Tag Archives: Guinness

A World of Stouts for Your Weekend

The Lucky Seven Selection

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

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

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

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

He continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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

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

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

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

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

Images

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

Loncium brewers in the Alps: www.loncium.at

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

All other images: F.D. Hofer

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.

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.

Of Isinglass and Other Fine Additives, Or, Is That a Fish Bladder I Spy in My Beer?

Last night I finally got around to brewing my chocolate peanut porter. With the cocoa nibs and peanuts I’ll add to the fermenter, the beer is no poster child for the German Reinheitsgebot (Purity Law), but at least I got the peanuts from the local farmers’ market. Like many homebrewers, I added a smidgeon of Irish moss toward the end of the boil so that the beer will be relatively clear when I bottle it.

IMG_9467

Irish moss is actually seaweed, a red alga that we also know as carrageenan. Irish moss combines with haze-forming proteins, and precipitates out of the beer. But Irish moss doesn’t aid in clearing yeast strains that don’t flocculate well. (A highly flocculant yeast strain is one that drops out of suspension quickly). To round up these reluctant yeasts, some brewers historical and contemporary turn to isinglass to perform the feat.

Isinglass is fish bladder.

Wait, fish bladder in my beer? The very notion of it has spawned (ahem) a spate of articles expressing righteous indignation at breweries for lacing their beer with, well, fish guts. I’ll address one of those articles here – Food Babe’s “The Shocking Ingredients in Beer” – mainly because it just made its second appearance in as many months on friends’ Facebook feeds.

Food Babe is “hot on the trail to investigate what’s really in your food.” With her article on beer, she turns up all manner of scandalous brewing transgressions, from GMO ingredients and high fructose corn syrup to harmful food colouring additives. And fish bladder.

Source: edibleprogress.com

Source: edibleprogress.com

She takes particular umbrage at the paucity of information on the labels – an issue I think merits debate. But aside from a belated nod to craft brewers and the Germans, she concludes that “if you decide to drink beer, you are definitely drinking at your own risk for more reasons than just the crazy ingredients that could be in them.”

 

Addressing one of Food Babe’s main concerns – the use of GMO adjuncts, particularly corn, by many of the large brewing conglomerates – is fairly straightforward: stop drinking mass-produced beer and head in search of your closest craft brewery.

Source: foodbabe.com

Source: foodbabe.com

Whether you’re choosing artisanal products from Europe or beers produced in your neck of the North American woods, the odds are in your favour that you’ll be getting beer made with ingredients of the highest quality.

And not only of the highest quality but, increasingly, local. New York State is only one of the most prominent examples of this steadily growing promotion of local agriculture. Aided by the recently enacted farm brewery legislation, craft brewers in New York State have helped re-introduce hop cultivation to New York, spur grain production in parts of the state, and spin off ancillary industries such as Farmhouse Malt in Newark Valley. (In the near future I will feature two Finger Lakes breweries that source ingredients grown in-state: Abandon Brewing Company, and Hopshire Farm and Brewery).

Now back to that pesky fish bladder in my beer. Food Babe’s startling revelation is doubly skewed, first by suggesting that all that ground up fish bladder is sitting there in your beer holding up Guinness’ famously resilient foam, and second by implying – via association with GMOs and high-fructose corn syrup – that isinglass is somehow bad for you. (Again, point taken on the ambiguity of labeling, especially if you’re vegetarian, vegan, or among those who have an allergic reaction to isinglass.) But isinglass is a fining agent, which means it doesn’t stay in suspension in the liquid; the amount of it that makes it into your glass is miniscule, if it even makes it in there at all.

Originally manufactured from sturgeon and later from cod, hake, and catfish, this dried and treated bit of fish innards has a long history in beer, mead, and wine production. Writing about porters in 1760, brewer Obidah Poundage looks back at the intervening years since porter’s 1722 inception and lauds the advances made since then:

“I well remember for many years it was not expected, nor was it thought possible [for porter] to be made fine and bright, and four and five months was deemed to be sufficient age for it to be drunk at. The improvement of transparency has since been added to it by means of more and better workmanship, better malt, better hops and the use of isinglass.” (Daniels, Designing Great Beers, 264).

Isinglass and other fining agents such as gelatin, carrageenen, and even egg white yield a clear glass of beer, wine, or mead by bonding with proteins, tannins, yeast cells, and other compounds. Fining agents attract these compounds, which contribute to a cloudy haze that some find unappealing, causing the compounds to precipitate to the bottom of the fermentation vessel or bright tank.

Most of your favourite alcoholic beverages, be they beer, wine, or mead, will clear with enough time. But time adds up in the form of storage space and lagering capacity. Many larger craft breweries will filter their beer or run it through a centrifuge, but these pieces of equipment are usually beyond the means of smaller breweries just starting out.

Among the smaller craft brewers that I have polled – an admittedly very small sample, since I’ve been polling for less than forty-eight hours now – kettle additions of carrageenan are common. One brewer with a long résumé noted that, in his experience, nearly all breweries add finings of some sort to the kettle. Another brewer pointed to his brewery’s selection of a yeast strain that ferments quickly and efficiently, leaving the beer clear. Some beer styles like IPA throw a mild haze from the hops, but many brewers eschew the fining or filtering of beers post-fermentation so as not to strip the beer of flavour and aroma.

So there you have it, fellow imbibers. That clear glass of wine or beer you’re drinking is quite possibly the result of a fining agent used at some point in the process.

Bottoms up.

__________

I’d like to thank the brewers and beer writers who shared their knowledge with me on short notice.

Further Reading:

Alan Davidson, The Penguin Companion to Food (Penguin, 2002).

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (Scribner, 2004).

Jancis Robinson (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Wine (Oxford UP, 1994).

Ken Schramm, The Compleat Meadmaker (Brewers Publications, 2003).

Ray Daniels, Designing Great Beers: The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles (Brewers Publications, 2000).