Tag Archives: BJCP

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?

***

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.

***

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

Related Tempest Articles

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

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

The Curiosity Cabinet: Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée

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

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

Epicurean Unbound: Five Ways to Expand Your Tasting Horizons

The year is no longer so new, and all those well-intended resolutions have long since faded in the rearview mirror. But it’s never too late for resolutions concerning your beer tasting abilities, whether you’re new to this whole craft beer thing or a seasoned veteran. Fortunately for those of us who enjoy good food and drink, tasting is an aptitude that only gets better with practice.IMG_4687While we’re drinking up, here are a few more resolutions aimed at satisfying your inner sybarite: Drink more coffee from different parts of the world. Drink Scotch more often. Learn about the wonderful world of sherry, from the dry Manzanilla with its whiff of the sea to the inky Pedro Ximenez sweet like molasses and redolent of dates, figs, and raisins. Try different kinds of honey, and eat more chocolate. Take time to smell the flowers –– and all those spices, herbs, perfumes, nuts, grains, and fruit. What sets lemon zest apart from lime zest? Tangerines apart from Meyer lemons or blood oranges?

***

Now that you’ve visited your local farmers’ market, now that you’ve bought a variety of nuts and procured vanilla beans and bags of whole spices, and now that you’ve cut some herbs and flowers from your garden, it’s time to have some fun honing your tasting skills.IMG_4156Targeted Tasting

Pick a beer style or two, and then read up on what characterizes the aromas and flavours of these beers. Now head over to your well-stocked spice cabinet and fridge to find some of the spices, fruits, syrups, coffees, nuts, herbs, balsamic vinegar, honey, baker’s chocolate, cocoa, honey, and the like associated with those beer styles. If it’s a spice, grind it up fresh with your mortar and pestle; if it’s a citrus fruit, zest it or juice it. Add the contents to ramekins, jars, vials, or whatever you have on hand. If you plan far enough ahead, you can even infuse vodka with herbs, spices, fruit, chili peppers –– jalapeno’s a good one –– or flowers like lavender. (Bonus: If you’re a homebrewer, these infusions can yield interesting results. Add to taste at bottling or kegging.)

IMG_1833Say you’ve chosen Belgian-style Witbier. Buy a few different kinds of Witbier, and maybe throw in a Hefeweizen for comparison’s sake. Grind up some cloves and some coriander, and maybe some cinnamon, too. Zest some lemon or perhaps some orange. You could even include chamomile tea, crushed lavender, or honey. Invite a few friends over and pass around your various concoctions so that everyone can get a sense of what they’re about to smell and taste. Crack open the beer, and then see if you can identify particular aromas when they’re mixed in with other aromas. Once you’re all well into enjoying your beer, you can send the containers around again to see who can identify which aromas, this time blind.

Blinded by My Love of …

The reputations of some beers precede them, whether they’re venerable classics or the hyped brands of the moment. Anyone who has been drinking craft beer long enough has encountered the ubiquitous lists of the world’s best beers. Pliny the Elder scores a perfect 100 on Beer Advocate, as does Kentucky Breakfast Stout. But are these beers “perfect”? The absolute “best” example of a style you’ll ever drink?IMG_5198 Preconceptions about labels, packaging, and price points have an immense impact on our perceptions, to the point that ratings can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

But when the influence of a label is removed…

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard friends swear that XYZ IPA is their absolute favourite IPA, or that ABC Imperial Stout is the best beer anywhere around, only to see their surprise when those assertions didn’t hold up in a blind tasting. At the same time, I’ve also been part of blind tastings where certain beers turn out to be worth every ounce of hype.

So try it at home. First, you’ll need to invest in enough uniform glassware that your friends can taste three to four beers side-by-side. Next, you’ll need to devise some way of identifying the glasses. I stick a small piece of masking tape on the bottom of each glass, and number them in series of 1 through 4. After that, one person needs to cover all the bottles with paper bags or (clean) socks and pour out the samples. Obviously, that person won’t be tasting that particular flight blind, but you can take turns. When all is said and done, you might find out that an occasionally overlooked but otherwise solid and reasonably priced beer is among your favourite of the lot.

