Tag Archives: lager

Beer Travel Off the Beaten Track: Austria’s Innviertel

When you think of beer destinations in Central Europe, certain cities and regions stand out as iconic.

Rauchbier from Bamberg. Budweiser from Budweis. Kölsch from Cologne. Pilsener from Pilsen. Altbier from Düsseldorf. Berliner Weisse. Gose from Leipzig. Light and dark lagers from Munich. And the beer riches of Bavaria in general.

Austria? Vienna Lager may well be a thing again as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Anton Dreher’s brewing virtuoso this year. But even as the tide of “craft beer” slowly engulfs the Tyrol, Carinthia, Styria, Salzburg, and even Vienna, the country is still, largely, a patchwork of Gösser green, Ottakringer yellow, Puntigamer blue, and Stiegl red. Few beer enthusiasts beyond Austria’s borders think of it as a beer destination.

For the intrepid beer traveler, though, the Innviertel of Upper Austria is a gem of bucolic scenery, colourful towns, and top-notch breweries that don’t see wide distribution. In many ways, the Innviertel’s status as one of the few bona fide beer regions is not surprising, given its proximity to Bavaria. Indeed, the region was a part of Bavaria until it briefly became part of the Habsburg realms in 1779 and then continuously part of what would eventually become the Austria we know today in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars. Today, the brewing tradition of the region pays tribute to these historical connections with beers that would not be out of place in any Franconian tavern.IMG_7092

The Innviertel is roughly equidistant between Vienna and Munich, and a mere stone’s throw from Salzburg, but it’s off the major train lines. In fact, the diesel-driven train that runs between Neumarkt and Braunau am Inn is naught more than a bus on rails. If you want to stop at one of the smaller towns along a line, you have to push a button to alert the engineer. As you get further from Linz, the industrial center of Upper Austria, the landscape starts to undulate, and the houses take on a more rustic character. Verdant rolling fields spread out northward across the Inn and into Bavaria, and the tops of snow-capped peaks loom up above the hilltop forest stands to the south.

***

My first stop is Ried im Innkreis, the administrative center of the Innviertel region and the largest market town in Austria in the mid-nineteenth century.IMG_6887

With a town square awash in colour and charming alleys radiating in every direction, Ried invites visitors to spend some time on the many terraces sipping a coffee, eating ice cream, or … drinking a beer.IMG_6880

Ried was once home to a handful of breweries, but since the Kellerbrauerei cooled its kettles in 2013, Rieder Bier is now the sole hometown hero.

The best place by far to hoist a tankard of the local brew and much else besides is the Biergasthof Riedberg. Karl Zuser, the sommelier-owner, is something of a local celebrity, criss-crossing the region offering and promoting his well-stocked cellar broad in brand selection and deep in vintage verticals.IMG_6829

Riedberg’s head server, Susanne Schimpf, is also a trained beer sommelier. She set me up not only with superb beers, but also a hop soft drink (Hopster Hopfenlimo) that I’m sure we’ll see at some point in Kreuzkölln or Brooklyn. IMG_6863

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

Schnaitl, one of the region’s innovative breweries. Zuser sells his beers by the bottle, but also offers reasonably-priced flights of anything on tap –– a rarity in Austria and southern Germany.

The hop schnapps Susanne served at the end of the meal cut through the rich and delicious regional fare perfectly.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

Local beef cooked in beer, smothered in a Bärlauch cream sauce, and topped with white asparagus. Bärlauch grows wild in the foothills of the Alps and in the woods ringing Vienna, and is closest to the garlic scapes of eastern North America.

***

After a leisurely Easter Sunday buffet breakfast at Biergasthof Riedberg, I made my way to the train station to get the semi-regular train to Braunau am Inn, a pretty town that bears the unfortunate distinction of being the place where Adolf Hitler was born. As someone who has done a fair amount of work on the Holocaust and National Socialism, and who has traversed Europe to do research on the concentration camps, extermination camps, transit camps, forced labour camps, and the memorial sites that have sprung up as a witness to and warning against the murder of Europe’s Jews, I felt a certain ambivalence about heading to this particular town in search of beer on Easter Sunday. I’ll leave those thoughts open … They certainly refused to be bracketed as I tasted my way through Brauhaus Bogner’s stellar beer offerings.

Something on the lighter side ...

Something on the lighter side …

Be it the stellar Hefeweizen, the unique Fastenbier dark Bock brewed for Lent, the Frühlingsmärzen pulled straight from the lagering tanks before the rest of it goes down for the longer haul over the summer, or the dazzling Zwickl with its subtle aromas of pear, blossoms, artisanal bread, butter pecan, and fresh-cut meadows, Bogner knocks it out of the park.IMG_6938

Bogner is one of the smallest breweries in Austria, so you’ll need to journey to the source. It’s well worth the effort, though –– a real treat for fans of lagers and Weissbier.IMG_6942

Since the weekend was already winding down, I didn’t have time to linger in Braunau am Inn before retracing my steps in the direction of Schärding, a vibrant town perched on the banks of the Inn River.IMG_7085

For those who have been reading along since the early days of Tempest, you might remember a piece I wrote about Kapsreiter Landbier on the occasion of Craft Lager Day. Unfortunately, the owners of this much-beloved regional brewery also had money tied up in real estate, and are said to have been done in by the effects of the financial crash. The brewery and its inn were bought by Baumgartner, the brewery just across the street, but the legacy of Kapsreiter lives on.IMG_7040

