Sunday, February 10, 2008

More on Trends

So my last post: Swallowing Trends, I discussed the idea that due to hops shortages, extreme beers might be on the decline and with that might come a whole new wave of older or experimental beer styles to keep the "interesting-ness" trend flowing.

Well, Friday night, I spent another wonderful evening at The Gate, one of my most favorite beer bars in NYC (Keep a look out for one of my Pub Crawl beer bar reviews). There, I had another blast of beers that have not gotten much play in the past, but I think we are going to see more and more of them in the future.

First up, Maibock. I am having trouble recalling the name of the producer, but I am guessing that it was Ramstein, but I could be totally wrong on that. Maibock is bock that is usually brewed in May. They are dark lagers that are stronger in alcohol (Bock means strong in german) and stronger on the malt side as is typical with most german beers. My Maibock was a darker amber in color, but had an intense honey aftertaste to it. Delicious and still blows me away that German-style beers can get such complex, rich flavors without any adjuncts in the brewing process. Sorry for being a bit light on the details of the beer (Other than it was really good!), but with such a drinkable, but highly alcoholic pint in front of me, I tend to forget the details. Needless to say, really tasty and keep a look put this spring for any and all Maibocks.

Now, one beer that I did have and vividly remember was Brooklyn's Smoked Wezienbock. This style is similar to the Maibock in that both are bocks, which means darker and more alcohol, but that comparison can end right there. This is an AMAZING beer and anyone who has a chance, please order. You will not be disappointed. As I have said in the past, I am not a big breakfast person, but this beer epitomizes breakfast flavors. First up on the palette is the smokiness from the smoked malt. It is really meaty, like smoked bacon, meaty. Tasty! Quickly followed is the sweetness that was similar to the Maibock, but instead of the honey taste, the bananas and cloves that most weise beers are know for, kicks in. To me, this beer reminded me of banana and spiced pancakes, topped with smoked bacon and maple syrup drizzled over everything. I only had a half pint of this, which was the perfect amount. I think the Maibock was definitely more drinkable, but I have to hand it to the Brooklyn Brewery for not going to hog wild with the smokiness. More often than not, the smoke in beers overpowers both the palette and the rest of the flavors in the beer. This was not the case with Brooklyn's Smoked Weizenbock. Again, truly amazing beer.

Lastly, one thing hit me when I ordered my first beer that night. When writing my last post, I didn't take into consideration the wonders of cask ale. Cask ales provide a unique drinking experience and will defiantly attract the beer explorers, such as myself. The downside of this idea, which is rather major, is that more bars and more importantly restaurants will have to learn how to cellar and serve cask ale. As I said, it will be popular with the serious beer drinkers, although, I am curious if it will be as appealing to the more causal drinkers. Drinkers who might have been willing to tempt fate on an Expresso Imperial Stout, but might think otherwise on a flat (I say lightly carbonated), warm (I say more flavorful) beer.

As with most predictions about the future, most will be proven to be bunk and then there are few that get to say "See, told you so!". Which one will I be? Who cares, I am too busy enjoying Brooklyn's Smoked Weizenbock to care.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Swallowing Trends

Everything follows trends. Fashion, music, campaign slogans, and even something as geeky as web design. For any beer geek and even the casual beer explorer, you are probably aware that the hot style of beers have been the imperials. Imperial Russian stouts, Imperial Pilsners, and the mother of all Imperials, the Imperial India Pale Ale.

For those of you who don't really understand what it means for a beer to be imperial, here is the lowdown. Imperial beers are usually high in alcohol, which mean they have been made with more malt. The higher malt creates more sugar in the brewing process, which means more alcohol is produced in the fermenting process. WooHoo! But with that boost in sugar and without anything else, it will be too sweet of a brew. To balance out this sweetness, brewers add massive amounts of hops, beer's bittering element, and in the case of the Imperial IPA, they add an insane amount of hops. These are the qualities of all imperials, regardless of style.

The interesting thing about trends is that one thing can happen and derail it all. For imperials, that bump has happened. The key ingredient to make an imperial beer is hops. Without hops, an imperial becomes an out-of-balance sweet ale. Hops prices have sky rocketed due to poor crop seasons in the U.K. and eastern europe. The United States' crop production was average, but unfortunately there was a massive fire at a large warehouse and a portion of this years hop harvest burnt up. In addition, hop stockpiles usually are turned into extract for large commercial brewery stockpiles. It is believed that those stockpiles are gone. To make matters worse, much of land that once was cultivated for hop production has gone to more valuable and less fragile crops. As a homebrewer and the last in the long line of those requiring hops, I have seen prices on a few ounces of hops almost double and many are not even in stock. All in all, hops are scarce.

Does this mean that your favorite hoppy beer is is on the verge of extinction? Nope. Many brewers have contracts with farmers and will probably keep on brewing without a change in recipe. But I believe that brewers will be less likely to create a whole new line of beer that require massive amounts of hops. They will continue brewing their hoppy beers because they have built an expectation with their customers, but in the next few years don't expect as many newly developed beers that require lots of hops.

