Tag Archives: craft beer

Say No to Style Loyalty in 2016

Ninety-nine styles of beer on the wall, ninety-nine styles of beer …

Your Saturday Six-Pack Series is back.IMG_9876

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Coke or Pepsi. Bud, Miller, or Coors. Many a craft beer aficionado has railed against brand loyalty, criticizing the consumption of advertising over what’s in the bottle. And rightly so.

But a specter haunts the craft beer world –– the specter of style loyalty. A chicken in every pot and an IPA in every fridge is one thing. Entire lineups of IPAs, though?

Hops: Not a bad thing.

Hops: Not a bad thing.

That’s something altogether different. Double IPAs! Triple IPAs! (Session IPAs!) Fruit-infused IPAs! Enjoy-by IPAs! And just plain old IPAs! Hopheads, rejoice. Ah, America. The land of choice.

Lost in the figurative and sometimes very literal buzz(feed): the craft beer mosaic is comprised of over a hundred styles of beer.

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Is your beer diet heavy on the hops? (I know – we all need our veggies.) Here’s a little throw-down for the next time you’re at your favourite bottle shop. Make it a point to try a style you’ve never had before –– lest they all disappear from shelves in the not-so-distant future, subsumed by a rising tide of IPA and a few other beer styles surfing shotgun.IMG_0899Go ahead, go for that cream ale! No one’s looking. While you’re at it, grab that Rodney Dangerfield of beers, the lowly brown ale. Like Mikey in the Life cereal commercials of yore, you might just like it.

By now you’re probably feeling an overwhelming urge to toss a few IPAs into your cart, and maybe a bourbon barrel-aged stout because, you know, it’s so damn cold out there. But resist and pick up a Pils instead.

Czech style

Czech style

Still a few more to go. Craft beer drinkers cannot live on barley alone. Variety is the spice of life, and wheat beers are the spice of the zymurgical arts – which is just another way of saying life. Take your pick: Belgian Wit, American wheat beer, and Weissbier, which itself comes in all sorts of different varieties.

Word on the street is that porters, too, are now underrated. We need to remedy that situation forthwith. As homebrew meister Jamil Zainasheff once quipped, “Who’s your Taddy?” If you don’t know, there’s another bottle for your cart.

So that’s five beer styles toward your Saturday six-pack. Venture out of your geographical comfort zone with that last beer. Japan is famous for its saké, so it’s no surprise to find beers containing that otherwise-disdained adjunct, rice. Like gin? Try Finland’s contribution to the wonderful world of beer styles, Sahti, the mash of which is filtered through a bed of juniper twigs. (Sorry to get your hopes up, gin lovers. Sahti tastes nothing like gin. All the more reason to try it.)

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That still leaves over a hundred different styles of beer. What are some of your favourite underrated beer styles?

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Related Tempest Articles:

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Your Saturday Six-Pack, Vol.5): Saisons

Augurs of Spring: Wheat Beers Belgian, German, and American

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

A Taste of Oklahoma in Six Glasses

Brown Beers Get No Luvin’: Your Saturday Six-Pack (Vol.2)

Images: F.D. Hofer

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

Tempest at Two Years: Raising My Tankard to You

The Chistkindl markets tucked into Vienna’s squares large and small foretell snowflakes and frosty windowpanes. The fragrance of the town has become decidedly seasonal. Cinnamon and clove announcing mulled wine (Glühwein) mingle with the sweet brown sugar aromas of roasted and spiced almonds (gebrannte Mandeln) and the smoky-woodsy notes of roasted chestnuts (heisse Maroni).IMG_5260 The leaves on the trees have long since flown south, and the seasoned imbibers have left the beer garden for the warmth and Gemütlichkeit of the pub or Beisl, some of them warming themselves up with that granddaddy of malty seasonal beers, the Doppelbock.

Doppelbock. What better way to toast two enjoyable years writing A Tempest in a Tankard? A recent trip to Bamberg turned up an entirely appropriate candidate – and it’s not the smoked Eiche Doppelbock from Aecht Schlenkerla, though that would be a perfect beer for the occasion.IMG_5171 No, this one from Hertl Braumanufaktur in the Franconian region of Bavaria is a little something else: a Doppelbock brewed with peated malt and aged in whisky barrels. Innovation meets tradition.