IMG_7047Though Kapsreiter may be gone, Baumgartner is doing an excellent job of keeping the brew kettles stoked in Schärding. You can get their beer in just about any inn or tavern in town, but why not go straight to the source? The Baumgartner Stadtwirt Schärding (formerly Kapsreiter, as the barrels out front and stamped benches within attest) is conveniently located right across from the brewery, and the food is on point as well.IMG_6981

It’s early Monday afternoon, I don’t need to be in Vienna until nighttime, and I’ve already tasted my way through Schärding. I hadn’t thought of it while planning my weekend, but Passau is a mere fifteen minutes away on one of the main train lines out of Vienna into Germany via Linz. And a train happens to be leaving in half an hour.IMG_7100

Since it lies at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz, and Danube Rivers, it’s the perfect way to end my exploration of beers and breweries along the eastern portion of the Inn River. The Veste Oberhaus, erstwhile fortress of the Bishop of Passau, overlooks an Altstadt strewn with Gothic and Baroque architectural jewels and teeming with lively terraces.IMG_7113

Passau is also a university town, and it’s not long until I feel the pull of the inns and taverns at every street corner and in every square.

A beer with a view.

A beer with a view.

Satiated, I clamber I up to the fortress dominating the ridge overlooking the town, dip my toe in the water where the Inn and Danube come together, and stroll along the banks of the Inn back to the train station, just in time for my train back to Vienna. I barely scratched the surface of Passau, but in the immortal words of a certain Austrian from Graz, I’ll be back.

Related Tempest Articles

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Pictures at a Czech Beer Exhibition: Pilsen, Budweis, Český Krumlov

Endnote: Due to spotty bus and train connections to Engelhartszell, I missed out on Austria’s only Trappist brewery this time around. Now that I have my international driver’s permit, I’ll rent a car one of these weekends and let you know more about the town and the abbey.

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

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)

***

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.

***

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.

***

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

Related Tempest Articles

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

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

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.

Prelude to a Drink: Vienna

IMG_4001New job, new city. The two combined have left me precious little time to write. I know, I know. Tough life living in Vienna. Until the remnants of summer stop beckoning me to every nook and cranny of this fine town, my time at the keyboard will be sporadic at best. Do check back regularly, though. Eventually I’ll settle into a rhythm, even if I’ll never tire of taking the tram to random areas of the city.

For now, a visual taste, as it were, of things to come.

As any regular reader of Tempest knows, I’m fond of lagers. I could sum up the first few weeks here thus: In Pursuit of the Holy Grail, or, Vienna One Lager at a Time. IMG_3991To my chagrin, the quality of Vienna’s lagers is uneven at best, be it the usual mass-market suspects like Gösser, or, more surprisingly, the beers issuing forth from the many small breweries that dot the city. I was beginning to lose faith.

IMG_4284But a craft beer renaissance in Austria is stirring, and its Viennese epicenter in terms of bottle selection is the unlikely neighbourhood of Meidling. Nestled in the vibrant Meidling Market is Malefitz,IMG_4277 a convivial gathering place for local imbibers with an emphasis on Austrian craft brews. In the same vein but with a nod to beer beyond Austria’s borders, Beer Store Vienna is a mere hop, skip, and a few stone’s throws away. And they carry homebrew supplies.

Let’s not forget the urban scenery. (A five-year-old could take decent photos here.)

IMG_4020IMG_4320After all that walking, you might be in the mood for some food. The iconic Schnitzel pairs excellently with beer, and does well with both red and white wines to boot. Whatever you choose to eat, you won’t go hungry. Case in point: this hearty dish of pan-fried potatoes, blood sausage, and fresh horse radish smothered with onions. In Viennese German: Blunzengeröstl mit Kren und grünem Salat. You’ll need that salad, trust me.

IMG_4292Tired from all that walking around? A few too many steins of beer or glasses of Sturm? In every neighbourhood you’ll find at least one elegant café that’ll perk you up for your next round.

IMG_4099Till then, Prost!

IMG_4113Related Tempest Posts

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

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

The MaltHead Manifesto

All images by F.D. Hofer.

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

In the Cool Shade of the Beer Garden

It was one of those August days when the sun-baked cobblestones seem to transcend themselves in mirage-like fashion. Since arriving in Salzburg earlier that day, we had been exploring a baroque palace here, a castle overlooking the city there, and churches everywhere. Definitely time for a beer, one of my friends declared. Another suggested a visit to the Augustiner, where we could relax in its chestnut grove with a cold stein.Augustiner Stein (FB pg) With one last burst of energy we crossed the foot bridge over the Salzach and climbed the hill in the direction of the Augustiner. As soon as we descended the stairs into the cellar precincts, the summer heat faded away. We threaded our way through stalls selling bratwurst and pretzels, and came upon the counter where a gruff barkeep in lederhosen was tapping beer straight from the barrel. Steins in hand, we headed out into the beer garden to partake of a venerable tradition: an al fresco Maß (liter mug) of beer among lively groups of friends and families who had gathered at tables and benches in the afternoon shade of the chestnut trees.

