Category Archives: Brewery Profiles

Meeting the people who make your beer.

How Paulaner’s Salvator Doppelbock Got Its Name

Paulaner may well have become one of the world’s leading brewers of Weissbier in recent decades, but its Salvator Doppelbock remains inseparable from the history of the brewery’s famous Salvatorkeller beer garden atop Munich’s Nockherberg.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung journalist Astrid Becker begins a recent article on Paulaner with an anecdote about a church bell. Markus Gottswinter, pastor of the Mariahilf church east of the Isar River, saves the bell for only the most special of occasions. And with good reason. When rung, the seven-tonne behemoth resounds with a force so thunderous that tiles fall from the roof of the church. The name of the bell: Salvator.

Cast in Erding in 1952, the bell was never intended for this church in the shadow of the Paulaner brewery. But the truck hauling it to its destination broke down in Nockherberg. The parishioners wasted little time in interpreting this fortuitous turn of events as a sign that the bell was meant for their church.

It’s also no surprise that the parishioners who inherited the bell called it Salvator. For here, in the vicinity of their church, the history of another behemoth named Salvator began: with the Paulaner order of Franciscan monks, who originally settled in 1629 in the Neudeck ob der Au monastery to the south of Mariahilfplatz.

The Paulaners inherited the right to brew in 1634 when the parents of one of their monks passed away. It just so happened that the parents came from a well-established brewing family. With their passing, the order acquired the Lerchl family’s brewing right (Braurecht), albeit with tight restrictions imposed by the city council. The Paulaners could brew beer in the Lerchlbräu brewery, but only for their own consumption.

Yet what the authorities decreed was a matter of indifference to the monks. They drank the beer they brewed, served it to the poor –– and sold it to the locals. Starting in 1651, the monks brewed a particularly strong beer each spring to honour the founder of their order, Franz von Paola (Francesco di Paola). Back then, the beer was euphemistically called “Sankt-Vaters-Öl” (oil of the sacred father) because the monks were allowed to consume plant oil during the Lenten fast. This salutary beverage found quite a following on account of its reputation for quality, and soon became the chief source of income for the order. So beloved was this beer that it engendered no small amount of consternation among the other brewers in the area. Their complaints kept the local magistrates busy, but to no avail. No amount of persistence could bring about a prohibition of the monks’ special form of hospitality –– perhaps because the magistrates, too, were convinced of the merits of the Paulaners’ strong beer.

It’s not entirely clear when the Paulaner monks began to brew Bock beer, a style that was all the rage in Munich well before the Paulaners came along. One detail is certain, though: the Paulaner interpretation was more formidable than the Bock that flowed forth from taps controlled by the secular authorities at the Hofbräuhaus. Not only that; the beer was also more substantial in a nutritional sense –– brewed strong enough, in fact, to carry the monks through the Lenten fast. This sweet, dark drink tapped every year on the occasion of Franz von Paola’s feast day went by several names: “Sankt-Vaters-Bier” (beer of the sacred father), “des heiligen Franz Öl,” (oil of the Holy Franz), or, simply, liquid bread.

Despite the prohibition of public sales, the good souls of Munich flocked to Nockherberg in droves every year on 2 April for a sip of that potent elixir. The beer-drinking public had spoken, and in 1660 the order’s brewing right was finally confirmed. In 1751, the Prince-Elector Max III Joseph legalized the sale of the beer for eight days in April. After all, he, too, was an enthusiast of this famed beer.The Paulaner Brewery experienced a dramatic shift when Bavaria became a kingdom in 1806. As a result of the secularization accompanying the Napoleonic Wars, the brewery was expropriated from the monks. Eventually, one Franz Xaver Zacherl acquired the brewery and all rights associated with it.

As we have seen, Paulaner’s strong beer had been known by many names over the centuries. Zacherl, however, recognized the need to sharpen the beer’s identity and worked tirelessly to turn it into a brand that beer connoisseurs recognize to this day. Inspired by the expression “Salve Pater Patriae,” he coined the term “Salvator” (saviour).

Given the popularity of the style, other breweries began calling their strong beers “Salvator.” Zacherl, one of the early combatants in the nascent field of trademark disputes, was not impressed with the flattery. He filed suit against his imitators, but passed away in 1849 before he could savour his success. In the end, the judges ruled in his favour: In a nod to tradition, the name Salvator was to remain a possession of the Paulaner Brauerei, but other brewers could use the suffix “-ator” in the branding of their Doppelbocks.

And with that begun over a century-and-a-half’s worth of Celebrators, Triumphators, Maximators, Liberators, even Alligators. The latter are particularly dangerous.

Related Tempest articles:

A Season for Strong Beer

From Horse Races to Beer Steins: Oktoberfest Since 1810

Where Did All the Märzen Go? Provisioning Oktoberfest Imbibers over the Centuries

Sources:

Astrid Becker, “Vater aller Starkbiere,” in Süddeutsche Zeitung (ed.), Mir san Bier: Braukunst und Biergärten in und um München, 2013.

Ursula Eymold (ed.), Bier.Macht.München: 500 Jahre Münchner Reinheitsgebot in Bayern, exhibition catalogue, Münchener Stadtmuseum, 2016.

Images:

Salvator-Ausschank auf dem Nockherberg, lithographed placard, 1951

Paulaner logo by Paulaner

Remaining images by F.D. Hofer

© 2017 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Eat Drink Finger Lakes: A Late Summer Smorgasbord of Food and Beer

It’s that time of year. Thousands of you have just moved halfway across the continent and are settling in at one of the universities or colleges in the Finger Lakes region. Even more of you live in one of the large urban areas within three or four hours of the Finger Lakes. Perhaps you’re thinking of getting out to enjoy the setting summer, or maybe you’re just passing through the region. Whatever the case, you might find yourself in need of a drink at some point. And probably some food too.IMG_3586

Shifting gears for a moment: It’s been a busy summer hiking, cycling, and riding trains around Austria. No complaints, but no matter how hard I try, I rarely manage to write posts while on the road. I’m on the road again –– this time in rural Pennsylvania after a conference in Philadelphia and a short visit to Pittsburgh. Since I’m only a few mountains and rivers from the Finger Lakes, why not finish up something I was working on last summer before I head back to Vienna? The piece below complements the various articles I have written about the region over the years. Taken together, they give you a comprehensive introduction to craft beverages and good eats in the Finger Lakes.

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Back-Road Craft Beer Tour

Serving Up a New Tradition at the Finger Lakes Cider House

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca, NY: Vol.1

Ithaca is Craft Beer

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

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

If you’re looking for something to do during those late summer and early autumn weekends before the frosts hit, read on! And since it’s an ongoing story, let us know in the comments about some of your favourite places that I haven’t written about here.

Skaneateles

Wine has long been a Finger Lakes staple, and the notion of good beer no longer raises eyebrows at the communal table. Add cider and the occasional artisanal distillery, and your glass will never be half empty.IMG_3499 You won’t go hungry either with the abundance of local fruit, bread, meat, and cheese.

And fish ’n chips –– or, as they call it in the region, fish fry. The most famous of them all is Doug’s Fish Fry, a local pilgrimage site and seafood shrine in Skaneateles. With its stately boulevard and lakeside mansions, Skaneateles is also one of the most beautiful of the Finger Lakes towns. Finger Lakes on Tap hadn’t yet opened when I was in Skaneateles in 2015, but now you can find roughly 60 breweries represented, ranging from Southern Tier in the west and Ommegang in the east to help you digest your visit to Doug’s Fish Fry.

Auburn

Travel fifteen minutes west along U.S. Route 20 and the undulating green farmland gives way to the shady lanes of Auburn, home of famed abolitionist, Harriet Tubman, and William H. Seward of Alaska Purchase fame. Like many towns in Upstate New York, Auburn was once home to several breweries before the combined blight of consolidation and Prohibition knocked the total to zero. But the aroma of mashed grain and hopped wort is in the air once again. Tucked away at the back of a small commercial building, Garrett of The Good Shepherds brews his beer on a nano setup about the size of a large homebrewing rig. Open since 2014, his rotating roster of brews was heading in the right direction when we visited in the summer of 2015, especially his Raz Brown and Sour Irish Red.IMG_3546 Check the website to see what’s on tap now.

Auburn is not just home to famous historical personages. It’s also the site of the maximum-security Auburn Correctional Facility. The latter inspires the jail-themed beers at Prison City Pub and Brewery, with names like Escape from Alca’razz. The impressive Blaubeere, an “American Sour Berliner Weisse aged with wild Maine blueberries and all-Brett yeast” makes up for an ambitious if slightly uneven food menu. Beers change regularly, so you might have an entirely different gustatory experience.

Rochester

If you’re a photography or film buff, Rochester’s Eastman Museum is well worth a detour from your craft beer itinerary. Time was short after the museum visit, so we opted for one of the newer breweries generating plenty of buzz in the Rochester area: Swiftwater Brewing Company. Located in the gentrifying South Wedge area of Rochester, Swiftwater is attracting a young and stylish set in droves. The beers: Belgian? American? German? Experimental?IMG_3702 All of the above, and none of the above at this urban farmhouse brewery.

