Tag Archives: Argus Cidery

Returning for Another Sip of Terroir

I pause from reading the newspaper to take another sip of my coffee. A melange –– a Viennese classic coffee that goes by a French name sans the accent. A true mix: no single-origin beans here. This evening I’m experiencing a mélange as well: a mixture of the beloved Viennese pastime of wiling away the afternoon in an elegant setting with a coffee whose very name blurs its origins.IMG_4688

Place, authenticity, experience ––food for thought to accompany my various forms of liquid sustenance.

Tomorrow I head off on a pilgrimage of sorts: Bamberg. Extending over seven hills in the Franconian region of northern Bavaria and renowned for its medieval old town spanning the river Regnitz, Bamberg is also famous for its uniquely smoky beer. Rauchbier, a beer very much tied to a particular place.

****

It’s coming on two years now since I penned the following words:

“Rather than understanding beer as an ‘expression’ or even a ‘sense’ of place, I propose, instead, something more modest: that we consider beer as a reflection of the environment, circumstances, and processes surrounding its production –– in short, that we consider beer as a reflection of place, but dimly.”

In that series of articles, I promised to reconsider the notion of place decoupled from terroir so as to redeem a “place” for place in our discussions of craft beer. But by the time that I had critiqued the ideological underpinnings of the “buy local” movement in my “Romancing the Local,” I found that I had argued myself into a corner. These things happen. I didn’t expect that it would take me this long to get around to arguing myself out of that corner. But drinking that melange in Vienna’s Cafe Central helped turn on a few light bulbs.

Before I catch my train, here are a few propositions and questions. I’ll add some colour to this outline in the days and weeks after contemplating the smoky essence of Bamberg’s beer.

  1. In a July 2015 article for Draft, Joe Stange quotes Tim Beaumont on terroir: “Beer has terroir not for the soil in which the hops or grain are grown, but for the people in the area for whom the beer is brewed, who shape by their cultural expectations how that beer will be.” Much as I appreciate the sentiment, the statement represents a case of putting the cart before the horse. Responding, I think rightly, to Stan Hieronymus’ calls for more narratives about the people who make the beer, some craft beer writers confuse the people –– who indeed come from “a place” somewhere –– with terroir.
  1. I laud the attempts of those who resist mass-produced food and drink in the name of terroir, but I find the effort misplaced when it comes to beer. Elastic as the notion of “terroir” may be, it is not so empty a vessel that we can fill it with any content whatsoever.
  1. Consider this: Back in the day, much beer was stamped with a sense of place due to a number of factors largely beyond the control of local brewers. Nowadays, brewers in Austin are creating beers that taste just like those in Munich, and that’s a fine thing indeed for this lover of lager.

But herein lies the problem in linking craft beer and terroir: How can a well-crafted “Munich Helles” from Austin and a helles Bier from München express “unique” terroirs when they can taste virtually the same in the hands of skilled brewers in different countries?

Not a Munich Helles.

Not a Munich Helles.

  1. Here’s a two-part formulation that, I hope, will invite discussion.

Part I: Beer is not the expression of a single terroir, but rather, by the very nature of its ingredients and production processes, a mélange of terroirs. This mixture reflects the regions, climates, and topographies from which the hops and grains come from. It also reflects the philosophies of those who turn the barley, wheat, and other grains into malt, sometimes quite far from where the grains were grown. As for yeast? When it comes to wild fermentations, yeast (and their symbiotic bacteria) may well present a qualified expression of terroir. In most other cases, though, the yeast has been transposed from its original setting and reproduced in sophisticated labs for use in breweries anywhere.

The question, then, is this: What happens to terroir once the grain and hops have been mashed and boiled with water that may or may not be “of” the region and then fermented in, say, Wisconsin with a Belgian saison yeast? Does the mélange of terroirs do so much to blur any sense of individual terroir as to make the concept meaningless?

Part II: Even if we decide, ultimately, that terroir is a red herring for brewers, drinkers, and writers, the issue of craft beer and its relationship to place is still worthy of debate, as complex an issue as it is. What constitutes an “expression of place”? What are we to make of those creative brewers whose beers aren’t expressions of their own particular locale, but otherwise represent the melding of artistic brilliance with technical acumen?

Memories and experiences: Another way to think of place.