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If you’re one to pay attention to these things, you’ll have noticed that my posting rate has tapered off in the past half year or so. As some Tempest readers know, I took a two-year position at the Wien Museum in Vienna (come and visit!) as an ACLS Public Humanities fellow. Needless to say, the whole process of getting myself here has translated into less time at the keyboard. And then there’s the sheer fact of being in Vienna –– never a dull moment with all those museums, the Vienna Woods nearby, and plenty of opportunity for food and drink in the city’s Beisl and Heuriger.IMG_4209 But I have neither laid down my pen nor hung up my tankard, and will continue to traverse Vienna, Europe, and beyond to bring you a unique perspective on beer and culture.

Before I go any further, allow me to raise my glass to all you readers old and new who have kept up with my posts and articles over the past few years.

A tip o’ the ole tankard to ya!

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I’m extremely grateful to you, my readership for making this all worthwhile. But it’s always nice to have a few more readers. So help spread the word about Tempest by encouraging your craft beer-drinking friends to subscribe to the blog for email updates as I post new material. (See the side-bar to the right.) And don’t forget to tell them to like Tempest on Facebook or follow Tempest on Twitter (@TempestTankard). I’ve also been known to post the occasional beer-related photo to Instagram (@tempesttankard), and have recently set up a Pinterest account. Follow along!

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In Case You Missed Them: Highlights from the Past Year

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden — In this, one of my favourite articles, I trace the historical roots of all those chestnut trees shading beer gardens in Germanic lands. Cited in The Atlantic to boot.IMG_4483

The MaltHead Manifesto — Malt heads of the world, unite!

Returning for Another Sip of Terroir — The crux: 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?

New York’s Finger Lakes Region: A Backroad Craft Beer Tour — Long a travel destination for connoisseurs of fine wine, hop farms and fields of barley now sway in the lakeshore breeze alongside row upon row of grapes. (Incidentally, this was Tempest’s most-viewed article of the past year.)

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips — About a year and a half back, I wrote a short article with some thoughts on aging Belgian sour beers. I followed it up recently with some more systematic thoughts on what styles of beers to age, how to age them, and what to expect a few years down the road.

Spreading Good Cheer with a Tankard of Mulled Beer — You’ve probably heard of mulled wine, but how about mulled beer? Glühbier: the next big thing. ’Tis the season!IMG_5356

Down the Rabbit Hole: Doppelbock-Braised Rabbit — Like duck and venison, rabbit traditionally evokes the autumn hunt and harvest, but this subtly smoky rabbit suits just about any season from early fall to late spring.

Tasting Against the Craft Beer Grain — What do we taste when we drink a glass of beer or wine? Are we imbibing the liquid itself? Or is there more to it? Are we consuming an aura? Hype? Marketing? A contribution to my occasional series on the critique of canons of taste.

Serving Up a New Tradition at the Finger Lakes Cider House — Cider’s in. And places like the Finger Lakes Cider House are perfect for sampling a broad range of styles from a number of producers. Great locally produced food, too.

Striking Craft Beer Gold at Boulder Breweries (The Front Range Series) — Park lands and cycling trails, winter sports, a college town vibe, the Flatirons, three hundred days of sunshine a year, and, of course, world-class craft beer. What’s not to like about Boulder, Colorado? Read the whole series before you visit the Northern Front Range.

About a year ago I inaugurated the first of my “Saturday 6-Pack” series. I’m now six six-packs in. More to come. A sampling:

  • Brown Beers Get No Luvin’––A whole six-pack of them. You’ll be happy you gave these overlooked beers a shot.
  • Let Us Now Praise Famous Lagers––The original inspiration for this piece was a January 2015 article on Boston Beer Co.’s founder, Jim Koch (of Sam Adams fame).
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Saisons––Saisons with elderberry flowers, bold and tropically inflected saisons, and surprisingly drinkable saisons with parsley, rosemary, and thyme. And Saison DuPont. Mais bien sûr!

I also updated Tempest’s annotated index in case you have a snowy Sunday afternoon and want to read any of the nearly one-hundred articles I’ve posted to date.IMG_5265

And now for that Hertl Doppelbock. (Click here for tasting notes.)

Prost!

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All images by F.D. Hofer.

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

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Your Saturday 6-Pack, Vol.5): Saison

Said Theseus to Philostrate: “Stir up the Athenian youth to merriments. / Awake the pert and nimble spirits of mirth.”

And said a more contemporary Jane to Dick: “Get thee hither and fire up that damn lawnmower, for it has been more than a fortnight since you’ve put your sickle to a blade of grass!”