Then there’s the venerable Genesee. Founded in 1878, Genesee is one of the oldest continually running breweries in the U.S. Recently they began to brew sound but cautious Scotch ales, black IPAs, and English-style brown ales under the Genesee name. At $3 for a flight of 4, it’s probably one of the best deals around. Skip the rather pedestrian tour of their 7-barrel pilot system and spend your time in their well-appointed gift shop/museum learning about the history of brewing in Rochester.

Ithaca Area

Perched on a ridge overlooking the western shores of Cayuga Lake outside of Ithaca, Bellwether has been producing hard ciders among the wineries for well over a decade. Bellwether has since been joined by a growing chorus of cider producers, including Eve’s Cidery, Black Diamond Cidery, Redbyrd Orchard Cider, Good Life Cider, and South Hill Cider. The latter five cideries peddle their wares at the Finger Lakes Cider House at Good Life Farm in Interlaken, NY, a farmhouse surrounded by bucolic meadows. Ciders range from still to sparkling, and bone-dry to lusciously sweet, with the occasional fortified cider and ice cider thrown in.

IMG_3559

Hopshire, built to resemble a historic hop kiln.

Heading out of Ithaca in the other direction, Dryden’s Hopshire Farm and Brewery continues to pump out a range of solid beers emphasizing local ingredients. Among the additions to their lineup when I last visited are Dragon Ash, a rich porter with fruit and chocolate notes, and Abbey Normale, a majestic Belgian dark strong ale with a spicy caramel-plum-raisin character. If these beers aren’t on tap when you visit, chances are you’ll see them when the season’s right.

Last but least, the old standby: Ithaca Beer Company. The burgers have inched up in price, and they’ve switched up the selection, but the quality is as high as ever. That’s not surprising, given that they source their meat from Autumn’s Harvest Farms in nearby Romulus, NY. (If you’re in the area long enough, give them a call and head out for a tour of their farm.IMG_3563 Their pork products are superb.) Over a few sessions with friends, I had the Cheddar Burger and the Smokehouse Burger, both accompanied by fries with homemade ketchup and herbed mayonnaise dipping sauces. The great food and solid beer isn’t the only reason to stop by for lunch or dinner; the brewery and restaurant setting is stunning at all times of the day –– a bit like Switzerland minus the snow-capped peaks. Try the perennial favourite, Flower Power IPA, or opt for a one-off in the taproom. (I had a compelling golden amber-coloured coffee beer during my last visit.) It seems like just yesterday that the Ithaca Beer Company opened up their new brewery and restaurant amid the rolling hills and verdant pastures, but even that space wasn’t large enough to meet the double-digit increase in demand. When you visit, lift a glass of one of their experimental Excelsior series ales to celebrate all that the Finger Lakes has to offer.

Postscript: Madison County Hop Fest

Before plant diseases began the job of devastating Central New York’s hop crop and Prohibition finished it, Madison County was the center of hop production in North America. Just a few steps beyond the Finger Lakes proper, the region merits a visit both for its beer history and its contemporary embrace of hop production and local malting. With a bit of luck and the help of a local, the intrepid hop head can find nineteenth-century hop kilns tucked away in hollows or hidden in the shadows of hillocks and knolls along sleepy back roads. Though some structures have succumbed to the ravages of time in the decade since this map was produced, you can still use it to put together a fascinating day trip. For those who don’t want to venture out into the back of beyond, twenty-first century hop yards have sprung up in conspicuous locations along well-traveled country thoroughfares within the past several years. (See my Cultural Archeology, Hopshire Style: The Revival of Hop Cultivation in New York if you want to read more about why that’s the case today.)

For over two decades now, the Madison County Historical Society has been helping locals and visitors celebrate all things lupulin at the Madison County Hop Fest. Mark your calendars: this year’s edition takes place between 16 September and 18 September.

While you’re in the region, be sure to check out Good Nature Brewing in Hamilton and Henneberg Brewing Company in Cazenovia. And for a quick sip of the cultural history of hop production in the region, check out my oh-so creatively titled Madison County Hop Fest.

Ithaca Brewing Company

Ithaca Brewing Company

All images: F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Of Coolships, Cobwebs, and Cantillon

Cantillon needs no introduction. Even if you’re not yet a convinced imbiber of wild-fermented beers, chances are you’ve at least heard of Cantillon, that legendary Brussels brewery of mythic proportions and mystical imaginings. If lambic and gueuze producers in Flemish Brabant merit pilgrimages, Cantillon is the holy grail.IMG_7968Cantillon’s sterling reputation rests on its charm, and has as much to do with its defense of tradition as it does with what’s in the bottle. Pulley-and-gear-driven mash tuns, shallow cool ships in the attic with louvers to control the airflow and temperature, a hop-aging room smelling of old hay and cheese, cobwebs stretched between the rafters, a barrel fermentation room with its characteristic musty-woody smell, and row upon row of aging racks downstairs: The brewery stands as a testament to how beer was brewed at a time when Paul Cantillon set up shop in the Anderlecht district of Brussels at the turn of the twentieth century.IMG_7904 Unlike many other lambic and gueuze producers that have updated their facilities, the dark, timbered, and cobwebbed Cantillon brewery is like a trip back in time.

In Defense of Tradition

Back when Cantillon started slaking the thirst of Anderlecht’s workers, Brussels was home to over a hundred breweries. Today, only two remain: Bellevue, an InBev entity that caters to mass tastes with its sweetened gueuze-like and kriek-like beers, and Cantillon. As the Cantillon brochure pointedly puts it, nowadays “the world of Lambic is dominated by big business and its centuries-old name has been tarnished by large-scale industrial production.”

Up early, we hit the bikes and headed in the direction of Anderlecht, arriving at Cantillon well before noon. Wary of leaving our bikes on the street, we asked the elderly woman selling tickets in the brewery if we could bring our bikes inside. As it turns out, she’s the last living Cantillon, wife of Jean-Pierre Van Roy, the gent who took up the reins of the brewery in the 1960s. And there she was, working in the family business on a Saturday morning, selling 7-euro tickets for the self-guided tour and tasting to follow.

A brewery dominated by the dictates of big business Cantillon is not. The spiders in the rafters upstairs bear witness to the fact. (More on those spiders later.)

Turning Wheat and Barley into Lambic and Gueuze

Cantillon does things in a manner reminiscent of days when artisans were aided by the labour-saving devices of early industrialism. Cranks and pulleys drive a mash tun that looks like a museum piece, and wood’s the word when it comes to fermentation.IMG_7913

Once the wort has finished its boil, it spends the night cooling in a shallow copper vessel tucked among the rafters of the attic. This vessel, known as a coolship, is designed to expose as much of the wort as possible to the evening breezes regulated by wooden louvers that open out into the cool night. Microorganisms resident in the attic and evening air inoculate the wort during this early stage of the fermentation process. An ambient temperature between 3 and 8 degrees Celsius is crucial; too warm, and undesirable yeast and bacteria gain the upper hand. This is why the brewing season typically lasts from October through April only, although recent global warming trends may eventually spell an even shorter brewing season.IMG_7920Bright and early the next morning the brewers set to work transferring the wort into oak or chestnut barrels, where fermentation can take up to three years. During this time, the microbes that inoculated the wort overnight, together with the organisms that inhabit the barrel, produce the astounding array of aromas characteristic of lambic.

Now it’s just a matter of patience. Here’s where the spiders and cobwebs come in. Insects just can’t seem to resist the fermenting beer and the summer deliveries of fresh fruit that Cantillon uses to make its kriek and other fruit beers. Cantillon uses 150 kg of fruit for every 500 liters of two-year-old lambic, so it’s no wonder that the insects are drawn to the brewery. Rather than risk having insecticides seep into the casks, the brewers leave the job of insect control to the spiders.

A word on the barrels: the type of wood used to make the barrels is not as important for lambic makers as it is for winemakers. Rather, lambic brewers prefer barrels already used by winemakers and, to a lesser extent, Cognac producers.IMG_7933 New barrels impart too much tannin and oak character, while used barrels lend that beguiling suggestion of wine. Over repeated use, each barrel develops a character unto itself as the diverse microflora take up residence.

Patience Rewarded

After the lambic reaches a certain point in the fermentation and maturation process, it’s ready to drink straight from the barrel. More often than not, though, the lambics are blended to make gueuze. Gueuze is made from a blend of one-, two-, and three-year-old lambics originating, in Cantillon’s case, from as many as eight barrels. The oldest portion of the blend provides the character, and the youngest portion of the blend initiates a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The result: a dry and tart ale with a dense and frothy foam cap.

Lambics and gueuzes are sometimes described as vinous or cidery, and have a distinctive sour quality. Aromas and flavours range from fruity (citrus, green apples, tart cherry) to phenolic-spicy, from earthy and leathery to oaky with hints of vanilla. And then there’s all that funk: horse blanket, barnyard, cheese, hay.