Memories and experiences: Another way to think of place.

The answer, I think, lies in the sense of a shared ethos; in other words, a shared sensibility, a shared knowledge, a shared inspiration, a local synergy.

As Ron Extract of Jester King put it when I asked him a few years back to consider claims that you can taste the “Hill Country terroir” in local favourites such as Jester King beers and Argus ciders, his response was telling: “Any similarity in taste has less to do with terroir than with a similar approach to producing our beverages.”

What is by now a transnational artisanal ethos shared by brewers from coast to coast and beyond nonetheless grounds itself in particular places. The regional stylistic variations that have emerged across North America bear this out. But this has much less to do with the soil and surrounding environment than it does with the people behind the brewing processes: the people who reinterpret existent styles, sometimes with a local twist, the people who create new styles that reflect the beer’s place of origin. A reflection of place, sure. But one that has little to do with terroir.

__________

Keep an eye out on Facebook and Instagram for photos from my trip to Bamberg.

Sources

Erika Bolden, “Can Craft Beer Truly Express a Sense of Place?” Punch (July 9, 2015).

Joe Stange, “Smell Your Beer: Does It Reek of Gimmickry? More Musings on Sincere Beer,” Draft (July 15, 2015).

Photos by F.D. Hofer

Related Tempest Articles

The MaltHead Manifesto

Pinning Down Place

Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine

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

Austin: Twenty Beers and Breweries You Won’t Want to Miss

Another edition of SXSW is upon us. If you’re from out of town, or even if you live in Austin, the plethora of excellent craft beer possibilities can make drink decisions a little daunting. But fear not. I’ve put together a list of some of my favourites so you can easily find both the finest beers and purveyors of those brews. Austin Map 1920 (WikiCommons)

Tankards, Tankards, and More Tankards

How does it all shake out? Three tankards are up for grabs, and Tempest’s Tankards has all the details on how I approach evaluating beer.

A few notes:

  • Austin is awash with some fine beverages. If one of the generally-accepted standouts is not listed here, it’s either because I haven’t gotten around to trying the beer or brewery yet, or because the beer wasn’t in season when I visited Austin, or because the beer didn’t deliver on its reputation (which is not beyond the realm of possibility).
  • If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar.
  • Breweries, brewpubs, taverns, or bottle shops that I particularly enjoyed find their way into these listings after the beers.If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar.
  • Entries with an asterisk (*) represent beverages I’ve tasted in a place other than at the brewpub or brewery, usually at a taproom.

IMG_1917

Tempest’s Austin Faves

One Tankard:

Jester King’s Boxer’s Revenge. This farmhouse/wild-fermented beer (aged in whiskey and wine barrels) delivers a fistful of sour caramel, allspice, and pine needles. Rich and citrusy on the palate, with a pungent mix of oak and Brett. At 10.2% ABV, watch out for this sour beer’s left hook.

*Live Oak’s Hefeweizen. A fine German-style wheat beer that walks the clove/banana tightrope, but a touch light in the mid-section. More malt richness would make this a stellar beer.

Rogness’ Tenebrous Stout. Rich but restrained, this seasonal beer brewed with raspberries offers a harmonious integration of fruit, malt, and yeast character.

*Real Ale’s Hans’ Pils. Clean, crisp, and dry. An austere northern German-style Pils with that characteristic bitter hop note the Germans call “herb,” which combines dry, bitter, astringent, herbal, and spicy into one difficult-to-translate flavour/sensation package.IMG_9550

Pinthouse Pizza’s Bearded Seal is a dry Irish stout that’s a bit potent for the style (6.1% ABV). But that’s AOK because this smooth beverage would make the perfect Sunday morning pick-me-up. Expect a deft aromatic blend of freshly-roasted coffee beans, espresso, and café au lait.

Uncle Billy’s Humbucker Helles. A Munich Helles featuring bready malts with a mild toast accent. Rich and full-bodied, with soft notes of citrus and grassy hops rounding out toasty and fine-grained malt.

Flix Brewhouse’s Brambler Sour is barrel-aged for fifteen months, and blackberry purée is added prior to kegging. Broadly in the Flemish red style, this beer is redolent of bright sour cherry, horse blanket funk, wood notes, and a vinous character reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.NXNW - Grain Silo Mild nutty caramel counters the sour pepper-lemon flavours, while a buoyant cherry/blackberry acidity predominates throughout.