Back by popular demand, and just in time for the dog days of summer, Your Saturday Six-Pack. Let us raise a few glasses of suitable ale in honour of those days that occasion dreamy hallucinations. Bring on something crisp, dry, effervescent, fruity, and spicy!

Saison it is.

Depending on whom you read or talk to, the Walloons in the French-speaking part of Belgium brewed a low-alcohol seasonal beer that was meant to quench the thirst of farmhands during the summer. Others claim that Saison beers were, like the Märzens of Bavaria, brewed to a higher gravity in late spring to outlast the summer months. As with so much pertaining to beer and history, myth and fact go hand-in-hand, and I have no intention of cutting through the thicket of fact and fiction for the time being. Suffice it to say, we have enough extant interpretations –– the quaffable Saison de table, the more robust Saison de provision –– to suggest that this is anything but a settled style. Add to this the terminological slippage between “Farmhouse ale” and “Saison,” and you have a perfect midsummer night’s storm that’ll keep the beer geeks debating into the wee hours.

In lieu of a BJCP-like description of the style, I propose a few drinks. Many of these beers are widely available in sizeable North American beverage markets, some less so. One is an absolute classic. All come highly recommended by yours truly. Diversity is the only thread that unifies my selection.

Cellar Door (Stillwater Artisan Ales, Maryland)

StillwaterArtisinal - cellardoor_crop2Stillwater bills its Cellar Door as an American farmhouse ale “gently finished …. with a touch of white sage.” German wheat and pale malts overlaid with Sterling and Citra hops lie at this complex beer’s foundation. The dominant aromas that make their way past the towering foam cap crowning this hazy golden blond beer are nothing if not herbal, with a dash of lavender and citrus (tangerine) taming the sage. Add some honey, clove-spiked peach, and white pepper to this basil-sage keynote, and you might think you’ve landed in the fields of Provence. Lime zest-infused honey links up with freshly mown hay and an echo of tropical fruit before being cut through with an effervescent carbonation and a refreshing minerality. A crisp, sage-brush dryness near the finish raises the curtain on a lingering light brown sugar and dried apricot aftertaste. Note: This aromatic beer is excellent fresh, but a bit of age lends the beer even more depth and a subtle roundness. One Tankard.

Tropic King Imperial Saison (Funkwerks, Colorado)

Fort Collins’ Funkwerks brews more than one Saison/farmhouse ale, but the Tropic King laden with Rakau hops from New Zealand is one of those passion fruit-mango-peach explosions that makes you sit up and take notice.Funkwerks - TropicKing With its orange and amber hues, the beer is sunshine in a glass, and the candy floss-like foam cap lingers long enough to bring you right back to the amusement parks of your childhood. A whiff of old hay and henna mingle with an intense tropical fruit character that gives the Brettanomyces an elegant touch. Passion fruit and mango dance with honeyed malt on the spritzy palate, but pepper and zesty ginger notes keep the beer refreshingly dry. In a word, Brett-and-spice bitterness and dryness balanced by a malt richness and intense tropical fruit. At 8% ABV, you’ll want to resist the urge to quaff this one on a hot day. Two Tankards.

Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (Boulevard Brewing Company, Missouri)

Like the Tropic King, this eminently drinkable beer from Boulevard’s Smokestack Series is no wall flower in the ABV department. It’s also the base beer for their delicious Saison-Brett, which I wrote about in May. As the story at Boulevard goes, “most breweries have a piece of equipment that’s just a bit persnickety.” Tank Seven was the proverbial black sheep at Boulevard.Boulevard Tank 7 Turns out, though, that the vessel did wonders for their Belgian-style farmhouse ale, and this delicious beer was born. Hazy honey-gold with a vigorous collar of foam, this richly textured marriage of Belgian yeast and North American hops brings apricot-accented tropical fruit to the fore, followed by waves of orange-grapefruit citrus, an earthy spice note that mingles white pepper and coriander together with a hint of pine. Big and bold, the unobtrusive malt backdrop of honeyed light brown sugar lets the mango-pineapple and muscat grape flavours shine through. Tank 7 manages to be luscious yet light-bodied and dry at the same time, with the malted wheat giving the beer a zesty lift near the finish. Two Tankards.