Not your father’s BudMillerCoors.

***

Now that we’ve spent the past half hour or so wandering through the brewery on our self-guided tour, it’s time to put those tasting tokens to work.

The lambic exhibits a solidly tannic note from the wood, some fresh meadow scent, and a slight tartness. As for the gueuze? Scents of tropical fruit, aged hops with a distinctive cheese quality, pungent flowers, barnyard, ghee, and green apple. On the palate it was creamy, tannic, and with a pleasant lemon-funk rounded out by green apple and a touch of slate-like minerality.

*Of note: The Cantillon lambics and gueuzes that I tasted at the brewery and elsewhere in the Brussels region in May 2016 had an interesting cheese-like pungency on the nose when young –– not overpowering, but clearly present. Later, in June 2016, I tasted a gueuze that was bottled in June 2014. The aged version had developed plenty of additional complexity, and the “cheese” character had aged out into hay, horse/horse blanket, pineapple brett, and gooseberry.IMG_7944

Rosé de Gambrinus is made in the same way as kriek, but with raspberries instead of cherries. Thanks to the skills of the good brewers of Cantillon, the raspberry shines through bright and fresh, as if it has just been picked. The star of the show, though, was a bottle of Foufoune (apricot gueuze-lambic). The subtle yet intense apricot aromas and flavours were exquisite.

Alas, much as we would have liked to taste our way through all of Cantillon’s intriguing offerings, we had made previous arrangements to take a bicycle tour of Brussels. Needless to say, it’s just a matter of time before I head back to Cantillon.

If you’ve had a chance to try the Vigneronne, the Cuvée Saint-Gilloise, the Saint-Lamvinus, the Iris, or any of the Lou Pépé bottlings, let us know how they tasted.

Related Tempest Articles

For more on the differences between lambic, gueuze, and kriek, and for tips on where you can find all the Belgian beer you’d ever want to drink, see my Where the Wild Beers Are: Brussels and Flemish Brabant.

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?

Sources

On the technical and aesthetic aspects of lambic brewing, including turbid mashes, hop aging, and characteristic ester and phenolic profiles of various yeast and bacteria strains, see Jeff Sparrow, Wild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewers’ Yeast (Boulder, CO: Brewers Publications, 2005).

“Brewery Cantillon: Traditional Family-Run Brewery,” (Brussels, n.d.).

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All images by F.D. Hofer

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

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Beer Travel Off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel

When you think of beer destinations in Central Europe, certain cities and regions stand out as iconic.

Rauchbier from Bamberg. Budweiser from Budweis. Kölsch from Cologne. Pilsener from Pilsen. Altbier from Düsseldorf. Berliner Weisse. Gose from Leipzig. Light and dark lagers from Munich. And the beer riches of Bavaria in general.

Austria? Vienna Lager may well be a thing again as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Anton Dreher’s brewing virtuoso this year. But even as the tide of “craft beer” slowly engulfs the Tyrol, Carinthia, Styria, Salzburg, and even Vienna, the country is still, largely, a patchwork of Gösser green, Ottakringer yellow, Puntigamer blue, and Stiegl red. Few beer enthusiasts beyond Austria’s borders think of it as a beer destination.

For the intrepid beer traveler, though, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution. In many ways, the Innviertel’s status as one of the few bona fide beer regions is not surprising, given its proximity to Bavaria. Indeed, the region was a part of Bavaria until it briefly became part of the Habsburg realms in 1779 and then continuously part of what would eventually become the Austria we know today in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Today, the brewing tradition of the region pays tribute to these historical connections with beers that would not be out of place in any Franconian tavern.IMG_7092

The Innviertel is roughly equidistant between Vienna and Munich, and a mere stone’s throw from Salzburg, but it’s off the major train lines. In fact, the diesel-driven train that runs between Neumarkt and Braunau am Inn is naught more than a bus on rails. If you want to stop at one of the smaller towns along a line, you have to push a button to alert the engineer. As you get further from Linz, the industrial center of Upper Austria, the landscape starts to undulate, and the houses take on a more rustic character. Verdant rolling fields spread out northward across the Inn and into Bavaria, and the tops of snow-capped peaks loom up above the hilltop forest stands to the south.

***

My first stop is Ried im Innkreis, the administrative center of the Innviertel region and the largest market town in Austria in the mid-nineteenth century.IMG_6887

With a town square awash in colour and charming alleys radiating in every direction, Ried invites visitors to spend some time on the many terraces sipping a coffee, eating ice cream, or … drinking a beer.IMG_6880

Ried was once home to a handful of breweries, but since the Kellerbrauerei cooled its kettles in 2013, Rieder Bier is now the sole hometown hero.

The best place by far to hoist a tankard of the local brew and much else besides is the Biergasthof Riedberg. Karl Zuser, the sommelier-owner, is something of a local celebrity, criss-crossing the region offering and promoting his well-stocked cellar broad in brand selection and deep in vintage verticals.IMG_6829

Riedberg’s head server, Susanne Schimpf, is also a trained beer sommelier. She set me up not only with superb beers, but also a hop soft drink (Hopster Hopfenlimo) that I’m sure we’ll see at some point in Kreuzkölln or Brooklyn. IMG_6863

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

The hop schnapps Susanne served at the end of the meal cut through the rich and delicious regional fare perfectly.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

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After a leisurely Easter Sunday buffet breakfast at Biergasthof Riedberg, I made my way to the train station to get the semi-regular train to Braunau am Inn, a pretty town that bears the unfortunate distinction of being the place where Adolf Hitler was born. As someone who has done a fair amount of work on the Holocaust and National Socialism, and who has traversed Europe to do research on the concentration camps, extermination camps, transit camps, forced labour camps, and the memorial sites that have sprung up as a witness to and warning against the murder of Europe’s Jews, I felt a certain ambivalence about heading to this particular town in search of beer on Easter Sunday. I’ll leave those thoughts open … They certainly refused to be bracketed as I tasted my way through Brauhaus Bogner’s stellar beer offerings.

Something on the lighter side ...

Something on the lighter side …

Be it the stellar Hefeweizen, the unique Fastenbier dark Bock brewed for Lent, the Frühlingsmärzen pulled straight from the lagering tanks before the rest of it goes down for the longer haul over the summer, or the dazzling Zwickl with its subtle aromas of pear, blossoms, artisanal bread, butter pecan, and fresh-cut meadows, Bogner knocks it out of the park.IMG_6938

Bogner is one of the smallest breweries in Austria, so you’ll need to journey to the source. It’s well worth the effort, though –– a real treat for fans of lagers and Weissbier.IMG_6942

Since the weekend was already winding down, I didn’t have time to linger in Braunau am Inn before retracing my steps in the direction of Schärding, a vibrant town perched on the banks of the Inn River.IMG_7085

For those who have been reading along since the early days of Tempest, you might remember a piece I wrote about Kapsreiter Landbier on the occasion of Craft Lager Day. Unfortunately, the owners of this much-beloved regional brewery also had money tied up in real estate, and are said to have been done in by the effects of the financial crash. The brewery and its inn were bought by Baumgartner, the brewery just across the street, but the legacy of Kapsreiter lives on.IMG_7040

IMG_7047Though Kapsreiter may be gone, Baumgartner is doing an excellent job of keeping the brew kettles stoked in Schärding. You can get their beer in just about any inn or tavern in town, but why not go straight to the source? The Baumgartner Stadtwirt Schärding (formerly Kapsreiter, as the barrels out front and stamped benches within attest) is conveniently located right across from the brewery, and the food is on point as well.IMG_6981

It’s early Monday afternoon, I don’t need to be in Vienna until nighttime, and I’ve already tasted my way through Schärding. I hadn’t thought of it while planning my weekend, but Passau is a mere fifteen minutes away on one of the main train lines out of Vienna into Germany via Linz. And a train happens to be leaving in half an hour.IMG_7100

Since it lies at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube Rivers, it’s the perfect way to end my exploration of beers and breweries along the eastern portion of the Inn River. The Veste Oberhaus, erstwhile fortress of the Bishop of Passau, overlooks an Altstadt strewn with Gothic and Baroque architectural jewels and teeming with lively terraces.IMG_7113

Passau is also a university town, and it’s not long until I feel the pull of the inns and taverns at every street corner and in every square.

A beer with a view.

A beer with a view.

Satiated, I clamber I up to the fortress dominating the ridge overlooking the town, dip my toe in the water where the Inn and Danube come together, and stroll along the banks of the Inn back to the train station, just in time for my train back to Vienna. I barely scratched the surface of Passau, but in the immortal words of a certain Austrian from Graz, I’ll be back.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

Endnote: Due to spotty bus and train connections to Engelhartszell, I missed out on Austria’s only Trappist brewery this time around. Now that I have my international driver’s permit, I’ll rent a car one of these weekends and let you know more about the town and the abbey.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend

The Lucky Seven Selection

Blame Guinness for declaring St. Patrick’s Weekend. Not that I’m complaining. Stouts of all stripes are among my favourite beers, after all. Guinness has also given me an excuse to bundle my occasional Saturday Six-Pack Series together with the commemoration of a saint who drove snakes out of a country that has never seen a snake. IMG_6648We’ll leave that to naturalists and hagiographers to debate while we tuck into a few stout beers.

