Tag Archives: malthead

The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments: A Warming Beer for Winter Evenings

The last autumn leaves cling to the trees, holding out against the onslaught of wind and the first snowflakes of the season. A dense fog shrouds Vienna’s church spires in mystery. Night has descended, and the last faint warmth of the day has long since faded. I cut through the park and pause at the side of a partially frozen pond where a few ducks seem to be wishing they had followed the geese south. Spring is a long way off, I think to myself, and make for home where a warming drink of malty goodness awaits.

***

The Lost Abbey brews just the kind of hearty, Belgian-inspired beer that is the perfect antidote to a frosty early winter’s eve. As the story goes, Vince Marsaglia, owner of Pizza Port Brewing and co-founder of The Lost Abbey, took a shine to the divinely rich abbey beers of Belgium but lacked an abbey in which to brew (as most of us do). Thus was born the notion of the “lost” abbey. But the concept was destined to wander endlessly in the wilderness for wont of a brewer who could conjure up these otherworldly Belgian-style elixirs. Enter Tomme Arthur, one of North America’s more famous brewers. After several years with Pizza Port, Arthur set to work with Marsaglia in 2006 to lay the metaphorical foundation stones of The Lost Abbey in a facility that Stone Brewing Company had outgrown.

The results of their efforts lean heavily in the direction of malt-forward, age-worthy beers fit for evenings of contemplation or good cheer. Avowed malthead that I am, it’s rather fitting that I’m celebrating three years of Tempest with a beer from a brewery that is celebrating a decade since opening.

***

Back in late September I stopped off at one of Vienna’s best-stocked beer shops, BeerLovers, to pick up a nice bottle in anticipation of Tempest’s three years. After my customary conversation with a few of the staff members, it was past closing time. To my pleasant surprise, I spied something from The Lost Abbey: a 2014 vintage of 10 Commandments. I gathered it up with the rest of my hastily selected beers for the weekend, and headed off into the evening.

At 12% ABV, Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments is a prodigious farmhouse-style ale brewed with honey, raisins, and rosemary. Tomme Arthur notes that orange peel makes a cameo appearance, as does a splash of Brettanomyces at packaging. Not only that: the raisins get the flame treatment to further caramelize the sugars.

Darkly hued, this copper libation with mahogany highlights hints at the tapestry of malt spread out beneath the dark pecan-brown collar of foam. And then comes the cascade of aromas and flavours: a pleasant jumble of sensory associations wrapped up with memories of getting to know good beer with good friends. A swirl of Ovaltine, Swiss milk caramel, and caramelized brown sugar welcomes the Slivovitz plum fairy bringing gifts of Belgian chocolate. Lots of chocolate. Fresh chocolate-spiked cream melding seamlessly with chocolate almonds, cocoa-dusted ganache, caramilk chocolate, and bourbon vanilla bean. Chocolate liqueur that’s been aged in a rum barrel. And rum-raisin to spare, with hints of hazelnut and Black Forest cherry cake.

Those are just my first impressions.

I’m transported back in time to a Nepalese tea hut on the crest of a mountain pass in the Annapurna region, warming myself by the fire after the long day’s trek. Winter nights spent sheltering from the wind and snow, with something to lift my spirits. “Spiritual,” even if the beer’s warming alcohol isn’t yet in spirit territory.

Licorice rounds out a touch of earthiness reminiscent of aged saké. Dried fruit, but elegantly so––perhaps even with a hint of earthy “leather” that I find so beguiling in certain red wines. Plum on the nose, but also prune in the finish. Honeyed dried Calmyra figs meet rum-soaked plums. Warming alcohol, but never hot. Creamy, full-bodied, and richly complex. In short, something new with each sniff and each sip. And worth every penny. Three Tankards

***

With two years of age on The Lost Abbey’s 10 Commandments, the rosemary is more of a suggestion than anything else. (In fact, I probably wouldn’t have guessed that it was there if it weren’t written on the label.) That’s just fine: It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a beer brewed with rosemary in which this assertive herb overpowers everything else. The Brettanomyces is also very subdued, expressing itself, I’d hazard to guess, in the beer’s earthy notes.

As for the “10 Commandments” listed on the back of the bottle? They read more like a cross between a credo and a set of maxims rather than a series of imperatives and prohibitions. But earnest maxims they are, with integrity, honesty, passion, and inspiration prominent on the list. Number 4 is particularly salient in our contemporary craft beer moment that fetishizes freshness above all else: “Fresh beer is great. Aged beer is better.” I’ll drink to that.

Related Tempest Articles

Craft Beer at Time’s Precipice: Cellaring Tips

The MaltHead Manifesto

Winter Nights and Warming Barleywines from Sussex, Texas, and Québec

Images

Vienna City Hall by F.D. Hofer, 10 Commandments bottle from The Lost Abbey website, and BeerLovers logo from their website.

*If you visit Vienna, be sure to check out BeerLovers’ exceptional selection of beers.

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

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.

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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.

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.