Saison Cazeau aux Fleurs de Sureau (Brasserie de Cazeau, Belgium)

CazeauFleurAnd now for something a little different. For those of you who don’t feel like pulling out your French dictionaries or googling “sureau,” it means elderflower. And the elderflower in this supple ale the colour of hay lends it an air of fragrant meadows and floral honey. But it’s not just the floral notes that make this beer unique. Along with the clove-pepper-spice calling card of Belgian yeast, you might just detect a jalapeno note reminiscent of Cabernet Franc grapes. An ample bed of wheat and bready malt keeps this dry, crisp, peppery, and subtly floral beer afloat. Clocking in at a mere 5% ABV, Saison Cazeau is yet more proof that you don’t need a tonne of alcohol to get stellar flavours in your beer. One Tankard.

Saison du Buff (Dogfish Head, Delaware)

I picked this beer up with no small amount of trepidation. An ale brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme has to be a train-wreck, right? But if anyone can awake the pert and nimble spirits of mirth, I thought, it’s the good folks at Dogfish Head.DogfishHead - saison-du-buff The beer starts playfully enough, with sunny golden saffron hues sounding the prelude for sage, rosemary, honeyed papaya, green apple skin, a slate-like minerality, and the slightest trace of parsley, probably because I was looking for it. (Alas, the power of suggestion!) I take a sip and smell again. Honeydew melon, a bit like mead, with thyme becoming slightly more prominent alongside the sage. The herbs reprise themselves subtly on the palate, balanced by a sweet graham cracker-like maltiness. Highly effervescent and enhanced by a mild green apple tartness and a coriander-clove spiciness, the beer is well-balanced and not at all gimmicky. Herbs play well with the mild Belgian yeast aromatics, the one complementing and gently amplifying the other. It all harmonizes well to provide a complex herbal presence that gestures slightly in the direction of savoury, yet with a softly sweet honeyed presence. One Tankard for this whimsical beer.

Saison Dupont (Brasserie Dupont, Belgium)

Though the venerable Saison Dupont hails from Europe’s more northerly reaches, its radiant golden yellow with orange hues hints at the French Riviera. And then there’s the towering, pillowy foam, like a snow-capped Alpine peak on a hot day.SaisonDupont The best of both worlds. The aromatics open with a salvo of herbal-floral hops, followed immediately by white pepper, clove-coriander, grains of paradise, and a slate-like minerality. Peach-pear yeast notes and hints of ripe banana in the depths add fruit, with whispers of lightly kilned Munich (lightly toasted bread laced with a hint of melanoidin) making a cameo appearance. Saison Dupont is deft on the palate, combining tangerine-peach and an orange blossom floral essence with an off-dry bready-wheat-oat flake malt character before finishing crisply. The musky hops lend mid-palate spice before dried apricot and almonds take over in a finish where Crème de Noyaux meets Bon Maman apricot jam. Bright. Playfully fruity. And appetizingly bitter. The standard bearer of the style. Two Tankards.

I hope you enjoy the range of flavours and aromas in these summery beers as much as I do. For a Three-Tankard **bonus addition** to your six-pack, check out my write-up on Black Raven and make your six-pack a lucky seven.

A brief note on serving: Use a glass that allows for plenty of head space, for many of these beers have epic foam caps. Brasserie Dupont suggests serving their Saison at 12C/54F (cellar temperature), but I’ve found that slightly cooler temperatures flatter many of the Saisons I’ve written about here.

Related Tempest Articles

The Sunday Sour Sessions: Jolly Pumpkin’s Baudelaire Saison

Marking Time with a Brett-Saison from Boulevard

This Bird’s For You: Black Raven’s Pour Les Oiseaux Saison

Sources and Further Reading

Garrett Oliver, The Brewmaster’s Table (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

Michael Jackson, The New World Guide to Beer (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1988).

Stillwater Artisanal Ales’ “My Works” blog.

Boulevard Brewing Company, “Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale.”

Brasserie Dupont, “Saison Dupont.”

Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. (Mendelssohn’s incidental music of the same name isn’t half bad either. Give it a listen while you’re drinking these fine beverages.)

Images

Labels and images from the respective breweries’ sites.

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

Tasting Against the Craft Beer Grain

What do we taste when we drink a glass of beer or wine?

Are we imbibing the liquid itself? Or is there more to it?

What about the conditions under which we consume the beer? Are we with friends at a pub? Is the beer part of a sumptuous meal? Or does the beer conceal its identity as part of a blind tasting? Are we consuming an aura? The reputation of a brewery?IMG_1078 A BeerAdvocate or RateBeer score? Hype? Marketing?