* * *

This particularly enjoyable rite of spring and summer traces its history to early nineteenth-century Bavaria. Back in 1812, King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria (1806-1825) set the development of beer garden culture on its present course with a Solomon-like decree that diffused the tensions that had been (ahem) brewing between Munich’s innkeepers and brewers. The dispute had its roots in the set of reforms that King Max had enacted, first as duke, and then as king. Some of these reforms proved more favourable to private Bavarian brewers than had previously been the case during the era of aristocratic brewing prerogatives, and breweries began to proliferate along the Isar River. During the warm summer months in particular, the citizens of Munich took to spending more of their time (and money) at the beer cellars on the banks of the Isar, preferring these shaded chestnut groves to the rather stuffy inns where the beer was decidedly less fresh.

Unsurprisingly, the innkeepers of Munich became increasingly incensed that they were losing revenue to the beer brewers who were also selling food to accompany their refreshing beers. They petitioned Maximilian –– connoisseur of the good life who was more likely to be seen at Munich’s Viktualienmarkt than at the barracks –– to do something.BeerGarden - Rescript_Max_I_Joseph_1812-01-04 A friend and supporter of brewers and innkeepers alike, their good King Maxl paid heed. The resulting decree of January 4, 1812 benefitted both parties and put its stamp on the history of the Bavarian beer garden down to the present day. Brewers could, indeed, keep right on selling their beer fresh from the beer cellars beneath their leafy gardens. But in a nod to the concerns of the innkeepers, the beer garden precincts were limited to the sale of beer and bread.

* * *

Now, as for these beer cellars (Bierkeller) that gave rise to beer gardens? Beer gardens as we’ve come to know them in Bavaria and beyond are difficult to imagine without the history of a beer style many of us have come to know and love: lager. In the centuries before the invention of refrigeration, brewers sunk cellars on the grounds of their breweries. There, they covered their beer with ice blocks hewed in March from the still-frozen lakes and rivers of the region.

Even though monasteries and abbeys had been storing their beer in cellars and in caves at the foot of the Alps since the Middle Ages, the sinking of cellars in Munich accelerated in response to a decree promulgated by Duke Albrecht V in 1553. Despite the vaunted Reinheitsgebot of 1516, not all Bavarian beer was gold, so the duke declared that Bavarians were allowed to brew beer between St. Michael’s Day (September 29) and St. George’s Day (April 23) only. One of the reasons cited for the decree of 1553 was a fear of summer conflagrations caused by hot brew kettles. More importantly, though, brewers and the authorities who knew a good beer when they tasted it had, by the mid-1550s, learned a fair amount about the effects of cold fermentation on beer quality. Slower fermentation between 7 and 12 Celsius (44-55F) in conjunction with extended lagering (lagern = to store) at temperatures near freezing yielded a cleaner beer that kept longer than the top-fermented ales brewed in warmer conditions.

Beer cellars also enabled brewers to store their beer during the months they weren’t brewing, thereby ensuring a steady supply of fresh and stable beer during the summer months. As a further means of keeping the temperature of their cellars cool, brewers planted broad-leafed and shallow-rooted horse chestnut trees. From there, it wasn’t an enormous leap from the cellar to the shade. Enterprising brewers began to set out tables and chairs under the leafy canopy shading their cellars, and voilà: the beer garden. BierGarten - AugustinerMunich (FB page)If you’re lucky enough to live in a North American town that boasts a beer garden, or are even luckier and live in or will be visiting a Germanic country this spring or summer, raise a stein to the wise Bavarians who inaugurated these traditions. What better place is there to enjoy a crisp and spicy wheat beer or an effervescent Pilsner on a spring or summer day than in a beer garden?

Related Tempest Articles

The MaltHead Manifesto

Gose: A Beer Worth Its Salt

A Coal Town and a Cold One: My Hefeweizen Craft Beer Conversion

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

Pinning Down Place

Further Reading

German Beer Institute.

Horst D. Dornbusch, Prost! The Story of German Beer (Boulder: Brewers Publications, 1997).

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

Sabine Herre, “Geschichte der bayrischen Biergärten: Im Schatten der Kastanie,” taz (26 May 2012).

Images

Stein (Augustiner Bräustübl Salzburg Mülln Facebook page)

Decree by King Maximilian I. Joseph of Bavaria allowing Munich brewers to serve beer from their cellars, but prohibiting the sale of food other than bread (January 4, 1812). Bayrishes Hauptstaatsarchiv, München. Image available on WikiCommons.

Beer Garden, Augustinerbäu München

© 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.

Save

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

2015 is barely four weeks old, and already we’ve seen the craft beer scene light up with plenty of fireworks. Perplexingly, Tony Magee of Lagunitas filed a trademark lawsuit against Sierra Nevada, only to back down after being “seriously schooled” by the good folks on Twitter. About a week before that hue and cry, a blogger in the New York State capitol region ignited a firestorm of his own, claiming that “[f]lights are dumb, and you’re dumb if you like them.IMG_9985 Needless to say, not everyone agreed. Just last week, news broke that Anheuser-Busch InBev has continued its craft beer shopping spree, scooping up Seattle’s Elysian a mere three months after the ink had dried on its deal to acquire 10 Barrel Brewing of Bend, Oregon. I suppose Elysian will have to quietly discontinue its Loser Pale Ale, or at least erase the “Corporate Beer Still Sucks” tagline from the packaging.