Stump the Chump

If you’re a fan of the late, great Tom Magliozzi and his brother Ray, better known as “Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers” on NPR’s Car Talk, you know about “Stump the Chumps.” One way to introduce an extra element of intrigue into your tastings is to play the craft beer version of “Stump the Chump.”IMG_4694 All you need to do is ask each of your friends to find a beer that’s easily confused with another beer style –– or a style that you and your friends might not drink much of. We’ve already touched on the influence that labels can have, but without any initial cues beyond the colour of the beer, you’ll be surprised how hard it is to guess a style “blind.” Is it a porter or a stout? A Tripel or a Belgian golden strong ale? A British ESB or a strong ale? A Scotch ale? A Doppelbock? Bonus points if you can guess the brewery.

Note: Needless to say, some of your craft beer-drinking friends may not react too kindly when you punk them with BMC. I once had a friend praise the merits of what he thought was a delicate Kölsch. Not Kölsch, I said. Coors. He wasn’t amused. Lest I come across as some sort of all-knowing beer sage in this post, I hasten to add that I’ve been hung out to dry on more than a few occasions myself.

Style of the Week

It’s time to reward yourself for all that hard work tasting beer blind and trying to identify the differences between coriander and cardamom. And what better way is there to find out what kinds of porters you like than sharing several of them with friends?IMG_5171 The BJCP Style Guidelines aren’t the most thrilling read in the world, but if you dip in from time to time while drinking, say, a series of Bocks and Doppelbocks, or the entire gamut of IPAs, you’ll get a better sense of what the brewer was trying to achieve, and what flavour and aroma characteristics you might encounter. You’ll also start to get a feel for the often subtle and sometimes radical differences within a particular style. If you’re a homebrewer, this is an excellent way to find out what makes a style tick.

Test Time!

You’ll be surprised at how much you actually learn when studying for the entry-level online BJCP or Cicerone exams. These tests are far from impossible (you can do it!), and they give you an excuse to hit the books (and beers) a few nights a week. Who knows? You might find that you enjoy the judging side of drinking beer … and beer competitions around the country could always use more judges.

Remember, though, it’s all about enhancing your enjoyment of what’s in the glass. If you find that the “practice” element of beer appreciation is eclipsing your enjoyment, just grab a beer out of your fridge or cellar and kick back. Now that I have finished writing this, I’m going to do the same.IMG_4917

Related Tempest Articles

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses

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

Say No to Style Loyalty

Five Ways to Become a Better Drinker in 2015

Tasting Against the Craft Beer Grain

All images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2016 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

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Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol. 1)

It’s been quite a busy past few weeks here in Tempest Land, and all of my writing projects are on hold. Last weekend I judged at the annual FOAM Cup homebrew competition in Tulsa, one of the larger competitions in the southern Midwest.Muji Notebooks 2 It’s been several months since I’ve judged at a homebrew competition, so the experience was excellent preparation for the current task at hand: the BJCP Tasting Exam this Saturday.

Finally! A piece of paper to legitimize all that talk of marzipan, and all those adjectival assaults and proverbial transgressions that accompany my pronouncements on beer!

The alternative is this:

Aromas: Faint malt notes. A sweet, corn-like aroma and low levels of DMS are commonly found. Hop aroma low to none. […] Faint esters may be present in some examples, but are not required. No diacetyl. […]

Flavor: Low to medium-low hop bitterness. Low to moderate maltiness and sweetness, varying with gravity and attenuation. Usually well attenuated. […] A low to moderate corny flavor from corn adjuncts is commonly found, as is some DMS. Finish can vary from somewhat dry to faintly sweet from the corn, malt, and sugar. Faint fruity esters are optional. No diacetyl.

And more of the same over sixty-odd pages of BJCP guidelines. A convenient short-hand for judges, to be sure. But pair this level of description with a few barleywines or Scotch ales and you have a perfect soporific.