Stouts, though. Not exactly a clear-cut style. Case in point: the marked proliferation of sub-styles in the 2015 edition of the BJCP Style Guidelines compared with the 2008 edition –– proof positive that style categories are anything but static. And then we have all those legends worthy of St. Patrick, guaranteed to keep self-styled beer historians debating till the wee hours. Though I’m not (yet) what I’d call a historian of beer, I know enough about the shifting sands of beer styles to say that you’re not alone if you’ve ever confused a porter with a stout. And don’t even get started with Russian Stouts. Or do. Interesting stories of icy sea journeys and opulent courts abound, along with no shortage of confusion over nomenclature. For now, I’m content to let the legends be. If nothing else, the heated debates and sedulous myth-busting make for entertaining reading.

Fine-grained differences between stouts and the family resemblance with porters aside, just what is it about stouts that keep us coming back for more, century after century? It’s worth quoting Ray Daniels, one of the more lucid writers on homebrewing caught up in an alliterative moment:

Perhaps it is the blinding blackness of the brew as it sits in the glass – a sort of barroom black hole so intense that it might absorb everything around it.

He continues:

Those who finish their first glass often become converts, swearing allegiance and setting off on a sybaritic search for the perfect pint.

Twenty years after Daniels wrote those words, our love affair with stouts shows no sign of abating. Bourbon County Brand Stout, anyone? Or how about Dark Lord Day – which, incidentally, has its very own website?

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For this edition of your “Lucky Seven” Saturday Six-Pack, I’m going to leave the emerald isles to their celebrations and sample what lies beyond the traditional Anglo-Irish homeland of stouts. Much as I love plenty of American stouts, enough has been written about these justifiably sought-after beers, so I’ll save a sixer of those for another day.

Regardless of which version of the history of the style you read, one element of the story stands out in all versions: Stout is an eminently international beverage, with examples from just about every continent. The stouts I talk about below are, for the most part, available in any well-stocked North American bottle shop. As for the Austrian and Czech examples? Whether you live in Los Angeles or Latvia, you’ll need to get a little closer to the source. Never a bad thing, exploring new beer regions.

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Rasputin (Brouwerij de Molen, Netherlands). Why not start off with a beer that tips its hat to that infamous lover of the Russian Queen? The lightest-hued stout in this mixed pack, Rasputin is no black knight, but also no lightweight at 23º Plato and 10.4% alcohol. Translation: plenty of malt, and more than enough octane to go the distance.Brouwerij de Molen website (03-bierografiebanner) And like any wise master of intrigue, it hides its claws. Cocoa-dusted ganache, dark cherry, chocolate milk, and plenty of rich Ovaltine-like malt herald a palate of bitter black coffee, prune, and earthy-anise licorice. Café au lait and bourbon vanilla bean linger in the background of this medicinally bitter beer. The beer was bottled in August 2015 and carries a balsy best-by date of 2040, so I’d suggest giving this beer a few years to round out. Brouwerij de Molen has created a tidy little niche for itself with its big beers. You can also check out my extended review of their Hel & Verdoemenis Imperial Stout.

Espresso Stout (Hitachino Nest, Japan). You may be familiar with the little red owl adorning Hitachino Nest’s beer labels, but what you might not know is that this spectacularly successful brand started as a side-project of a saké kura in the Tohoku region of Japan.IMG_6654 Kiuchi Brewery knows a thing or two about the art of fermentation, and it shows in their beers. Even if the Espresso Stout’s coffee notes are a touch too “jalapeno green” for my taste, it nonetheless delivers a satisfying cup of espresso spiked with dark chocolate, mocha, and chocolate liqueur. Black cherry and prune lurk in the depths, and an earthy herbal-spiciness evoking sassafras lends intrigue to this export-strength stout (7% ABV).

Morrigan Dry Stout (Pivovar Raven, Plzeň, Czech Republic). A stout isn’t the first beer you’d expect to come across in the town where a particularly ubiquitous beer style was born. Echoing the understated brewing tradition of western Bohemia, Raven’s Morrigan is the kind of stout that doesn’t rely on barrels or tonnes of malt to win over its admirers. As impenetrable as the Bohemian Forest at night, Morrigan offers up dark notes of earthy cocoa powder and an ever-so-slight smokiness from the roasted malts.IMG_6464 Mocha and dark cherry brighten up the beer’s countenance, with café au lait and a touch of milk caramel adding a suggestion of sweetness to this elegantly austere, tautly balanced dry stout. One Tankard.

Imperial Stout, (Nøgne Ø, Norway). Nøgne Ø prides itself on its uncompromising approach to quality, an approach reflected not only in its beers. The brewery’s name pays homage to the famous Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, who used the poetic term, “naked island,” to describe “the stark, barren, outcroppings that are visible in the rough seas off Norway’s southern coast.” Nøgne Ø’s rich and unctuous imperial stout forms the perfect antipode to images of steel-hued coastlines ravaged by waves. Lyric aromas of espresso, prune, molasses, dark bread, vanilla, cookie dough, walnut, and a touch of salted caramel cascade forth from this jet-black beer –– a dreamy complexity that retains its harmoniousness throughout. Chocolate notes take center stage on the moderately sweet and rounded palate. Cocoa-dusted prune mingles with milk chocolate-coated pecans; baking spice hop notes intertwine with artisanal dark bread and a smooth, understated bitterness. Note: This example was bottled in October 2012 and consumed in March 2016. File under cellar-worthy, and take Nøgne Ø’s advice regarding serving temperature (12ºC). Two Tankards.

Lion Stout (The Ceylon Brewery, Carlsberg Group, Sri Lanka). Formerly grouped under the Foreign Extra Stout category in the BJCP Style Guidelines, Tropical Stout is now a category of its own (16C, for anyone interested). If you’re new to the style, expect a sweet, fruity stout with a smooth roast character –– somewhere between a stepped-up milk stout and a restrained imperial stout. Opaque ruby-violet black with a brooding brown foam cap concealing 8.8 percent of alcohol, Lion Stout is not for the faint of heart. Fruit aromas of currants, burnt raisin, and prune combine with a vinous character not unlike a tart-cherry Chianti. Underneath it all lurks a smoky-roasty bass note that keeps company with licorice, acidic dark chocolate, and mocha. The dark chocolate and vinous acidity carries over onto the palate, balanced by creamy mocha and velvety alcohol. Rum-soaked cherries strike a pose with earthy licorice, while mild notes of roast-smoke intertwine with cocoa-dusted milk chocolate and dried currants. Surprisingly buoyant for its alcohol and malt heft, this is one dangerously drinkable beer. One Tankard.

Royal Dark (Biermanufaktur Loncium, Austria). What would a “lucky seven 6-pack” of stouts be without an entry from the lands known more for their lagers and wheat beers? Even if Austria isn’t legally bound by the Reinheitsgebot, many Austrian brewers proudly proclaim their allegiance to these strictures governing beer purity.Loncium - Mtn Toast Not a bad thing, but more often than not, adherence to the Reinheitsgebot translates into a limited selection of beer styles in Austria. Up until recently, home-grown stouts and porters were rare birds indeed. Enter Loncium, a pioneering brewery hailing from the southern province of Carinthia noted for its dramatic Alpine scenery. Loncium’s pleasant milk stout features a dusting of cocoa powder, a dollop of caramel, a touch of dark cherry, and a hint of bread crust. Scents of fresh-ground coffee, mocha, and a suggestion of smoke from the roasted malts round out the aromas. Coffee with cream gives way to baking spice and dark berry notes on the palate. Smooth, off-dry, and with the mildest bitterness, you could almost call this beer a café-au-lait stout.

Imperial Stout (Midtfyns Bryghus, Denmark). Overture: Onyx, with tinges of ruby. Waves of malt and a judicious hand with the oak. Act I: Toasted toffee, crème caramel, and smoky dark chocolate opening out onto cookie dough, bourbon vanilla bean, cocoa-spiked molasses, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and Vollkornbrot.Vollkornbrot (www-quora-net) Intermission: Full-bodied and silky –– right on the border between whole milk and light cream. Act II and aria: Black Forest cherry cake and a buttery pecan nuttiness countered by a splash of rum. Curtain call: Off-dry and fruity-jammy, with raisin and juicy prune lingering well into the sunset. Expansive and stellar. Three Tankards.

With that I say cheers! And vive la sybaritic search for la perfect pint of stout!

Further Reading:

Ron Pattinson, “What’s the Difference between Porters and Stouts?All About Beer (August 27, 2015).

Martyn Cornell, “Imperial Stouts: Russian or Irish?” posted on his Zytophile blog (26 June 2011).

Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1996).

For a fleeting hint at the colonial history behind stouts in places like Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Jamaica, see Jenny Pfäfflin, “Chicagoist’s Beer of the Week: Lion Stout,” Chicagoist (July 10, 2015).

