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. 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, 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. 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. 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.
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.