Less dramatic but no less significant, Andy Crouch’s article on Sam Adams registers Jim Koch’s amazement and displeasure that hipster millenials, concerned as they apparently are with “authenticity,” have abandoned the old-school pioneers of the craft beer scene, especially those erstwhile pioneers who head some of the largest American-owned breweries in the land. Crouch notes that Koch’s iconic beer brands have become so run-of-the-mill among thrill seekers that an increasing number of bars have opted not to sell the Boston Lager that was instrumental in floating the rising tide of craft beer.100-4032_IMG

Now, even if I’m not the biggest fan of many of the seventy-five-odd beers that Sam Adams has rolled out over the years –– Cherry Wheat cough syrup, anyone? –– I’d be the last person to suggest that we shouldn’t expand our gustatory horizons. But what concerns me, defender of lagers that I am, is the alacrity with which many a commenter discussing Crouch’s article dismisses Sam Adams on the basis of its ostensibly staid flagship lager. (To be sure, Sam Adams was not without its many defenders on the long list of comments to Crouch’s Boston Magazine article and on the even longer comment threads on BeerAdvocate.) One commenter expressed frustration with Boston Beer Company, the maker of Sam Adams, for putting so much marketing weight behind Boston Lager at the expense of the other beers in its vast portfolio. Another person who commented directly on Crouch’s article was more pointed: “To call Sam Adams Lager ‘exceptional’ is an impossible stretch of the imagination. Sure it’s better than Bud, but that’s like saying river water is better than ocean water.”

I have a suggestion.

Fellow imbibers-in-arms, let us stop this fruitless denigration of lager. Let us not be shy in asserting that subtlety and nuance can also be a mark of quality. Let us distinguish between quality and an indiscriminate taste for attributes such as bitterness, sourness, and hoppiness. And let us now praise lagers in all their yellow, amber, copper, black, dry, hoppy, sweet, and smoky glory.100-4036_IMGFor this edition of the Saturday Six-Pack, I’ll include six different lager styles and mix things up between the U.S. and Central Europe, but I’ll refrain from including some of the more compelling versions of Munich light lagers I’ve found in North America in today’s six-pack. You just won’t find them far beyond the precincts where they’re brewed. Two such beers, should you find yourself in Kansas City or Austin, are these: KC Bier Co.’s Munich Helles, and the Austin Beer Garden Brewing Company’s Hell Yes Munich light lager. Simplicity as sublimity.

On to it.

Pilsener: Hans’ Pils, Real Ale (Texas)

When people think of the long tradition of lager brewing in the U.S., chances are their first thoughts are of Milwaukee. There, German immigrants with names like Schlitz and Müller (Miller) unleashed a tide of then-fashionable lagers from the shores of Lake Michigan. Not to be forgotten, Texas, too, welcomed a large contingent of German immigrants in the nineteenth century.Real Ale - Hans Pils It should come as no surprise, then, that Texas is also home to innumerable lagers that aren’t called Shiner.

Hans’ Pils from Real Ale is but one fine example of the lagers that keep Texans cool during the humid summer months. As with any well-crafted Pilsener, this crisply spicy beer with its subterranean bready sweetness is not the kind of beer that calls forth a stream of descriptors. Marked by herbal hops and a mineral austerity, Hans’ Pils is less like the softly floral Pilsners of southern Germany, paying tribute instead to the bracingly dry Pilsners of northern Germany. Bonus points: Hans’ Pils took home a silver medal at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival.

Czech Dark Lager: Czechvar Dark Lager, Czechvar (Bohemia)

If you can appreciate the malty richness of a Munich Dunkel and the subtle smoky roast coffee character of a Schwarzbier, chances are you’ll enjoy Czechvar’s dry and hop-inflected interpretation of a style we don’t see that often on North American bottle shop shelves.Czechvar - DarkLager 6er Czechvar began exporting their dark lager across the Atlantic in 2012, so with any luck we’ll start seeing more Czech dark lager. Czechvar’s garnet-limned black beer glistens like onyx in the glass, and a whiff of smoke wreaths complex malt aromas of chocolate and walnut-like nuttiness. Taut and ascetic, the woody and earthy tones anchor dark fruit notes of prune, lending the typically floral-spicy Saaz hops a more brooding cast en route to a softly medicinal herbal licorice finish.

Vienna Lager: LTD Lager Series Vienna-Style Lager, Full Sail (Oregon)

The label of this, the fifth recipe in Full Sail’s LTD Lager Series, throws down the gauntlet for those who love amber ales, proclaiming that what’s in the bottle is “a Vienna-style Lager so crazy good, you might convert to Lagerism.” Full Sail’s on to something here with this emphatically malty beer.

One of the classic world beer styles, Vienna Lager was once at the forefront of a new breed of lighter-coloured beers when it was first introduced by brewing legend, Anton Dreher, in 1841. Vienna Lager gets its distinctive dark golden to amber-orange hue from the kilned malt bearing the same city name. Darker than British pale ale malt yet not quite as dark as Munich malt, the light kilning process brings out a toasty, slightly fruity sweetness that dries out in the finish.

These days, Vienna Lager is a rare bird indeed in any craft beer taxonomy. As Michael Jackson once quipped, “Like Vienna’s role as an imperial capital, its style of beer seems to have faded as abruptly as the last waltz” (Jackson, 1988, 192). An unfortunate state of affairs, this lack of popularity. Full Sail - LTD Vienna

Full Sail to the rescue. And full steam ahead at that, with a beverage rich in toasted bread and toffee, malted milk, malt ball candies, nougat, and subtle dried cherry notes, all undergirded by faintly perceptible earthy, musky noble hops. Despite its silky sweetness, Full Sail’s Vienna Lager still manages a relatively dry finish reminiscent of marmalade toast and dried apricot, thanks in part to the unobtrusive herbal-spicy hop component.