Consult the links contained in the text above for more information on the individual breweries.

Images

Brouwerij de Molen banner: http://brouwerijdemolen.nl/beers/

Loncium brewers in the Alps: www.loncium.at

Vollkornbrot: https://www.quora.com/

All other images: F.D. Hofer

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© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All rights reserved.

Of Whisky Casks and Doppelbocks: The New Wave of German Brewing

It was only a matter of time until a new generation of German brewers started heeding the siren call of hops, spice, and everything nice, even as they continue to craft their beers within the relative confines of the 500-year-old Reinheitsgebot (Beer Purity Laws).

David Hertl is one such representative of this new wave of brewers leavening tradition with innovation. The resident beer sommelier at Bamberg’s main craft beer emporium, Hertl also happens to be a young brewer who hails from a family of Franconian winemakers.IMG_5084Setting the stage: Bamberg is hilly medieval city in Franconia, famous as much for its Altes Rathaus straddling the River Regnitz as it is for its smoky Rauchbier. Franconia is part of Bavaria, and Bavarian beer is synonymous with the Reinheitsgebot.Reinheitsgebot - Briefmark (Wiki-de)

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As I made my way back to my hotel after a satisfying evening of Bamberg-style imbibing at Mahr’s, Aecht Schlenkerla, and Fässla, something caught my eye: a tastefully decorated storefront in a stone building with rounded arches. Bierothek.

Bierothek is where I made David Hertl’s acquaintance the following day after a long hike toward a mirage-like castle that kept receding beyond the southern horizon. Hertl was about to close up shop for the night, but let me in to browse Bierothek’s 300-strong selection in search of beers to bring back to Vienna.IMG_5047

We got to talking about the Reinheitsgebot, and the difficulties inherent in translating not so much the word “craft beer” into German as introducing it as a concept to German beer drinkers. Consolidation may well have left its mark on the German brewing industry in recent decades, but much of what Germans drink still fits the Brewers’ Association’s definition of craft beer, disputed and relatively elastic as this term may: “small, independent, traditional.”

When concepts take flight, though, the act of translation is never merely a one-to-one exchange, but rather an exercise in interpretation. As Hertl points out, for many German beer drinkers, “craft beer” has become virtually synonymous with American-style pale ales, IPAs, and imperial stouts. Hertl faces the occasional challenge in convincing German consumers that German beer actually is craft beer avant la lettre –– and that the novel tidal wave of American beer, exciting as it may be, isn’t necessarily better, just different from typically streamlined German beers.

This tension between tradition and innovation is one that I find fascinating, especially as it is currently playing itself out in Germany. Hertl and I return to the topic of the Reinheitsgebot in relation to a North American approach more influenced by Belgium than by Germany, and talk at length about the discipline imposed by German tradition.Hertl Braumanufaktur - David Hertl (Facebook) At this point in the conversation, Hertl waxes poetic about the sublimity of a well-crafted helles lager. Lover of lagers that I am, I cannot help but agree, even if I’m no stranger to homebrewing and drinking well beyond the Reinheitsgebot.

As I’m topping up my basket of beer, I notice a foil-wrapped stoneware bottle of Doppelbock aged six months in Islay whisky barrels. And a fortuitous coincidence at that. Up to that point, I hadn’t yet asked Hertl his name, but when I picked up the bottle, he proudly proclaimed that he had brewed it.

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The details: Hertl Braumanufaktur, *Torfig Rauchiger Whiskydoppelbock (Aged 6 months in Scottish Islay whisky casks). 11.3%. 9.60 Euros (~$11 USD). *Torfig means peated.

The first thing that strikes me about this beer is that it isn’t quite what I was expecting of a Doppelbock. Suffice it to say, this is a beer that defies stylistic preconceptions, starting from the moment you pour it into the glass. “Hazy orange-amber hued and the colour of light caramel” isn’t exactly the classic description of a Doppelbock. But that’s fine. We’re talking innovation meets tradition here.

And one more thing: It’s a beer to which you’ll want to give some breathing space, not only because it chocks up a hefty 11.3% ABV. This is a unique Doppelbock that expresses different moods over the time it takes to enjoy it.

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Curtain call. A heady mix of fruit and caramel hints at things to come. Classic Doppelbock-like melanoidin notes brood like Fafner in the depths of his cave. The fruit is berry-like, expressing itself in brightly acidic flavours that blend tart cherries and cranberries.

Not to be outdone, stone fruit contributes a brightness to the aroma and palate as well. Like a Wagnerian motif, this hint of peach sour carries through to the end. A bit of a social butterfly, the peach sour note pairs, by turns, with suggestions of orange zest-spiked shortbread and the occasional trill of yellow plum. Later, the stone fruit strikes up a harmony with a kaleidoscope of darker-toned notes reminiscent of Oloroso sherry before shifting key into a perfumed almond-like character more reminiscent of Amaretto. Hops even make a cameo appearance in this opera of aromas and flavours, giving voice to the kind of spicy mandarin orange peel fragrance that blends citrus and fir needles.

As for the peat? It’s the viola of the orchestra –– rather surprising, considering the beer is brewed with peated malt and then rested in whisky barrels.

What makes the beer unique, though, is the slightly tart-acidic contribution of the Islay whisky casks. This is both a blessing and a slight distraction. On the one hand, the Scotch weaving its melodies in the background contributes the stone fruit complexity and honeyed nuttiness that separates this Doppelbock from its peers. On the other, this diamond-like acidic note cuts through the richness of the Doppelbock’s maltiness a little too zealously, leaving the autumn honey and fruit cake malt duo cowering in the corner. That said, this zingy-tart Doppelbock is nothing if not fruity, and this saves the beer. Fir needle-scented brown sugar and candied orange peel appear as the curtain falls on the performance, leaving behind dried apricot in the tart-dry and fruity finish.

All in all, like many a whisky barrel-aged beer I’ve had of late that isn’t of the bourbon barrel-aged variety, I find myself craving a bit more body and residual sweetness to counter the fruity tartness. A barrel thing that underscores the nature of different spirits? I don’t have enough homebrewing experience to say one way or the other, aside from what I’ve read about the subject. But here’s a closing thought. Perhaps Hertl could propel future iterations of this beer from the terrestrial realm of “unique and compelling experiment” into an other-worldly Valhalla by blending a barrel-aged batch of his Doppelbock with a fresh batch of Doppelbock. I’m not sure if this is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the Reinheitsgebot, but the practice seems to help the folks in Flanders introduce a bit more body and sweetness back into their Oud Bruins and Flemish reds.

These are fairly minor concerns. As a man of many zymurgical talents and a mere twenty-five years young, Hertl’s brewing future looks bright.IMG_5091

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Images

David Hertl raising a glass (Hertl Braumanufaktur Facebook page)

All other images by F.D. Hofer

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

Drinking with the Trickster in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

The unexpected chill in the air foretold snow as we set off from Missoula in the direction of the interior of British Columbia. By the time we began to wend our way through the Bitter Root Range, driving sleet was upon us.Tricksters - Logo (FB) Our destination was still an Idaho Panhandle and a Washington State away, so we stopped off in Coeur d’Alene to fortify ourselves for the remainder of the journey. Before leaving Missoula, we had provisioned ourselves with bread, cheeses, and sausages. A resort town situated on a pristine lake of the same name and surrounded by dense coniferous forests, Coeur d’Alene presented a scenic backdrop for our midday feast despite the rain. All that was missing were a few local beers to wash it down.

We pulled off the long ribbon of road connecting Boston with Seattle and went in search of Slate Creek Brewing Company. The unrelenting rain drenched us before we got to the door. No luck. It was 12:30pm, and the taproom didn’t open till 2pm. Fortunately, Slate Creek wasn’t the only game in town. On the other side of the interstate we found the elusive Trickster’s Brewing Company in a commercial park on the western edge of town. The taproom, executed in a contemporary industrial style that retains elements of warmth with its coral-coloured walls, was a welcome respite from the elements.IMG_9877

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In indigenous cultures, particularly those of the Great Basin encompassing the region between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains, the trickster typically takes the form of a coyote. By turns cunning, foolish, or both, the trickster is, in some stories, the Creator, while in others the trickster is a prankster or a clown, or even messenger between the sacred and secular realms, often possessing powers of transformation.

* * *

Matt Morrow, a transplant from Tulsa, OK, decided to pay tribute to his Native American heritage by naming his brewery after this Prometheus figure of indigenous lore. Though his own tribe embodies Trickster as a raven, he settled upon the coyote as the embodiment of his adeptness at the alchemic art of transformation of grain and hops into beer.

A philosophy major in college, Morrow happened upon his calling in a roundabout way, starting his brewing career washing kegs at Colorado’s Ska Brewing Company.Tricksters - MattMorrow He eventually worked his way up to assistant brewer via a stint on the canning line and as a cellar man, resolving along the way that he wanted to open his own brewery.

