbach Grand Cru in the Fridge, or a Six-Pack of Lesser Beer in the Fridge?

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

Images

La Folie label: www.newbelgium.com

Jolly Pumpkin tap handles (Ann Arbor) and iO Saison label: photos by F.D. Hofer

© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Beeronomics: An Interview with Trey Malone

I just got back to my desk with a bottle of smoked imperial porter from Tennessee to fortify me for the evening of writing. Looks and smells great, and reminds me of a welcoming fire in a log cabin on a snowy winter night.IMG_1884

As much as beer is sustenance on a frosty evening, and as much as the warming elixir in my glass is a rich tapestry of memories, craft beer also pulsates with an economic life intertwined with its socio-cultural life. The smoked imperial porter from Tennessee that reminds me of childhood visits to the Yukon involved a choice I made to purchase it on a drive between Kentucky and Oklahoma. Regardless of whether I agree entirely with what some economists think motivated my decision to purchase that particular beer distributed to that particular liquor shop, the economics of craft beer production and consumption is becoming an increasingly prominent and high-stakes game –– so much so that the Brewers’ Association has seen fit to employ a full-time economist, Bart Watson.

The economics of beer. Beeronomics.

Enter Trey Malone, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University and aspiring beer economist. Trey and I met several months ago when he started attending our local homebrew club meetings. Trey’s research in applied economics dovetails with a field of research about which we’ve been hearing a fair amount of late: behavioural economics. Why is it that we consume what we consume? (An NPR segment from October 2014 detailed how a group of foodies were tricked into praising a plate of hors d’oeuvres for their “fresh” and “pure” taste. The tasty morsels? Re-presented McDonald’s fare.)

But studies emanating from the intersection of economics and psychology can also have implications that fuel unreflective consumption. Can’t decide between all those beers on that extensive tap list? Something hoppy, maybe? Or local?IMG_1881 Inquiries into consumer behaviour start with these and similar sets of assumptions about what consumers want or need. The resulting market research erects a hall of mirrors that subsequently confirms consumer desires, a simulacrum akin to the dystopian shopping mall reality of Don DeLillo’s White Noise. A retailer looking to build a tap list just has to look to all those sets of aggregate data to determine what the consumer apparently wants. (My guess: more IPAs, more sour beers.) The potential implication: a feedback loop that, through its intensification of the desire for particular products, is inimical to diversity.

Inasmuch as I have reservations about some aspects of contemporary economic thought, applied economics has been a boon to the craft beer industry. It has shone a light on the tangible benefits that breweries bring to communities, both in terms of employment and income generated through tourism and entertainment spending. This research helps shape policy regarding alcohol regulation and taxation. Applied economics can also help craft beer brewers and retailers discern what appeals most to the consumer, right down to the finer details of labeling and packaging.

For his part, Trey is hard at work figuring out what makes us beer drinkers tick.

* * *

Tell us about how your research relates to beer. What does your research involve on a day-to-day basis? Do breweries or retail outlets (bars, pubs, liquor stores, etc.) approach you to conduct research for them?

I focus on applied economics at OSU. Applied economics is sometimes said to be the study of unintended consequences, with any economic choice we make likely causing some level of fallout for someone else. For example, by trying to promote healthy lifestyles through limiting alcohol availability, policymakers might negatively affect total state revenue.

The majority of my dissertation research entails field experiments, and at this stage of my research I’m developing and expanding my network of contacts within the industry.Zannotti I am currently finishing a paper with my dissertation advisor using data from many state agencies as well as the Beer Institute in order to study the role of state-level legislation on growth in the craft beer market. I’m also in the process of conducting field experiments with various restaurants in the Stillwater area such as Zannotti’s Wine Bar, where we changed the number of beer options and the style of menu. My hypothesis is that consumers need different ways to mitigate the large number of beer options in the modern marketplace. I’m testing this reasoning by conducting an experiment where we doubled the number of beer options to see if people would be more or less likely to purchase a beer relative to another option on the menu.

What are some of the most exciting aspects of your personal research? Did you have any inkling when you first started your undergraduate studies that you’d be working toward an advanced degree relating to beer?

For me, the most exciting part about applied economics is the economic paradigm itself. Because the study of economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources, I feel like I see research questions everywhere.TreyMalone - Mtn

As an undergraduate, I fell in love with economics but had no idea what that really meant. My undergraduate advisor does beer research from an economic history perspective, so he was my first exposure to anything like what I do now. I can remember drinking a Boulevard Pale Ale with one of my good buddies when we were all deciding what to do for graduate school, and I told him I had no idea. He laughed and told me he thought I’d probably end up doing beer research exactly like my undergraduate advisor. I told him that was ridiculous… and here I am. My Master’s degree focused on the economic development potential for local food systems, so it was a natural transition back to craft beer for my doctoral work.

Do you have to be an expert on beer to conduct your research, or do you just have to have a certain degree of research acumen and know how to do math and statistics? Is sensory training relevant to your work? Beyond the numbers, how much of what you do involves interacting with consumers and producers of beer?