Schwarzbier: Black Bavarian-Style Lager, Sprecher (Wisconsin)

Sprecher has more than ably carried the torch of Milwaukee’s storied German lager past, and at a price so reasonable as to make many other craft beers look embarrassingly expensive. If you have friends who swear they don’t like dark beers because dark beers are “too heavy,” this ruby-tinted deep brown-black beverage is the perfect remedy to such intractable conditions.Sprecher - Black Lager Smoky dark-roasted malts with just a touch of coffee and dark chocolate meet earthy licorice and dark caramel in this crisply playful glass of good cheer. With its long, mildly smoky cherry-plum finish, you might find yourself in the mood to fire up your grill in the dead of winter.

Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen, Brauerei Heller (Bavaria)

If that tantalizing undercurrent of smokiness in Sprecher’s Schwarzbier has piqued your interest, you’ll be happy (or perhaps slightly disturbed) to learn that Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen ramps up the beechwood-smoked malt intensity to campfire levels. Smoked meat, bacon, and even aromas of smoked oysters appear front and center alongside a steely minerality. Who said lagers were boring? Inhale more deeply and the rich, toasty dark cherry calling card of Munich malt will leave no doubt that this is a well-crafted Märzen through and through.Aecht Schlenkerla - Maerzen II You’d be forgiven for thinking that a beer of such quixotic aromatic density would have the deftness of lead on the palate, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aecht Schlenkerla’s Märzen is clean and smooth, and a dash of minty eucalyptus hop flavours near the finish adds crispness to this already deep and complex beer. A true classic that every beer drinker should try at least once in his or her life.

Doppelbock: Korbinian, Weihenstephan (Bavaria)

Weihenstephan - KorbinianAll I’m going to say is that Doppelbocks are among my favourite beers, and Korbinian is one of my favourite Doppelbocks. Don’t drink this one cold, or it won’t be among your favourite beers.

* * *

So what ever became of that Sam Adams Boston Lager that touched off these musings? Grab one off the shelf and drink it alongside the other Vienna Lager in your six-pack. Sam Adams’ Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hop showcase really isn’t half bad at all, and its dry-hopped brightness relative to the Full Sail might even appeal to the hopheads in the crowd.

Related Tempest Articles

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

A Bavarian in Texas: Franconia Brewing Company

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

Images

With the exception of label images, photos by F.D. Hofer.

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

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

It’s that time of year again –– time to dust off your steins and head to your nearest purveyor of fine lagers to celebrate Craft Lager Day.

But where to go to find a decent lager outside of a well-stocked bottle shop? After all, not too many craft breweries outside of regions with historically high rates of German immigration feature lagers in their lineups. For starters, lagers suffer from an undeserved image problem on this continent. On top of that, lagers are notoriously difficult to brew. The clean fermentation profile of lager yeast leaves nowhere for faults to hide.KansasCity BierCo (Logo) And from a purely monetary perspective, lagers tie up fermenters for much longer than ales –– weeks if not months longer.

If you’re lucky enough to live in or near Kansas City, you may already have heard of Kansas City Bier Company. If you haven’t, make your way posthaste to the leafy southern precincts of the city for an afternoon or evening in this chic oasis of German-style food and beer. Don’t live in KC? Mark Kansas City Bier Company on your itinerary if you’ll be passing anywhere near Kansas over the holiday season and beyond. It’s that good.

Before we step into KCBC’s airy taproom, though, let’s pause to consider what distinguishes a lager from an ale. No worries if you don’t know – you’re not alone. According a the Samuel Adams infographic compiled for last year’s National Craft Lager Day (see below), sixty-three percent of Americans over the age of twenty-one do not know the difference between lager and ale.

Cold storage temperatures constitute part of the difference between lagers and ales. (The German verb “lagern” means to store.) Historically, this meant tucking barrels of beer away in frigid alpine caves to let the beer mature.IMG_1874 The other difference has to do with yeast, which, in turn, is related to fermentation and lagering temperatures. Isolated in the nineteenth century, Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly carlsbergensis) is the yeast that yields lager. These strains prefer cooler fermentation temperatures (5-13º C; 40-55º F), and the resulting beer requires a period of cold-conditioning. In comparison with their ale cousins, subtlety is a typical hallmark of good lagers. Notably, though, subtle does not mean “fizzy, yellow, and bland,” the majority of mass-produced lagers notwithstanding.

In the days before the tide of fizzy yellow liquid swept the globe, Bavaria was the center of lager production. As Horst Dornbusch asserts in his Prost! The Story of German Beer, “Bavarians are the world’s lager pioneers.” And indeed, when we think of the lagers ranging from Munich Helles, Dunkel, and Märzen to Bock, Doppelbock, Schwarzbier, and Rauchbier, all of these styles were perfected in Bavaria, even if some of them originated elsewhere. What unites these kinds of lagers is an emphasis on rich, bready, and sometimes sweet maltiness that sets them apart from crisper and hoppier lager siblings, the northern German Pils, Westhphalian Dortmunder Export, and Bohemian Pilsner.

Fortunately for the thirsty malt devotee who also happens to be fond of lagers, KCBC excels at virtually all of the Bavarian-inflected styles of lagers, with some well-crafted Weissbiers thrown in for good measure.IMG_1557 Not an IPA in sight here.