Dream became reality in late 2012. Since then, Morrow and his assistant brewer, Miles Polis, have been turning the raw ingredients of beer into harmonious North American concoctions that sometimes bear the mark of the shape-shifter. Take, for example, their golden-amber West Coast Classic Pale Ale with as much pine-and-resin character as any Pacific Northwest ale, but with orange-marmalade overtones and malt profile more suggestive of Albion. Trickster’s other North American styles are similar in inspiration. To their credit, the brewers realize that pale ales and IPAs are not merely about the hop hit and high octane. Not that they shy away from hops, mind you. But Trickster’s renditions of these styles are balanced by a malt backdrop that, depending on the beer, adds just enough honey, caramel, toast, or nuttiness to counter the bold hop additions.

Other styles exhibit this combination of balance and boldness as well. The Bear Trap Brown blends aromas of barley tea with roasted coffee, while floral-herbal hops set the stage for a pleasantly crisp raisin-roast finish.IMG_9876 My personal favourite was Trickster’s seasonal Soul Warmer Porter, an almost opaque ruby-black brew highlighting the chocolate and coffee aromas of mocha, and intermingling cocoa with plum and an earthy roasted malt note. Smooth on the palate, the beer opens with licorice and black coffee, reveals a touch of spicy hops down the middle, and finishes with an emphasis on bitter-sweet chocolate.

The folks at Trickster’s keep their beer close to home, but they have started to bottle some of their limited releases in 22-oz. bombers. Look for their Daedric Druid Strong American Stout and their Professor Funkhouse Sour Stout in local bottle shops. This latter offering is no surprise, given Morrow’s claim that he could drink lambics till the end of time. Look for more sours and barrel-aged offerings to roll out in the coming months. Passing through the area later in the season? Chances are you’ll find a Kölsch-style beer in early summer, a Vienna-style later in late summer, and a Märzen-style beer just in time for Oktoberfest. Canning is also on the horizon. Once that happens, Morrow informs me, you might find the coyote popping up in Montana, western Washington State, and even as far away as New York.Tricksters - BrewHouseAerialAlas, the trickster was not able to conjure any food on that particular day, so we set our sights just west of the Okanagan Valley wine region of British Columbia where a home-cooked dinner was waiting.

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Should you find yourself traveling along the I-90 corridor and in need of a refreshing drink, Trickster’s is worth a visit. The lake and mountain scenery’s not too shabby either.

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Logo, brewhouse photo, and photo of Matt Morrow compliments of Trickster’s Brewing Company. Other photos by F.D. Hofer.

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

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Backroad Craft Beer Tour

Waterfalls, gorges, and verdant rolling hills. Eleven long, picturesque glacial lakes carved into the area just south of the Great Lakes during the last Ice Age. Combining stunning natural scenery with a tapestry of interlacing beer and wine trails, the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is one of the most ideal regions for the adventurous drinker to explore. Long a travel destination for connoisseurs of fine wine seeking Riesling and cool-climate red varietals such as Cabernet Franc, the Finger Lakes is quickly gaining a sterling reputation locally and regionally for its craft beers. A scenic beer route has grown up along the country roads that meander along the lakeshores and connect Cayuga and Seneca Lakes with smaller lakes like Keuka and Canandaigua. Hop farms and fields of barley sway in the lakeshore breeze alongside row upon row of grapes. IMG_7301

You might be asking why the Finger Lakes aren’t more well-known outside of New York State as a craft beer destination. The answer, fellow intrepid beer traveler, is one of the main reasons you’ll want to visit the region. Many of the breweries that dot the landscape are “farmhouse breweries” that have taken advantage of favourable legislation passed recently to stimulate the local hop and malt industry. Production at these breweries is small-scale –– so small that the only way you’ll get to sample the beer is to head to the taproom or a local tavern that might occasionally have a keg or two of Finger Lakes beer on tap. Only a small handful of the breweries in the region bottle or can their beer, and even then, distribution doesn’t stretch much further than a few hundred miles beyond the brewery.IMG_1171

Need another reason to visit the Finger Lakes? I can think of very few places outside of Napa/Sonoma that offer such a rich blend of culinary-cultural activities. You can take in brewhouse and winery tours in combination with visits to hop farms, vineyards, and micro-malting facilities. And you can dine on high-quality local cuisine tailored with an eye toward the wine or beer you’re drinking.

Installment #97 of The Session comes to us courtesy of Erin and Brett at Our Tasty Travels. The Session is a monthly opportunity for beer bloggers and writers from around the world to chime in with their own unique perspective on a particular topicSession Friday - Logo 1. Erin and Brett have proposed that we think about emerging craft beer scenes or destinations undergoing a renaissance. This seemed an ideal opportunity to start working through the stacks of notes I have on the Finger Lakes region. I spent several years living in Ithaca, NY, and return every summer. Over that time, I have watched the local craft beer scene blossom into a flourishing patchwork of small breweries scattered about the towns and countryside. What I’ve written here is the beginnings of a longer work on the breweries, hop farms, and maltsters past and present in Upstate New York.

When I feature a brewery or region in these pages, I usually include tasting notes. In this case, I’ll just list a few of my favourite beers so that I have space to introduce more of the people that make the Finger Lakes and the counties between Syracuse and Albany a region that remains special to me. Stay tuned for longer features of the breweries I’ve written about here, including some not listed.

Without further ado, your whirlwind tour of the Finger Lakes.IMG_0689

Located at the intersection of I-90 and I-81, Syracuse makes a convenient starting point for a tour of the region. Check out Empire Brewing Company for a pint of White Aphro (a Belgian-style wheat beer brewed with ginger and lavender) before making a slight detour out of the Finger Lakes region in search of one of the few pre-Prohibition hop kilns still standing.

Carrie Blackmore of Good Nature Brewing in Hamilton, NY, is a wealth of information about these kilns tucked away along the back roads of Madison County, once the focal point of nineteenth-century American hop production.IMG_0208 Whether you’re a local history buff or not, grab a stool at Good Nature’s cozy taproom in the heart of town to find out more about the history of hop production in the region or sample beers made with hops grown a mile up the road. Unlike many of the other farmhouse-licensed breweries in the region, Good Nature has no plans to grow its own hops or malt its own grain. Rather, Blackmore and her husband (who’s the head brewer) prefer to support the surrounding agricultural community by keeping the new hop farms and maltsters viable. Tempest’s faves: Bavarian Dream Weissbier; Rabbit in the RyePA.IMG_0557

On your way back to the Finger Lakes proper, you’ll want to stop in at Galaxy Brewing Co. in downtown Binghamton. The father-and-son team of Mike and Seth Weisel have made quite a splash since Galaxy’s recent founding, taking home a silver medal at the 2014 World Beer Cup for their St. Stusan Belgian-Style Pale Ale.IMG_0784 Popular among the downtown office workers, young professionals, and the SUNY Binghamton graduate student crowd, Galaxy also serves up inspired cuisine prepared by a chef with a Culinary Institute of America pedigree. The name of the brewery and several of its beers pay homage to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Tempest’s faves: St. Stusan is not the only medal-worthy beer that the Weisels brew up. You won’t go wrong with the luscious Omega Dubbel Nitro or the brooding espresso and dark chocolate-accented Pulsar Porter.

By now you’ll be looking for a place to bunk down for the night, so head to Ithaca on the shore of Cayuga Lake. Long before it’s time to turn in, head to the Ithaca Beer Company on the edge of town for a wide range of beers and Ithaca’s best burgers.IMG_0145 With the surrounding hills framing hop bines and gardens, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque spot in Ithaca to settle down to a pint or flight. The Ithaca Beer Company made a reputation for itself brewing a waterfall’s worth of Apricot Wheat, the locally resonant Cascazilla Red IPA, and a perennial National IPA Championship “Final Four” finisher, Flower Power IPA. But it may well be the Excelsior series –– a completely separate line of experimental releases in 750-mL bottles –– that’ll capture your attention. Tempest’s faves: AlpHalpHa, a “double honey bitter” from the Excelsior series; Flower Power IPA.

Rise and shine! From Ithaca, you can head out to Hopshire Farms and Brewery for drinks with Randy Lacey, one of the driving forces behind what eventually became the farm brewery law.IMG_8756 Hopshire distinguishes itself from other farm breweries with its aspirations to revive the architecture of the pre-Prohibition hop kilns that once dotted central New York. Unsurprisingly for someone so heavily involved with the farm brewery legislation, Randy sees to it that the emphasis falls on local ingredients like honey, cherries, maple syrup, and, of course, hops and malt. Hopshire’s Beehave, a honey blonde ale, and Blossom, a delicately scented cherry wheat ale, are both crafted from one-hundred percent New York State ingredients. Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Randy is the person who got me into homebrewing. Tempest’s faves: Beehave; Daddy-o Scottish ale.