*

North by Northwest is an upscale brewpub to the north (and west) of the downtown core that serves up a compelling diversity of traditional and experimental beers, with food and ambience to match.

Sunset Mini Mart. This bottle shop in the west of Austin ranks among the most pleasant surprises of my visit. The place is a local institution and an absolute gem, especially considering that it’s nominally a Citgo gas station convenience store. If you’re like me and have a fatal attraction to chocolate, you’ll have another reason to stop by. Ice cream, too.

Two Tankards:

The ABGB’s Industry (Pilsener). Hops are a quiet force in this beer, floral-perfumed and spicy. Rich breadiness rounds out the palate of this beer that finishes dry and crisp.

*Argus Cidery’s 2011 Bandera Brût. Sparkling hard ciders from Argus are a joy to drink, and this one is no different. Cinnamon-spiced apple with prominent, hay-like Brett character, and pleasantly acidic.IMG_9578

Jester King’s Ol’ Oi (Barrel-Aged Sour Brown Ale; 2013 Blend #2 that I drank in mid-2014). Who said brown beers were boring? Rich, complex, and with great depth, this cutting-edge tart ale looks to British and Flemish brewing traditions of times past. Caramel-oak mingles with aged balsamic vinegar notes, sour cherry, hay, and the slightest hint of chocolate.

*Real Ale’s Sisyphus. It’s no Sisyphean task at all to drink this smooth and unctuous barley wine. Extended Tempest review here.

North by Northwest’s Holiday Ale. Grab one when it’s released, but hold onto it for a few years. The best ones I sampled had one to two years of bottle age. Three years out and the beer develops interesting Oloroso sherry notes.

*

Craft Pride anchors a narrow Central Austin street packed with bars and a nearby food truck court. This taproom serves up an excellent array of beers from Austin and from Texas more generally. And that’s it.IMG_9607 But this is not a bad thing, especially with several dozen taps dedicated to the finest Texan beer. Knowledgeable serving staff. Great woodwork. And a small but well-curated bottle shop next store.

Jester King. The hype surrounding this local institution is much-deserved. Jester King has garnered national renown for its well-conceived and well-crafted sour and wild-fermented lineup. But you probably already knew that. Side note: Great flat-crust pizza next door at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Maybe you didn’t know that.

Three Tankards:

*512’s Pecan Porter. What’s not to like about rich and buttery pecan-maple accents in a well-crafted smoky porter? Roast notes and creamy coffee on the palate, balanced by a vivacious mineral carbonation. Finish is as long as a total eclipse is black.

The ABGB’s Hell Yes Munich Helles. Rich but crisp and refreshing; clean bready malts with a touch of honey and a subtle grassy minerality. The embodiment of finesse.

*Austin Beer Works’ Sputnik (Coffee Imperial Stout). A Texas stand-out. Freshly-ground coffee aromas, Tia Maria, dark caramel malt, and an infinitely chocolaty rich roast on the palate.

ABGB Glass 2*

The ABGB (Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co.). Urban beer garden with an amicable vibe; beer hall with a spare, industrial-warehouse aesthetic. Exquisitely balanced beers are the signature of this beer garden/brewery, be they lagers or hop-forward and higher-ABV offerings.

If you’ve been to Austin, share your favourite beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops by clicking “Leave a Reply” above.

Related Tempest Articles

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beverage Enthusiast (Breweries)

Austin: A User’s Guide for the Craft Beer Enthusiast (Brewpubs)

Getting Your Craft Beer Fill at Austin’s Taprooms and Bottleshops

Images

Austin Map (1920): Wiki Commons

Tankard: F.D. Hofer

Pinthouse Pizza samplers: F.D. Hofer

NXNW: courtesy of NXNW and Kevin Roark

Jester King: F.D. Hofer

Craft Pride: F.D. Hofer

The ABGB: http://theabgb.com

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

Tempest’s Tankard Ratings and Austin’s Best Brews

Welcome to Tempest’s final post in the Austin craft beer series. In this segment, I unveil my “Tankard” ratings so you can easily find both the finest beers and purveyors of those brews when you visit Austin. If you’re looking for more specific aspects of Austin’s vibrant scene, click here for brewpubs, here for breweries, and here for taprooms and bottle shops.