On that balmy Sunday afternoon in September when I stopped in for a meal of Bratwurst and German-style potato salad to accompany my beer, I met Jürgen Hager. Hager, a gregarious Bavarian, is one of the two principals behind Kansas City Bier Company. The delicious potato salad recipe is his mother’s. But Hager doesn’t brew the beers. That task falls to Steve Holle, Hager’s long-time friend and Kansas City native who studied German in college, fell in love with German beer, and eventually went on to learn the art of brewing in Germany. All the better for Kansas City that he decided to stake his reputation on these oft-neglected German styles of beer.

After a few more drinks and a tour of KCBC’s cavernous production facility, Hager confesses that American-style IPA is one of his favourite beers (delectable irony there). But he quickly adds that the beer of his hometown, Munich, holds a special place in his heart. So we’ll start our tasting with KCBC’s Munich Helles. Pale straw-yellow in colour, this richly bready beer evinces a graham cracker-like sweetness buttressed by a clean, crisp minerality. The delicately spicy-herbal hop presence is suggestive, by turns, of cedar and of muscat grapes. Exquisitely balanced.

As for their southern German-style Pils, the first line of my notes sums things up perfectly: “Crazy good!” What makes this beer so? Its lively spicy-floral hop character with but the slightest trace of rose, for one. Its slightest hint of malt sweetness, for another. Smoothly bitter, this effervescent Pils finishes with a harmonious interplay of fresh almonds, spice, and white raisins. Round yet crisp.

For those who like their lagers heavier, Kansas City Bier Company brews a heady Doppelbock that exudes enough complexity to switch any adjective addict into overdrive.IMG_1558 Rich, toasted bread crust, cocoa, caramelized sugar, creamy malted milk, and dark cherry and raisin-plum weave a colourful tapestry of aromas. The slightest trace of herbal tea-accented hops makes its presence felt from time to time, lending a hand to the toasty dark bread and brandy-like alcohol in their efforts to ensure that this otherwise tolerably sweet beer finishes relatively dry.

KCBC also brews a Festbier that took me right back to the leafy beer gardens of the Augustiner Bräustuben in Salzburg. Their divine Weizenbock is in the tradition of light-coloured, honey-accented Weizenbocks. KCBC uses Andechs yeast to brew a Hefeweizen of which they’re justifiably proud. And their mildly bitter Dunkel is redolent of fresh dark bread with a dusting of cocoa powder. All in all, Kansas City Bier Company is quite the ideal brewery for this lager advocate and writer of MaltHead Manifestos. Two Tankards.

Related Articles

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

The MaltHead Manifesto

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Odds and Ends

Yet another in a long line of “feast days” exalting this or that style of beer, National Craft Lager Day appears to have links with Sam Adams. No matter. Lager deserves more recognition. And besides, the folks at Sam Adams have rewarded us with this useful infographic.

Sam Adams CraftLagerDay Info 1

Images

With the exception of the Kansas City Bier Company logo and the Sam Adams infographic, all photos by F.D. Hofer.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

The MaltHead Manifesto

A spectre is haunting the craft beer world –– the spectre of Sir Maltalot. Laid low by a tsunami of IPA, the wild yeasts have set in to consume his legacy. Extreme beerists have entered into an unholy alliance with sharp-fanged sours, enlisting sturdy barrel-aged beers to confine Sir Maltalot within their cavernous depths. Buried under layer upon layer of rum, oak, bourbon, and peppers, his spirit lies in wait.

Like an illumination of the darkest night, the repressed memory of Sir Maltalot’s lush aromas has begun to stir. Lovers of Scotch Ales and Doppelbocks, aficionados of lagers light and dark, let us band together to fight for a craft beer world in which value is not measured by the bitterness unit,IMG_0152 in which a hundred IBUs does not automatically equate with one-hundred Beer Advocate points! A revaluation of values! A world in which brown ales are not cast aside for their seeming ordinariness!

Maltheads, conceal your views and aims for not a moment longer! Emerge from the shadows and proclaim with unfaltering voice your affinity for Munich malt, crystal malt, Maris Otter, Pilsener malt, and Golden Promise! And let the lovers of the Seven Cs tremble at the prospect of a Malthead revolution. Maltheads of the world, unite! Come together to break the bitter tyranny of the IBU imperium. We have nothing to lose but our scythes.

PostScript

Installment #94 of The Session comes to us courtesy of Adrian Dingle at DingsBeerBlog, and inquires after our perceived role in the beer scene. Friday took me by surprise,Session Friday - Logo 1 as did December in general, so I wanted to write something short that was playful yet pointed at the same time. Hence my Malthead Manifesto.

I love sitting down to a rich imperial stout (as a matter of fact, I’m drinking one with chilis as I write), and my fridge is stocked with Belgian sours, American wild ales, and all sorts of beers containing ingredients that would make the crafters of the Reinheitsgebot roll over in their graves. But I do think that some styles have gotten short shrift in recent years. Lager of just about all stripes springs immediately to mind, along with other styles that don’t push the proverbial envelope in any appreciable way.

Anyone care to join me for a glass of Munich Helles later?

High ABV, high IBU, intense sourness, and anything else “extreme”: these are the discursive markers that dominate the contemporary North American craft beer landscape. What’s more, these markers have become conflated with quality. (A glance at any of the “best-of” lists making the year-end rounds quickly bears this assertion out.) People new to the community enter a world of predetermined codes, a canon of taste that prescribes which beers are worthy of attention, and which ones aren’t.