After drinks at Hopshire, head through one of the last dry counties in Upstate New York en route to FarmHouse Malt and Brewery in Owego, where you can hear about Marty and Natalie Mattrazzo’s trials and tribulations turning raw grain into kilned and roasted barley, wheat, and rye.IMG_0170 Be prepared to be fully entertained. Marty and Natalie embody the indomitable spirit that set craft beer on its current course way back in the seventies, and their enthusiasm is infectious. I’m not exaggerating when I say that some pieces of their equipment are genuine museum artifacts, yet somehow they’ve managed to make it all work. Not only are they among the pioneering northeastern micro-maltsters, but they also found time to get a brewery off the ground in 2014. For a Picaresque read on how to become a maltster while also setting up a brewery, check out Natalie’s blog. Tempest’s faves: Marty and Natalie. As for their beers? Ayam Cemani Black Saison; Hog Hollow Belgian-Style Pale Ale.

When you’ve satiated yourself on good beer and lore, follow your compass west along the Susquehanna River to Upstate Brewing Company in Elmira. A Norwich College grad with an avuncular smile, head brewer and co-owner, Ken Mortensen, was a lieutenant in the armed forces before a non-combat injury sidelined him and set him down a different path.IMG_0592 Upstate is unique among the smaller Finger Lakes breweries in two ways: it packages two of its year-round offerings in cans, and, with the exception of a few seasonal brews, its offerings don’t go very much further than that. As Ken explains it, he’d rather focus on consistency at this point and go with a small but high-quality line-up of beers. Bucking the trend of sour this and barrel-aged that, Upstate’s year-round offerings are correspondingly (and refreshingly) unconventional: Common Sense (a Kentucky Common Ale); I.P.W. (an imperial pale wheat); and X.P.A. (an extra pale ale). Tempest’s faves: Common Sense and I.P.W.

From Elmira, you’ll head through Revolutionary War-era towns like Horseheads and lush vineyards en route to Seneca Lake, the longest lake in the region and, at 630 feet deep, the second-deepest lake in the country. Make for Climbing Bines on the western side of the lake, where you can also stop in at wineries such as Herman J. Wiemer and Anthony Road before settling down to a pint among the gently swaying hop fields of Climbing Bines.IMG_0141 After a stint as an elementary school teacher, Climbing Bines’ Chris Hansen returned to his farming roots. His great-grandfather emigrated to the U.S. from Denmark in 1905 and farmed 280 acres fronting Seneca Lake. Today, Hansen grows fifteen acres of hops that go into Climbing Bine’s brews, and sources grain from local growers and maltsters. Brian, Climbing Bines’ co-owner and head brewer, acknowledges that with the smaller economies of scale, “You get what you get, and we figure out ways to work with the unique qualities of the local ingredients.” A Cascade hop grown along the shores of Seneca Lake does not taste and smell the same as a Cascade grown west of the Rockies. Northeastern brewers realize this, and are beginning to produce some compelling brews that bear the stamp of the region. Tempest’s faves: Big Ivan’s Red; Imperial Stout.IMG_1116

It’s just a hop, skip, and a vineyard or two from Climbing Bines to Abandon Brewing Company perched above the western arm of Keuka Lake. The Abandon story begins several years ago when owner, Garry Sperrick, purchased the barn and pastoral land on which Abandon is sited. With nearly eighty vineyards in the immediate vicinity, Sperrick thought something a little different was in order. Why not a farmhouse brewery in a barn? All he needed was a brewer.IMG_1130 Enter Jeff Hillebrandt, who once worked for Ommegang. If Hillebrandt favours traditional Belgian styles and yeast strains, he doesn’t shy away from experimentation. I still have fond memories of a splendid April afternoon before Abandon opened. Jeff had invited me out for a brew day on their pilot system. I arrived to the sound of “Thwack! Thwack!” When I got inside, I saw Jeff smashing up black walnuts with a 2 X 4 for a Belgian-style dark strong beer with walnuts and cinnamon. Whatever works. Then as now, unique hybrids are often the result, such as a Farmhouse IPA packed with American hops but fermented with a blend of saison and Brettanomyces yeasts. Tempest’s faves: Abbey Ale; Peppercorn Saison.

The back-road drive from Abandon to Naked Dove Brewing Company on the outskirts of Canandaigua makes for a quintessentially bucolic outing. You climb a steep hill to the ridge above Abandon, where you can see clear across Keuka Lake and almost to Seneca Lake. From there, the road dips down and meanders along wooded valleys that open out periodically onto meadows and small dairy farms.IMG_1157 You’ll pass through a few small towns and traverse a few more valleys before reaching the glistening shores of Canandaigua Lake. Slung low along a light industrial-commercial stretch of National Route 20 on the outskirts of Canandaigua, Naked Dove’s setting is less impressive than that of Abandon or Hopshire, but the beers are no less well-crafted. The folks at Naked Dove don’t raid the orchard or the spice cabinet for their beers, preferring instead to brew excellent examples of American, British, Belgian, and German standards. Tempest’s faves: 45 Fathoms Porter; Altbier. Alas, the Altbier was a one-off. Here’s to hoping it appears again some day.

Once you’ve slaked your thirst at Naked Dove, it’s but a stone’s throw to Rochester, where a vibrant craft beer scene awaits. I’ve yet to check it out, though, but when I go back to the Finger Lakes this summer, you know where I’ll be heading.IMG_1180

Odds and Ends

Even though I’ve written this article as a day-by-day itinerary, what I’m outlining here is less an actual itinerary than a set of possibilities. In most cases, it would be unadvisable if not impossible to fit in everything I’ve suggested for a given day. Take your time. Drink some wine. Stretch your legs exploring one of the many gorge trails. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many bistros and restaurants that dot the shores of Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. Enjoy.

Related Tempest Articles

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca, NY: Vol.1

Ithaca is Craft Beer

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

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

All images: F.D. Hofer.

© 2015 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.

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

If you have any preconceptions about Genesee and the Genny Light your parents drank, set them aside. Genesee Brewing Company, the venerable Rochester brewery that has been rolling out barrels of beer since 1878, has started serving up heavy-hitters like an Imperial Black IPA in their recently-opened Genesee Brew House overlooking High Falls.

Sean Coughlin is one of Genesee’s more than five hundred employees, but his position with Genesee––Beer Liaison––is unique in that it brings together tradition and innovation. Coughlin plays a key role in assuring that Genesee Cream Ale reaches its legions of loyal fans tasting as it should. But he has also been known to convince the occasional Cream Ale-drinking Brew House visitor to taste beers like Genesee’s Apple Brandy Barrel-Aged Altbier. (You read that right. The pilot brewery that keeps the Brew House supplied also has a Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter coming your way soon.)

Genesee - Brew_House (geneseebeer-com)Coughlin wears many hats at Genesee. On any given day, he’s training the staff in all things beer, participating in the brewery’s daily tasting panel, or educating customers about Genesee’s lineup.

Given his background in music education, it’s not surprising that Coughlin managed to create a niche for himself involving training staff and leading tours for the public. Before moving to Rochester with his wife who is pursuing a doctorate at the Eastman School of Music, Coughlin taught at middle school, high school, and at the collegiate level. Owing to the number of Eastman grads in the region, though, it was difficult to find a job teaching music in Rochester. Explains Coughlin, “My second passion after music is beer, so it made sense to look for something in that field. When we moved to Rochester, it was shortly before Genesee opened up its Brew House, so the timing couldn’t have been better.”

Coughlin is also an accomplished beer judge, and it is in this capacity that I met him this past summer while judging at the New York State Fair homebrew competition in Syracuse. We judged a flight of porters together, but I didn’t manage to get his contact information in the shuffle at the end of the day. In one of those happy twists of fate, I got the judging sheets back from a Kölsch-style beer that I had entered in the competition, and noticed that Sean was one of the two judges who had evaluated my beer.

* * *

A Tempest in a Tankard: So you have what sounds like a dream job. You get to work, and by nine in the morning you’ve got a beer in front of you. Tell us more about what you do on a day-to-day basis with Genesee.

Sean Coughlin: I certainly have a dream job. The biggest perk is that my day is completely encompassed by talking about beer––so it’s never a dull day on the job. I am responsible for the beer education of the entire staff at the Genesee Brew House, managing our online store, giving tours, training employees, cleaning draft lines, participating in a daily taste panel, and pouring at off-site events.

TT: Genesee has a long history and loyal following. How is Genesee trying to position itself vis-à-vis “craft beer”? Is it trying to develop new beers that would appeal to the craft beer enthusiast?

Genesee has actually been at the forefront of the “craft” movement. Genesee began brewing the Dundee line of craft beers in 1994 with the introduction of Honey Brown Lager, a gold medal winner at the 2004 World Beer Cup. The line has expanded significantly since 1994 and now includes twelve offerings besides Honey Brown Lager. With the opening of the Genesee Brew House in September 2012, we have been brewing craft beers on our 20-barrel pilot system.Genesee - cream-ale (www-geneseebeer-com) People who walk in the door expecting Genny Cream Ale will sometimes end up leaving with a growler of Imperial Black IPA.