I would say you could do this kind of research with no sensory training at all. In fact, it might almost be easier to taste beer like a layperson if you are trying to understand consumer preferences. I think what is more important is understanding the marketplace: in other words, being an active participant in making decisions based on your preferences, and talking with other people who are making the same sensory decisions. I don’t think you have to be an expert on beer tasting; rather, you need to be an expert on beer buying.

TreyMalonePwrPt - DrinkPrefAgeTo truly understand how a market interacts, though, I think it is important to gain a level of understanding of all players in the marketplace. For example, it is important not only to understand the consumer of a given product, but also the producer, the distributor, and the retailer. Each participant operates with specific objectives in mind.

Generally, economists tend to be introverted and prefer office hours to field hours, but experimental economics demands a keen devotion to understanding people at a deeper level. I love to sit at a bar and observe how people make their orders. I’m fascinated by what drives them to make the selection they do. Is it because the offering is local, or is it because a friend recommended it?

Based on your research to date, what do you perceive to be some of the biggest challenges facing the craft beer industry in this period of rapid growth?

Increasing the number of participants in the market improves quality in the market through competition, but I would imagine that the increased competition might change what has historically been a “compatriot” culture in the marketplace. Oftentimes, craft brewers perceive the competition to be “Big Beer” and frequently work together on collaborations or help each other out as if they weren’t competing for the same consumer dollars.TreyMalonePwrPt - BreweryCapita 2012 I think once we reach a higher number of breweries in the marketplace, we might start to see some of that helpfulness in the marketplace deteriorate and turn into firm competition of the kind we see in other marketplaces.

Self-distribution legislation is a crucial step for states who would like to encourage local producers, along with tasting rooms and growler laws. Legislators need to remember that craft brewers are more interested in quality control and receiving compensation that is in line with the higher quality product they produce than they are interested in selling high volumes. That means they are far more interested in educating the consumer about why their beer is as good as it is, and why consumers should be willing to drink a higher-quality product but drink less of it.

What kind of advice would you give to craft beer enthusiasts who think that your line of work might be appealing?

The door is wide open for compelling beer research. Craft beer is a relatively new market, and most academic research lags behind this rapidly evolving industry. That said, doing what beer drinkers do on a regular basis is a great first step.

Formalizing the experimental drinking process that we all regularly participate in is the next step. In other words: data collection that minimizes experimental error. Obviously, chemists and brewers have labored for years minimizing experimental error, but there are a surprisingly small number of published sensory analyses of craft beer that actually discuss what the layperson perceives when he or she drinks a beer. I think the French expression, “à chacun son goût,” is misleading, as I believe there is accounting for taste. While we might not be able to justify why we might like something, people can generally order their preferences in a way that maximizes their happiness.CraftBeerInfographic Cost (huffpost sept 2014) That order might change with the weather or my mood, but at any specific point in time, I am just like any other person in that I can tell you what I want.

Given that I believe we as craft beer fans tend to be a little more experimental in our preferences than the general population, it would be wonderful to start understanding what we like and are willing to pay for. Craft- and home-brewers clearly understand how to make a quality product, but if the craft beer market intends to continue its steady growth, I think it is important to move the discussion into a more analytical framework. Numbers and statistics are what will ultimately earn the beer market credibility with policymakers, and the way we can grow those numbers is by being sure to bring a product to market that is not only high-quality, but also appealing to a large number of drinkers.

What’s your favorite Oklahoma beer? If stuck on a desert island and a genie appeared offering you one beer and one beer only, which one would it be?

My favorite Oklahoma beer right now is the Coop DNR. I love the complexity. If stuck on a desert island? As corny as this is, I would ask for a Boulevard Pale Ale. That has been (and probably will always be) my go-to beer. I’ve heard people talk about how songs transport them to different times and places. Boulevard’s Pale Ale does that for me. Just a sip takes me back to the first time I found out what beer could taste like.

Related Tempest Articles

How To Become a Beer Liaison: An Interview with Genesee’s Sean Coughlin

The Industry Series: Tasting Tips from Cornell Flavour Chemist, Gavin Sacks

Images

Winter flowers and Dark Horse aquarium: F.D. Hofer

With the exception of the Zannotti’s Wine Bar logo (www.zannottiswinebar.com) and the Craft Beer Cost Infographic (Huffington Post), all remaining images courtesy of Trey Malone.

The Craft Beer Cost Infographic is from Joe Satran’s “Here’s How a Six-Pack of Craft Beer Ends Up Costing $12,” Huffington Post, September 12, 2014.

© 2015 F.D. Hofer, Trey Malone, and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015

A belated Happy New Year to all ye faithful Tempest readers! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season filled with plenty of good cheer.

It’s been a few weeks now, but I’m back at it after my Kentucky adventures tracking the shy and retiring Pappy and the increasingly elusive Weller.IMG_2231 For this, my first post of 2015, I’m going to share some tips that have helped me become a better drinker over the years. No, not the “Dude! I just slammed ten tequilas and I’m just getting started” kind of drinker, but a more informed and engaged beer enthusiast.