Anyone up for grabbing a six-pack of brown ale this evening?

Aside from the pleasure I derive from writing about the stuff I like to drink, I suppose one of the main reasons I approach writing about beer in the manner I do is because I’d rather not see our choices diminished by powerful taste trends. There’s a certain irony here: Our current range of beverage choices in North America could not be more extensive, but with increasing competition for shelf space and tap lines, I’m wary of a consolidation that favours the dominant tastes I mentioned above. And I’m wary of perfectly good beer styles –– beer styles excellent in a subtle way that doesn’t call forth a cascade of adjectives to describe them –– being eclipsed by certain styles deemed “better” merely be virtue of having higher this and more intense that.

Maybe we can order a few pints of Scottish ale when we’re done with our English mild.

I drink with a catholic embrace. I drink wine, bourbon, Scotch, and tequila. And I drink saké. I even drink my share of IPA. Better yet, make it a double IPA. But when we’re in Berlin, let’s head to a pub in Neukölln instead of lining up at Stone’s new location.

The first round of Hefeweizen is on me.

Related Tempest Articles

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

Every Day Is Craft Lager Day at Kansas City Bier Company

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

Hefeweizen: A Beer for All Seasons

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

Becoming Munich Dunkel.

Becoming Munich Dunkel

With the exception of The Session logo, images by F.D. Hofer.

© 2014 F.D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.

Tempest Turns Nine Months Young: An Index of Writing to Date

Cue up all the old clichés about time’s swift passage, for it has been three-quarters of a year now since I posted my first article on A Tempest in a Tankard. Thanks for all the support over these past several months! I’ve learned plenty from all of your insightful comments.IMG_9931 I’ve also learned much just by traveling around to do the interviews and research for Tempest’s articles, to say nothing of the people I’ve met who have led some fascinating lives. No two brewers took the same journey to their brew kettles and fermenters.

On the occasion of Tempest’s nine-month birthday, I’m putting together an index of articles that I’ve written to date. I’ve decided to do this for a few reasons. First and foremost, I’d like to introduce newer readers of Tempest to some of the previous articles buried deep in the virtual archives of the blog.

Second, I don’t really write pieces that are “of the moment.” I’d like to think that much of what I write––brewery profiles, travelogues, recipes, reflections on craft beer and culture, beer evaluations––has utility beyond the few days after I post it. Blogs are sequential by nature, making navigation difficult even with the aid of the categories listed across the top of Tempest’s home page.IMG_0153 Pieces written months ago tend to get lost under the weight of a temporality that favours the most recent post.

Finally, I don’t usually write my serial posts sequentially, so an index will give me the opportunity to group series pieces together––and will give you the opportunity to read them as a series, if you so choose. With a few weeks left of summer travel, the regional spotlights and brewery profiles are particularly timely.

I’ll post this index in two installments. First on deck is a list of my articles on beer and culture, together with my regional spotlights. Next up: a list of my brewery profiles and beer reviews, along with recipes I’ve posted to date for those interested in cooking and food/beverage pairings.

If you haven’t already signed up to have A Tempest in a Tankard’s articles delivered via e-mail, please consider subscribing so you can read the articles as they’re posted. Cheers!

Reflections on Beer and Culture

Never the Twain Shall Meet?

My very first article for A Tempest in a Tankard, one that I posted when I had all of three regular visitors to the site. The article answers a provocation unleashed by another beer blogger on the occasion of a monthly beer writers’ forum called The Session. The question: “What the hell has America done to beer?, AKA, USA versus Old World Beer Culture.”

Celebration Time? Women in the Craft Beer World

Times, they are a changing, but the gender gap is still quite wide in the craft beer world, especially on the marketing end. I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time someone told me that women prefer fruity beers.

Drinking Lager in an Age of Extreme Taste

A few thoughts on how our taste is shaped by trends and tastemakers. I don’t mind hops, and Imperial Stouts are up there among my favourite beer styles. But by indulging our drive toward ever more intense and novel flavours, we have, perhaps, devalued more subtle beer styles in the process.

Terroir and the Making of Beer into Wine

Guest writer Kevin Goldberg’s insightful piece debunking the notion of terroir, which generated so much interesting discussion that I wasn’t able to confine my own response to the comments section of the article.

The following three articles approach the notion of place and locality from different angles. A fourth piece will appear at some point that redeems some elements of the notion of beer and place.

Of Isinglass and Other Fine Additives

This response to the “Food Babe’s” article on the “shocking” ingredients in beer is my most widely-read piece to date, likely because the issue of fish bladder in beer flares up at regular intervals on the interwebs.

Celebrating Craft Lager Day

As much as it is an article on a particular beer (Kapsreiter Landbier), it also represents a challenge to prevailing sentiments that sometimes confuse IBU levels with quality.

The Curiosity Cabinet

Donuts? Bacon? Ancient recipes? Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée features here, but expect other articles on beers in my curiosity cabinet in the coming months.

City and Regional Spotlights

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

This is a comprehensive series that you can take with you as you visit Austin. Break it down into parts, or read the series as a whole.

  • Part I––Brewpubs
  • Part II––Breweries. Saké, too.
  • Part III––Taprooms and Bottle Shops. Craft Pride and Sunrise Mini-Mart. ’Nuf said.
  • Part IV––Tempest’s Tankard Ratings and the Best Brews in Austin. The tankard system unveiled. You’ll see more of this in the future, much as I dislike ranking beers.

