Tag Archives: Brewers Association

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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Bourbon in Michigan: Barrel-Aged Beer along the Great Lakes

A Trio of Barrel-Aged Imperial Stouts: Prairie’s Pirate Bomb, Goose Island’s Bourbon County, Victory’s Dark Intrigue

Not Your Average Wheat Beer: Schneider’s Porter Weisse

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.

Beeronomics: An Interview with Trey Malone

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

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

The economics of beer. Beeronomics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Tempest Articles

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

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

Images

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

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

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

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