Tasting beer, wine, saké, and spirits is one of life’s more enjoyable rituals, but it’s also an aptitude you can hone with a bit of practice. True, some people have a keener sense of smell than others, and some people have a more refined palate. But despair not! A modicum of attention to what you’re drinking and how you’re drinking it cannot help but enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of what’s in your glass.

Glassware

Glasses are as good a place to start as any. A Hefeweizen’s towering foam cap is epic in its proper vessel, and the Chimay chalice adds a certain gravitas to your drinking session. Fortunately, though, you don’t need to go out and buy a whole cabinet-full of glassware, nice as it all looks on display.

If you buy one new glass in 2015, make it the versatile tulip glass. Its bulbous mid-section will contain the most vigourous of Belgian beers, and its tapered rim concentrates the aromas of those IPAs so many of you love to drink. You can also use it as a snifter for your barley wines and imperial stouts.IMG_2583 The tulip glass is a far better option than the standard pint glass, which, despite the fond attachment we may feel for this iconic drinking vessel, does a poor job of showcasing the aromas of a well-crafted beer.

Serving Temperature

Now that you’ve acquired shiny new glassware for your precious elixir, give some thought to the temperature at which you’ll drink your beverage of choice. In North America, it’s been hammered into our heads since birth that beer is to be drunk ice-cold. Warm beer? That’s what the Brits drink. Old cultural habits and stereotypes die hard.

I know it’s difficult with that beer sitting there calling out to you to drink it, but let’s resolve in 2015 to wait for the beer to come up to its ideal temperature. (To get a sense of the temperature ranges over which you can drink your various styles of beer, check out Ratebeer’s extremely useful “Serving Temperature Guide.”) Our patience will be rewarded with more complex hop aromas and a more intense malt character.

Try this experiment with two bottles of Fuller’s ESB. Chill one in the fridge, and store the other bottle as close to cellar temperature (13C/55F, give or take a degree or two) as you can. When you drink them side by side out of your new tulip glasses, I’m betting that you’ll get more out of the bottle that has been resting at cellar temperature. As for all those barley wines, Doppelbocks, imperial stouts, and Belgian quads? It pays to throw to the wind all those inhibitions we may feel about drinking warm beer.

Eat and drink with a catholic embrace

Or, if you prefer, drink promiscuously. Drink every beer style you can get your hands on. Drink wine. Drink rum. Eat chocolate. Order some coffee from a good roaster. Learn more about the art of the cocktail.IMG_2340 There’s a whole world to be explored beyond craft beer, and all of it will augment your understanding and appreciation of beer.

Earlier this year, I asked Cornell flavour chemist, Gavin Sacks, about what he does to get the most out of his research and tasting sessions. His advice bears repeating:

Remember that there are no unique flavor compounds or flavors to be found in wine or beer. So, try to smell and taste lots of things, not just wine or beer. Go to a perfume shop or a candle store or an auto parts store and sniff everything. Buy a bunch of obscure fruits from the local Asian market and taste them.

Compare and Contrast

Flights are the way to go. They also make for a great excuse to get your friends together for some postprandial entertainment. Here’s Sacks again:

Never, ever taste a single wine or beer at a time. Humans are lousy at doing sensory evaluation on a single product in a vacuum; we’re much better at doing comparative studies.

If you’re just getting a handle on what kinds of beer you like, flights enable you to sample a wide range of styles. If you’ve been drinking craft beer for some time, you can arrange a flight of, say, stouts to see which iterations of the style you like more than others. It goes without saying that flights also allow you to try a number of beers at a bar or brewery without getting totally hammered. Spend some time with the beers, and take a few notes.IMG_0508

Tasting Notes

Drink. Write. Repeat.

Whether you’re an Untappd junky or whether you prefer to write your notes in a notebook, take notes on at least a third of the beers you drink this year. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll develop your abilities to describe how your beer smells and tastes.

While you’re at it, pair the BJCP Style Guidelines with your tasting sessions to get a better sense of both what the brewer was trying to achieve and what flavour and aroma characteristics you might encounter in your bière de garde, Altbier, or American pale ale. Then write down your impressions. With a little practice, your sensory memory will grow into a well-stocked repository of aroma and flavour descriptors.

* * *

Should you find the “practice” element of beer appreciation too onerous on occasion, just grab a beer out of your fridge or cellar and kick back. Becoming a better drinker isn’t meant to be hard work, after all.

Cheers to a healthy and prosperous 2015!

_______________

Related Tempest Articles

The Industry Series: Tasting Tips from Cornell Flavour Chemist, Gavin Sacks

How To Become a Beer Liaison: An Interview with Genesee’s Sean Coughlin

Images

Willett Distillery, Bardstown, KY

Tulip glass

Barrels at Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY

Flights of beer at Ithaca Beer Company

All images by F.D. Hofer.

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© 2015 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.