These questions are aesthetic questions that begin with, but go well beyond, the liquid in the bottle. What is both in and on the bottle leads invariably to judgments of taste, that shifting terrain of sensation giving rise to pronouncements based on our subjective dispositions. But does this mean that “it’s all subjective,” a pronouncement I’m sure you’ve heard on many occasions? Well, not exactly.

Taste, according to German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, is an eminently social process whereby we attempt to put forward our reasoned judgments as if they were universal pronouncements. At stake for Kant is the search for the grounds of pure, disinterested judgments of taste based on reason. Rather than remain in the realm of mere opinion, or à chacun son gôut, Kant wants to move us to the firmer ground of what he terms “subjective universality.”

Before we can bracket our opinions and pronounce judgments of taste with the lofty status of subjective universality, a potentially insurmountable obstacle remains to be confronted: the extent to which our tastes are always already shaped by and derived from outside influences. When we make statements along the lines of “IPAs are the best beers in the world” or “lagers are naught but insipid yellow fizzy water,” it’s worth noting that taste concerns not only what’s in the glass. The aura that surrounds a particular beer or style of beer (Heady Topper, Pliny the Elder, BCBS), even the way a beer is packaged and marketed –– these are but a few of the factors that shape our perceptions in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. Taking this one step further, the social and the environmental frames that affect perception and sensation often upset reason’s best efforts at pronouncing disinterested judgment. Inasmuch as taste is subjective, it is also subject to the culture and environment that surrounds us.

Canons of Taste

Taste defines communities. Taste communities engender distinctions by dictating what’s in “good taste,” and what’s not. Canons of taste are born when enough writers at X Magazine or judges at Y Competition suggest that certain styles are the embodiment and ethos of American craft beer.IMG_0985 For a myriad of reasons concerning the relationship between power and aesthetics, certain individuals or groups of people are able to promote their conception of art, fashion, music, or alcoholic beverages as the standard of good taste. Wine is the drink of the refined sophisticate, beer the drink of the working masses. The rise of craft beer disrupted this distinction, but new distinctions have risen up to replace the old. If you doubt this, just break out a Bud at a craft beer event.

What constitutes “good taste” in the craft beer community? Is a given beer “good” only if it has received the imprimatur of a large portion of the craft beer community tuned in to BeerAdvocate?

Against the Grain: Challenging the Canons of Taste

French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu, theorizes the culture of everyday life in terms of what he calls habitus. Cultures like tasting communities envelop us to the point that it is difficult to gain a vantage point free from the embrace of a particular context.Ayinger Ur-Weisse (ayinger-bier-de) North American hop varieties and intensely flavoured beers are the signature notes defining the dominant culture of contemporary craft beer. This has a profound effect on how we rate and evaluate beer. Can the casual contributor to a beer ratings site separate him- or herself from this cultural context? To what extent is the skilled or certified beer judge aware of unconscious cultural dynamics that have molded his or her palate? Is Ayinger “better” than Stone? Are hoppy beers “better” than malty beers?

How can we simultaneously challenge the dominant canons of craft beer taste and expand our own taste horizons? Drinking mindfully is always a good start. Beer appreciation is nothing if not an education of the senses. And at a fundamental level, educating the senses involves a resistance to hype, marketing, and the prevailing doxa that defines taste according to geographical origin, provenance of the hops, or levels of alcohol.

In recognizing the extent to which our tastes are received notions that bear the stamp of the culture that surrounds us, we’ve come that much closer to pronouncing the kinds of judgments of taste at which Kant aims. From here it’s just a matter of stepping out of the long shadow of canonical tastes and asserting the reasoned validity of our own tastes in beer, be they for fruit beer or lager.

(It’s always about the lager, isn’t it?)IMG_2512

Just as culture itself is not a static entity, canons of taste are temporally contingent. If the transformation of communities of taste rests on persuasion, persuasiveness is borne of experience. So drink on, fellow imbiber, drink on!––For the cumulative experience of drinking all that beer, wine, bourbon, Scotch, and Armagnac plays no small role in the validity of a judgment pronounced in favour of this double IPA or that Pilsner.

Related Tempest Articles

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

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

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

Sources

Pierre Bourdieu. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (1979). Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Immanuel Kant. The Critique of Judgment (1790). Trans. J.H. Bernard. New York: Prometheus Books, 2000.

With the exception of the Ayinger Weissbier, all photos by F.D. Hofer.

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

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