With the fall of thick gold chains came the rise of hammer pants. This too will happen with beer. Now, I am not usually the one that enjoys making predictions, but I think I might have an idea where brewers might stray with these low hop reserves. Beer drinkers have gotten used to these interesting beers that challenge their palette and if brewers don't have hops then they are going to have to create something else to grab our taste buds.

There are two possible avenues I see brewers taking. One is barrel conditioning. I have already begun to see an influx of porters, stouts and other ales conditioned in used wine, wiskey, bourbon and even sake casks. They impart oakiness, vanilla, burnt carmeliness and the most interesting, a sharp sour twang. The sourness is usually imparted thru a yeast strain called Brettanomyces. Typically, this strain of yeast is not a good thing to see in your beer, but when used on purpose, the beer can get interesting. The yeast is already living within the barrel as red wine makers like to use it in low levels to help develop complexity and an aged character. All I know is that it can do some funky stuff with beer and I like it.

The other path that I see breweries following is digging deep into their recipe chest and pulling out their oldies, but goodies. There are many styles of beer that do not get much play today. I have already discussed the Berliner-weisse; then there is the Rauchbier, a smoked malt beer; the Alt, german for old and has a big malt taste; Saison, a crisp french farmhouse ale; or maybe Bier De Garde, another french ale but more malty than the Saison. All of these beers play more with grain and yeast rather than with hops.

These older styles are more likely a short term fix while the other stuff is aging in old barrels. Or maybe we will see a mixture of these old styles of beer conditioned in the oak barrels. I could easily see a Gueuze Lambic, a spontaneously fermented wheat ale, conditioned in an old Pinot Noir barrel.

While some may not be as excited about my Pinot Lambic as they are about an imperial coffee stout, one thing for sure is that when ingredients go scarce, the chefs begin to cook with what they have. For me, as long as it keeps my interests peaked and something other than a bud in my hand, I will be happy.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Propagating Culture Via Propagating Yeast

When I decided to start this beer blog, I titled it 7000 years to remind myself that I am part of a culture that has lasted and endured much. Thru this blog, I get to add my bit to one of the few aspects of our species' culture that survived the evolution from nomadic tribes. The one thing that I did not consider when settling on my title was how fragile that culture can be. The development of one's culture is not necessarily an additive process, but elements within the culture can be setback and even lost. But sometimes, when a tradition, knowledge, or skill begins to fade, something sparks and re-ignites it. This is what has happened to beer. It has happened probably more times than we can tell, but it has happened in a major way in the last few hundred years in our own back yard.

Imagine a restaurant/inn in a small sleepy town in VT that makes its own beer for traveling customers. Now, what is the setting that springs to mind? Is it colonial times? Modern day? Both are believable. During colonial era importing beer from far away was not an option due to spoilage. It also provided health benefits. No known pathogens can survive in beer, which made it an ideal thirst quencher when wary of unknown water sources. Fast forward to today, the U.S. has so many options that people seek even more choices. In a world of thousands of commercially made beers, people begin to desire the homemade. It is like eating out for months, an urge for a home cooked meal begins to swell. Oddly enough, this abundance of variety makes a brewpub's beer a damn special option due to its authentic nature. You know it was handcrafted because you are dining a few feet from where it was made.

So where am I going with this? We had inns that serve beer then and now. Big deal? It is, actualy. In the years separating colonial times and now, a lot happened (duh.). This part of our culture was almost lost, but not at the fault of one catastrophic event, rather many would pave the way. For example, during World War I, there was a large anti-German sentiment, which caused German owned breweries, the majority, to take a financial hit due to boycotts. There has been prohibition which effectively killed off most small breweries in the states. Then along came the scientific era, which brought about massive changes to the way we manufactured and delivered material and food which influenced the method in which beer was made. This was one more stumbling block for the surviving smaller breweries, who could not afford this new way of life and competition. The Second World War left a large female population at home as well as a rationed crop. This lead to the increase in usage of adjuncts like corn and rice, which created a lighter, less flavorful beer. A lighter beer was perfect for business because it was more palatable to the new female work force and cost less than the original formula. All of these events caused a booming American beer culture to dwindle from thousands of small breweries producing local, authentic and varied styles to the few, light, flavorless lagers millions of Americans drink today. This overwhelming popularity of lighter beer have now begun to alter European recipes that have been around for centuries. It is an endless domino effect.

In the mid-70's to early 80's, the American beer culture was in a sad state of affairs. 80 breweries were making beer for only 51 Brewing companies and it was almost all the same style and flavor profile. As nature tends to do, whenever an environment is off balance, some mechanism is tripped to restore the balance. Beer's purging fire was the homebrewing revolution. It eventually sparked thousands of small breweries all producing their own takes on a wide variety of beers, which filled a much need gap in the marketplace. To date, the swell has caused so much stir, that the major companies have realized that this is a growing sector and they, too, need to get back in the trenches and compete with these small creative producers. Today, almost 30 years later, it is a great time to be a beer drinker.