In anticipation of having to switch into BJCP mode for the exam, I’ve been mowing down broad swaths of time brushing up on the causes of, and remedies for,IMG_1833 various technical and stylistic flaws. I’ve been getting together with friends to do blind tastings of beers dosed with extracts of this and that, and to figure out which beer is the different one in triangulated tastings––much harder than it sounds! I have also been tasting plenty of beer.

Which brings us to this weekend’s six-pack.

The rationale behind this particular six-pack is simple: our taste preferences can prevent us from expanding our beer-appreciation horizons. I’m no different, so when I was reviewing the BJCP Style Guidelines in preparation for the test, I keyed in on styles that I don’t often drink. The reasons for this are varied. Either the style has limited availability in North America, or the selection in bottle shops and supermarkets favours mass-produced and not particularly flavourful examples of a given style (try finding a good Irish red). Sometimes I gravitate toward certain brands. And sometimes I’m just not a fan of a particular style.

In the spirit of shaking things up a bit, here’s a selection of beers that’ll get you out of your flavour groove for the weekend––assuming you’re in a groove, of course. In some cases, you may be genuinely surprised by a style you had ignored; in other cases, drinking these beers might make you appreciate the styles you like that much more. Not all of these are stellar interpretations of a given style. After all, if you’re going to expand your sensory horizons, you can’t always drink the best of the best. Most of these beers, however, have the merit of being widely available and inexpensive. Consider it a break for your pocket book.NorthCoast BlueStar Label - northcoastbrewing-com I’ll include the BJCP category of each beer should you wish to see how the guidelines represent the style.

Blue Star (North Coast Brewing Co., California). A refreshing and spritzy American wheat beer with a resinous hop character accented by candied citrus peel. (Category 6D: American Wheat or Rye Beer)

Palm Speciale (Brouwerij Palm, Belgium). A best-seller in Belgium and highly drinkable, this amber beer should, at its best, exhibit an aromatically bready-toasty malt presence balanced by spicy-herbal hops and an orange note from the house yeast. (Category 16B: Belgian Pale Ale)

400 Pound Monkey (Left Hand Brewing Company, CO). When you can’t get your hands on a Sam Smith or St. Peter’s, English IPA, this local rendition will provide you with a firm and characterful honey-toast malt backdrop for an appetizing beer bracingly hopped with resinous, earthy, and cedar-woodsy English varieties. How’s that for a string of adjectives and adverbs? (Category 14A: English IPA)

Little Kings Original Cream Ale (Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewery, Ohio). You can’t beat those cute little 7-oz green bottles. As for what’s in those bottles? Expect an effervescent beverage with a graham cracker-like malt sweetness and a distinct aroma of corn, which is one of the ingredients in this quintessentially American beer.LittleKingsBottle - ks-worldclassbeer-com Hop spicing is delicate, making for a smooth and quaffable alternative to a Kölsch-style beer on a hot summer day. (Category 6A: Cream Ale)

Smithwick’s Premium Irish Ale (Guinness & Co., Ireland). These beers are meant to be easy-drinking pints, and feature a fruity, malt-forward toast and caramel character sometimes reminiscent of butterscotch. If you’re lucky, your bottle won’t be nearly as oxidized as mine was. (Category 9D: Irish Red Ale)

Spaten Dunkel (Spaten-Franziskaner-Bräu, Germany). Not that I don’t love a good Munich Dunkel. But I tend to shy away from the Spaten products because I’ve had a few too many that have arrived in my glass quite fatigued from the journey. I was pleasantly surprised by this bottle that one of my blind-tasting coconspirators brought over this past week. Though Spaten’s Dunkel doesn’t really match the melanoidin-rich toasty malt goodness of, say, Ayinger’s Altbayrisch Dunkel, it’s a decent introduction to the style. (Category 4B: Munich Dunkel)

Let me know in the comments what you liked or didn’t like about any of these beers.

Enjoy!

Images

Muji Notebooks: www.muji.com/us/

Spices and extracts: F.D. Hofer

Blue Star: www.northcoastbrewing.com

Little Kings: http://ks.worldclassbeer.com

© 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.