The Epic Stillwater to Vancouver Road Trip, Spring 2014:

  • Tempest Hits the Open Road: Dispatches from the Beerways of North America. Not much about beer, but the piece––one of my personal favourites––lays the groundwork for the rest of my Stillwater-Vancouver road trip this past April and May.
  • Wyoming––A Snapshot from a Moving Vehicle. Cheyenne kicks things off, followed by Coal Creek in Laramie.
  • Idaho and Montana––Of Roadtrips and Aleways. I’ve always been fascinated by the routes we travel. The “discovery” of this trip is Trickster’s Brewing in Coeur d’Alene. Missoula has plenty to offer, too, including Kettle House’s Cold Smoke Scotch Ale.

Gorges and Good Beer in Ithaca and Environs:

  • Part I: A brief history of the Ithaca area, followed by a visit to Ithaca’s oldest craft brewery.
  • Part II: Includes features of the newer faces on Ithaca’s craft beer scene: Bandwagon Brewpub, Hopshire, and Rogues’ Harbor.
  • Part III: A guide to some of the best craft beer watering holes and bottle shops in Ithaca.

IMG_1114

Images:

Capital Brewery (near Madison, WI): F.D. Hofer

Malted grain at FarmHouse Malt (Newark Valley, NY): F.D. Hofer

Hop bines and grape vines at Abandon Brewing Co. (Penn Yann, NY): F.D. Hofer

 

Celebrating Craft Lager Day with a Landbier from Kapsreiter

Grab your tankards and beer steins, folks, it’s National Craft Lager Day! Judging by what I could glean from the chatter circulating on the interwebs, this latest in the line of XYZ beer days appears to have been dreamt up by the marketing department of Sam Adams.

No matter. Lager deserves more respect than it gets on this continent where craft beer enthusiasts sometimes confuse IBU levels and high-octane ABV with quality. In the rush to embrace the newest discovery, or the boldest, most extreme rendition of a style, novice and veteran craft beer drinkers alike have a tendency to overlook the subtleties of lager. If you need convincing on this point, BeerAdvocate’s ongoing “Top 250” is a particularly instructive read, as are many of the “Best of” beer lists that appear with soporific regularity. It doesn’t help matters much either that lager suffers from an image problem of continental proportions owing to its association with Bud, Miller, and Coors.

The result? Lager gets left out in the cold.Ice Cold Beer

Bad puns aside, raise your hand if you know what distinguishes a lager from an ale. No worries if you don’t – you’re not alone. Yours truly used to consume all beers with equally gleeful abandon until relatively recently. And according to the Samuel Adams infographic compiled for National Craft Lager Day (see below), sixty-three percent of Americans over the age of twenty-one do not know the difference between lager and ale. (Thirty-seven percent apparently do. Not bad at all.)

Cold “lagering” temperatures constitute part of the difference between lagers and ales. “Lagern” in German means to store. Historically, this meant stowing beer away for a stretch in frigid alpine caves. The other difference has to do with yeast, which, in turn, is related to fermentation and lagering temperatures. Isolated in the nineteenth century, Saccharomyces pastorianus (formerly carlsbergensis) is the yeast that yields lager; Saccharomyces cervesiae is lager’s opposite number in the ale world. Lager yeast prefers cooler fermentation temperatures (5-13º C; 40-55º F), and requires a period of cold-conditioning. Thanks to the yeast and the longer process, lager is sometimes smooth, sometimes crisp, and nearly always clean-tasting if done well. Ale yeast prefers warmer temperatures (18-22º C; 64-72º F), and the resulting beer is ready to drink within a shorter period of time. Those fruity aromas reminiscent of dark cherry, plum, apple, pear, apricot, or dried fruit? That’s likely the particular strain of S. cerevisae yeast showing its character.

The takeaway: lagers are (usually) more subtle than their ale cousins. And subtle does not necessarily mean “fizzy, yellow, and bland,” the majority of mass-produced lagers notwithstanding.

To celebrate the “canonization” of lager with its very own feast day, I’m going to deliberately ignore the “national” modifier of Craft Lager Day to introduce you to a style of beer that doesn’t often wash up on these North American shores: Landbier (“country beer”). Landbier is an easy-drinking, everyday table beer that is hopped with a light hand. It comes in filtered or unfiltered versions, is often golden-yellow, and steps over to the dark side from time to time. ABV is in the modest 4.8%-5.3% range, making the beer a quaffable reward for a hard day’s work.

Kapsreiter Landbier hails from the Upper Austrian baroque frontier town of Schärding overlooking the Inn River. Kapsreiter Landbier CoasterThis country beer’s crystal-clear honey-golden colour hints at the toasty malt and nuanced honey sweetness within. Aromas of country bread, Swiss milk caramel, and fresh cream give way to earthy herbal-fennel accents suggestive of hops. Creamy and of medium body, the toasted malt and caramel interweave with nuts and mild earthy licorice, and a touch of apple carries through to the pleasant almond-apple finish. Balanced and harmonious, mildly hopped yet deceptively rich and satisfying, this is not a beverage that will hit you over the head. But at a manageable 5.3% ABV, it would make an agreeable picnic companion underneath the canopy of a chestnut tree on a breezy spring day. Drink this one cool but not cold, and think wistfully of April.

Sam Adams CraftLagerDay Info 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2013 F. D. Hofer and A Tempest in a Tankard. All Rights Reserved.