We have a huge craft beer community in Rochester, but everyone still supports local breweries like Genesee, even if Genny Light might not be their first choice. The craft community recognizes the quality of our pilot brewery beer and is excited about what we’re doing. No one would have anticipated Genesee putting Altbier in an apple brandy barrel a few years ago, but now people are excited to see what we’re going to come up with next. It’s been exciting to see the diversity of people who come through the door––craft beer geeks and Cream Ale diehards all have a place at our bar.

TT: I’m interested in hearing more about how quality control works at a brewery like Genesee––in particular, how the brewery divides up tasks between those who perform analyses in the lab, and those (like you) who rely on your senses. At what stages in the brewing process do you taste the beer?

SC: We’re fortunate to have a state-of-the-art lab and a great staff made up of specialists like chemists and microbiologists. If we want to know the exact levels of diacetyl in our beer, we can run it through a gas chromatograph and find out. However, there’s no substitute for the human senses. After everything has undergone thorough analysis, it is sent to the taste panel for further evaluation. Sometimes we will put product into a “Difference from Control” or a “Triangle Test.” Triangle tests are particularly helpful––two items serve as the control, and one is different. It could be spiked with an off-flavor, or it could be the same beer with different hops or a different base malt.

During the taste panel, we taste everything from brewing water to finished bottled product. Along the way we might taste the same beer that is both pasteurized and unpasteurized, carbonated and uncarbonated, or filtered and unfiltered. Carbonation, mouthfeel, trueness to style: all of these are taken into consideration.

TT: How many other breweries that you know of have dedicated tasting panels for quality control?

SC: Any brewery worth its salt is taking the time to conduct a regular tasting panel. Gordon Strong (president of the Beer Judge Certification Program, or BJCP) says that whenever brewers ask him how to improve their brewing, he tells them to become a beer judge. This is great advice––having high standards for your beer is the best thing you can do to improve the quality of it.

TT: On a related note, how much actual smelling and tasting do you do over the course of a given day or week? How much of what you do involves training your senses, either by drinking beer or through the use of sensory calibration kits?

SC: Thanks for this great question! If you don’t use it, you lose it. It’s extremely important to constantly use your senses outside of the workplace too. It’s especially important with regard to aroma, where sensory memories help us to pinpoint exactly what we are smelling. I’m constantly thinking about aromas and flavors, whether pleasant or unpleasant. One of the best pieces of advice I could give any brewer or beer drinker would be to get out to a coffee roaster and do a coffee cupping (tasting), or to visit a few wineries. Try new kinds of food. Try cooking old favorite recipes with different spices.

The use of sensory calibration kits is important––especially trying things in different concentrations so you can figure out what you’re sensitive to and what you may have trouble identifying. For example, I’m extremely sensitive to acetaldehyde (“apple/cider,” sometimes indicative of incomplete fermentation) and can smell it from a mile away, but have a hard time picking up on dimethyl sulfide (“cooked corn/cabbage,” a common by-product of fermentation with lager yeasts). I’m a big fan of practical hands on experience––and that means drinking beer! Commercial beer is helpful, but drinking homebrew offers a better chance to become acquainted with off-flavors. It’s thankfully rare that you’ll end up finding flaws like caprylic acid (a goat-like or sweaty character) in a commercial beer, but it pops up every now and then in homebrew.

TT: You’re also a homebrewer, and a decorated one at that. How long have you been brewing? How important do you think a knowledge of the brewing process is for what you do on a day-to-day basis with Genesee?

SC: I’ve been a homebrewer for only about three years but have made a lot of batches in that time and have learned lots along the way. We have a few other homebrewers who work at our brewpub so it’s always fun bouncing ideas off of one another and offering constructive criticism. I also have the pleasure of working daily with our head brewer, Dean Jones. Dean has racked up quite a few medals from the GABF and World Beer Cup over the years and has more than twenty-three years of experience. I’ve learned a ton from him–– he is a phenomenal troubleshooter with the best palate of anyone I know.

Knowledge of the brewing process is very important for what I do, even though I don’t brew at work. We probably offer more tours than any brewery in the world I know of––seven days a week, every hour on the hour.Genesee - PilotBrewery (geneseebeer-com) Sometimes people are content to hear the basics and sometimes you might get a chemist on the tour that wants to know everything there is to know about ferulic acid rests. Having some street cred, even if it’s just as a homebrewer, makes it possible to elevate things to the next level. People can walk away having learned something new, which always results in greater appreciation for the next beer they drink.

TT: You have both a BJCP certification and a Cicerone certification. Can you tell us a bit about these programs? Which program has proved most useful in your daily activities with Genesee?

SC: The Cicerone & BJCP programs are both doing incredible things to improve the culture of beer around the world, but in different ways. The Cicerone program is directed at people that work in the beer industry––servers, bartenders, sales reps, and the like––and covers a wide variety of topics.Cicerone - LogoWebsite (black) Two things that make the program unique are draft system maintenance, and beer and food pairings. The BJCP program is directed more at homebrewers and focuses more on sensory evaluation and feedback/troubleshooting regarding how to improve the beer in question.

Working in a restaurant, the Cicerone program is a bit more relevant to my job. It is mandatory for anyone who touches beer at our brewpub to pass the first of three levels of certification in the Cicerone program. It’s really important that our employees are able to have a meaningful conversation with our customers about beer. When someone asks about our IPA, we want them to get a better response than “It’s really hoppy.” Also, we often offer specials where we will recommend a particular beer with the item and, most importantly, explain in detail why the pairing works.

The BJCP certification and judging experience has certainly been helpful from a sensory standpoint. It is very difficult to pick up subtleties like carbonation levels or the substitution of Hallertau Hersbrucker for Hallertau Mittelfrüh hops.BJCP Logo BJCP certification really trains you to concentrate while you’re assessing a beer, and that is more difficult than it sounds.

TT: What aspects of your job do you find most enjoyable? Does it ever become monotonous doing quality control on the same beers day-in and day-out?

SC: The favorite part of my job is hosting monthly guided tastings for our staff. I’ll generally focus on a particular category––for example, dark lagers. After discussing the history of the style and the ingredients used, I’ll pour world-class examples and have everyone write down their perceptions. It’s always interesting to see how different people interpret the same beer.

Quality control can seem monotonous at times, but then you remember how important the job is. Sending out an inferior product could bankrupt your brewery in a flash. Being the last line of defense before your product hits the shelves is not a matter to be taken lightly.

TT: I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks your line of work is appealing. What can beer enthusiasts do to prepare themselves for the kind of work you do?

SC: For anyone looking to get into the field, the industry looks favorably on anyone with Certified Cicerone credentials, which is the second of the three Cicerone levels. Getting certified as a BJCP judge certainly can’t hurt, nor can homebrewing experience. Zymurgy - Cover (2014)

I’d also recommend the Morten C. Meilgaard textbook, Sensory Evaluation Techniques. For those who want a more practical approach, every issue of Zymurgy (available from the American Homebrewer’s Association) has a “Commercial Calibration” section, where four distinguished beer judges fill out score sheets for commercial beers. This is a great way to develop sensory vocabulary. It’s easy for all of us to taste a beer. What’s not so easy is putting into words what we just tasted.

Even better, bring in some beer and sit with a brewer (or homebrewer) and discuss. Offer to evaluate their latest batch. Have them do the same for you.  

TT: What kind of advice would you give to craft beer drinkers who want to get the most out of their tasting sessions?

SC: Fill out a BJCP scoresheet for the beer you’re drinking while comparing it to the style guidelines for that particular beer. This forces you to really concentrate on the beer you’re drinking, and can even result in you being able to enjoy it more! It can also be eye-opening to do a blind tasting. You might be surprised at which ones you liked the most/least when you don’t have the pre-conception of a particular brand going into it.

TT: So you’ve been sampling Genesee beers all day long. When you get home, do you reach for the malt or the hops? Or is beer the last thing you’d like to drink?

SC: My favorite beer is one I’ve never tried before. It keeps me on my toes and helps me to continue developing my palate. That said, sometimes it’s really nice to go home at the end of the day and just enjoy a nice big glass of water. Genesee - No2 Kettle (genesee-com)Odds and Ends

Sean Coughlin took Best of Show at the New York State Fair where we judged together this past summer. He took gold with his Abbey Cat, a Belgian Dark Strong Ale, besting two-hundred seventy-eight other entries. He also took third place in the Light Lager category with a Munich Helles. If you stop by the Brew House in Rochester, be sure to congratulate him.

The Genesee Brew House is located at 25 Cataract St., Rochester, NY, 14605. Opening hours are: Monday to Wednesday, 11am-9pm; Thursday to Saturday, 11am-10pm; and Sunday from noon to 9pm.

The Brew House was established in 2012 in a building that was once part of the original Genesee Brewery over a hundred years ago. The multi-purpose facility is now home to a brewpub, a gift shop, and a pilot brewery that you can tour seven days a week.

With the exception of the Cicerone and BJCP logos and the cover of the November/December 2014 edition of Zymurgy, all images from www.geneseebeer.com.

Related Tempest Articles in the Industry Series

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

Beeronomics: An Interview with Trey Malone

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