Austin Map (tourtexas-com)

Austin is awash with fermented beverages, which can make drink decisions both intriguing and intimidating. For the purposes of this segment, I’ve decided to suspend my usual injunction against ranking beers so that you can get a sense of which beers stand out from what’s already a very solid field.

Against Ratings

One of the reasons I’m wary about introducing rankings and ratings to my beer features and brewery profiles is because even though I recognize the value of ratings in certain cases, I’m cognizant of the extent to which environment and other factors exert a sometimes imperceptible influence on my perception of a beverage. None of the ratings I offer here is cast in stone. If I were to try all of these beverages blind or under otherwise different circumstances, I might reach conclusions that are at odds with my initial impressions. (It’s happened before – label and brand expectations can play an unconscious and often underappreciated role in our judgment and evaluation.) Sampling a horizontal flight of, say, Pilseners from a variety of producers will affect my perception – and hence my evaluation – in a different manner than if I were drinking them in isolation, or alongside a number of styles. If I were to taste a beer, wine, saké, or spirit today as a component of a structured tasting and then drink the same beverages tomorrow as an accompaniment to a memorable dinner shared with close friends or family, my impressions may well diverge in subtle but potentially significant ways: Same beverage, different locale and different time of the day.

Tankards, Tankards, and More Tankards

Tankard - Classic PewterWith those caveats aside, I offer my tankard system in place of more common rating systems. Rather than trying to include every beverage I sampled during my stay in Austin, I’ve devised a rating system that highlights what I think are among the best beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops a city or region has to offer. Since I’m not particularly enamoured of reducing aesthetic pleasures to numbers, I’ve ruled out numerical rankings. Instead, I’ll award “tankards” to some of the beverages I evaluate. Not unlike the Michelin star system used for dining establishments, only the most impressive beverages receive tankards.

A few points:

1. I’ve heard great things about several brews from Austin in particular and Texas in general. If one of the generally-accepted standouts is not listed here, it’s either because I haven’t gotten around to trying the beer yet (the most likely scenario – the Jester King Atrial Rubicite resting in my cellar is a case in point), or because the beer wasn’t in season (I was in Austin in early winter, and missed some of the weightier beer releases), or because the beer didn’t deliver on its reputation (which is not beyond the realm of possibility).

2. If a beverage does not receive a tankard, this does not necessarily indicate that the beverage is subpar. Now, if I were to include a catch-all category comprising all of the beverages that receive no tankards, this category would include drinks ranging from run-of-the-mill to quite good. In other words, if someone at a barbeque or dinner party offered me a beer at the higher end of the range, I’d have no problem tipping back my glass.

3. Occasionally, breweries, brewpubs, and taverns find their way into these listings if they merit a special trip.

4. With the exception of breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops, listings are in alphabetical order.

5. Entries with an asterisk (*) represent beverages I’ve tasted in a place other than at the brewpub or brewery – usually at a taproom, sometimes in the comfort of my home.

How Does It All Shake Out?

  • One tankard: A very fine beverage. A cut above and a few ounces taller than other beverages.
  • Two tankards: An excellent beverage. Worth searching out, preferably at its place of production or, if that’s not possible, then at a taproom or liquor store.
  • Three tankards: Exceptional. An absolute aesthetic pleasure, one that blends the Kantian sublime with Proust’s literary account of aromas and the gustatory delights of Babette’s Feast. A beer that could find a place on any hypothetical Top-25 list I’d concoct.

TankardTiledX3Tempest’s Austin Faves

One Tankard:

Flix Brewhouse. Brambler Sour. Barrel-aged for fifteen months; blackberry purée added prior to kegging. Broadly in the Flemish red style, with bright sour cherry, horse blanket funk, wood notes, and a vinous character reminiscent of Cabernet Franc. A mild nutty caramel note counters the sour pepper-lemon flavours, while a buoyant cherry/blackberry acidity predominates throughout.

Jester King. Boxer’s Revenge. Farmhouse/Wild-Fermented Beer (aged in whiskey and wine barrels). Sour caramel, allspice, and pine needles. Rich and citrusy palate with pungent oak-Brett. At 10.2% ABV, watch out for this sour beer’s left hook.

*Live Oak. Hefeweizen. Sampled at The Brass Tap, Round Rock. Fine example that does a good job of walking the clove/banana tightrope, but a touch light in the mid-section. More malt richness would make this a stellar beer.

IMG_9550Pinthouse Pizza. Bearded Seal. Dry Irish Stout. A bit potent for the style (6.1% ABV), but with a deft blend of freshly-roasted coffee beans, espresso, and café au lait.

*Real Ale. Hans’ Pils. Pilsener. Canned. Clean, crisp, and dry; an austere northern German-style Pils with that characteristic bitter hop note the Germans call “herb,” which combines dry, bitter, astringent, herbal, and spicy into one difficult-to-translate flavour/sensation package.

Rogness. Tenebrous Stout. Raspberry Seasonal. Rich but restrained; harmonious integration of fruit, malt, and yeast character.

Uncle Billy’s. Humbucker Helles. A Munich Helles featuring bready malts with a mild toast accent. Rich and full-bodied, with soft notes of citrus and grassy hops rounding out toasty and fine-grained malt.

____________NXNW - Growler-Logo

North by Northwest. Brewpub. Compelling diversity of traditional and experimental beers, with food and ambience to match.

Sunset Mini Mart. Bottle Shop. A local institution and an absolute gem, especially considering that it’s nominally a Citgo gas station convenience store.

Two Tankards:

The ABGB. Industry. Pilsener. Hops are a quiet force in this beer, floral-perfumed and spicy. Well-rounded on the palate, with a dry, crisp finish.

*Argus Cidery. 2011 Bandera Brût. Sparkling Hard Cider. Cinnamon-spiced apple with prominent, hay-like Brett character, and pleasantly acidic.

Jester King. Ol’ Oi. Sour Brown Ale/American Wild Ale. Rich, complex, and with great depth. Combines caramel with aged balsamic vinegar notes.

*Real Ale. Sisyphus. Barley Wine. Bottled. Extended Tempest review here.

North by Northwest. Holiday Ale. Grab one when it’s released, but hold onto it for a few years. The best ones I sampled had one to two years of bottle age. Three years out and the beer develops interesting Oloroso sherry notes.

____________

Craft Pride. Taproom. Excellent selection of beers from Austin and from Texas more generally. And that’s it. But this is not a bad thing, especially with several dozen taps dedicated to the finest Texan beer. Knowledgeable serving staff. Great woodwork. Be sure to check out the well-curated bottle shop next store. IMG_9575

Jester King. Brewery and Taproom. The hype is much-deserved. A predominantly sour and wild-fermented lineup that is both well conceived and well crafted. But you probably already knew that. Side note: Great flat-crust pizza next door at Stanley’s Farmhouse Pizza. Maybe you didn’t know that.

Three Tankards:

*512. Pecan Porter. Sampled at The Brass Tap in Round Rock. What’s not to like about rich and buttery pecan-maple accents in a well-crafted smoky porter? Roast notes and creamy coffee on the palate, balanced by a vivacious mineral carbonation. Finish is as long as a total eclipse is black.

The ABGB. Hell Yes. Munich Helles. Rich but crisp and refreshing; clean bready malts with a touch of honey and a subtle grassy minerality. The embodiment of finesse.

*Austin Beer Works. Sputnik. Coffee Imperial Stout. A Texas stand-out. I had mine at Craft Pride. Freshly-ground coffee aromas, Tia Maria, dark caramel malt, and an infinitely chocolaty rich roast on the palate.

____________

ABGB Glass 2The ABGB. Beer Garden/Brewery. Exquisitely balanced beers, whether lagers or hop-forward and higher-ABV offerings. Urban beer garden with an amicable vibe; beer hall with a spare, industrial-warehouse aesthetic.

Postscript:

If you’ve been to Austin, what stands out for you? Feel free to share your favourite beers, breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, and bottle shops by clicking “Leave a Reply” above.

Images:

Austin map: www.tourtexas.com

Pewter tankard: www.germansteins.com

Tempest’s tankard: F.D. Hofer

Pinthouse Pizza: F.D. Hofer

NXNW: courtesy of NXNW

Jester King brewhouse: F.D. Hofer

The ABGB beer garden: theabgb.com