So what is the point of the history lesson? The point was to share with you how it is possible to loose part of your culture. The frailty of one's culture struck me while watching and episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. The episode was in Hong Kong and they were watching a man prepare noodles using a technique that was on its death bed. No more bamboo pressed noodles will ever be made in Hong Kong after this guy dies. I immediately thought of beer and loosing the technique to make a quality malt beverage. While at first, I thought "Good thing that won't happen", but then I thought about the above history lesson and realized that while we were not down to the only quality brewer in the world, we were veering way off course. Sad, but true.

I think what I am trying to say is, pick something that you get passionate about and think of a world that, for one reason or another, its traces have vanished from your life. It is important to think in terms like this because it happens. It has happened in the past and it will happen in the future. If you really care, do something to stop it. The most frustrating thing about that Bourdain episode was these two huge foodies, shrugging their shoulders at centuries of tradition going down the shitter. Nothing to do, but to point at culture circling the bowl with dispair. For me, I drink, I read, I write, and most importantly, I create. I am a homebrewer and should we veer off course again, I will have a homebrew in hand to keep me happy and that is a comforting thought.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Ok, I suck...

It has been far too long. I have not posted anything since September. This means, I officially suck. See, I even tagged this post as a reminder of how much I suck. Every time that too much time passes sans post, you will see that number in the tag increase by 1.

But in my defense, I have been working my ass off on my new web design portfolio site. 100% hand coded html, css, javascript and all W3C compliant. Oh and it has pretty design work on it, too. For those of you who didn't understand any of that tech gibberish, just know that it was a lot of hard work and late nights. So go check it out!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Confessions of a Recovering Extreme Beer Drinker

Ok, I admit it. I am in remission. I have been an extreme beer drinker for sometime. Double Wit ale? Sure, never had that before (sorta hard to finish a pint). If there is a a double IPA cask conditioned in Pinot Noir oak barrels on a pull cask, serve it up please. I think you get the point.

In my defense, I think NYC has something to do with it. Things in this city are never enough. You get used to this lifestyle that is so fast past that is constantly striving for more and more. NYC is a distilled version of that good old American ingenuity and determination. Get 2 weeks of work done in a day? Sure thing, bye-bye life & so long friends! Could ya stuff 30 different flavors into one beer and make sure its 14% alcohol? Make it a pint while your are at it. I am a busy person, I don't have 6 hrs to kill in a pub downing endless pints of bitter. I need my fix and I want it fancy (Is this another symptom of NYC dwelling?). Extreme urban living and beer drinking go hand in hand.

But as I said, I am recovering. I have had it with cramming as much as possible into my life. I am tired of pushing myself to consume any edgy type of beer. If I don't slow down at times, I am going to come away with a really shitty taste in my mouth.

In an attempt to at least address some of this. I have been drawn more towards the more mundane, yet drinkable beers. My brewing guru Mark, or Harvey as he is know in his brewing circles, likes to brew very classic and easily drinkable beers. Go out to a bar with him and you will soon find out why. Let's just say, taunts of being a pussy and having to make up for lapped sessions have something to do with it. While I haven't strayed as far as Mark, I have been enjoying the simpler side of life.

So here are a few beers that I have been enjoying lately. All of them are local and cheap:

Southampton Secret Ale - $6.80 for a 6 pack

This is the first beer I have had from Southampton. I didn't know what to expect from such a cheap beer. I was damn happy that I didn't stress out about having to find the perfect beer. I took the chance and all was good (In the end, it still is beer. How could you go wrong?). The Secret Ale is an Alt, meaning "Old" is a well balanced brown ale with a smooth malt backbone. Not too hoppy and damn drinkable. This totally hit the spot on a hot night and I consumed the six pack within a week. Really tasty, easy to drink, and hands downs a super deal.

Ithaca Nut Brown - $7.50 for a sixer

I like Ithica. They walk on the wild side too, as I mentioned in my 1st post. But, thankfully, they know how to build a easy, drinkable beer. This one is a nice strong malt ale that is a little lighter on on the hoppy, crisp bite but damn does it have a nutty aftertaste. It is a great beer to drink with a variety of cheese. If you enjoy a nutty cheese or cheese and nuts, grab a six pack of this beer and play with your favorite cheeses. Maybe a nuttier cheese will diminish the nuttiness of the beer or vice versa. I dunno. Relax, drink this beer and eat some good cheese. I am sure it will be great either way!

Brooklyn Pilsner $8~9 depending if you plan ahead or take it easy and pay a few extra by grabbing it at a bodega

For some reason, this beer from Brooklyn always gets lost between the Brooklyn lager and the Brooklyn Weisse. It has great dry, crisp malt flavor to it with a touch of honey oat-i-ness to it. Makes me think of breakfast cereal, but beer, which in my world is a great thing. Plus, it is really tasty cold on a hot day. Pick it up or order it at a bar, it is worth a try.

So, take a moment from the hurly burly that is NYC. And if you are like me, take a break from the crazy beers as well. Sit back, pop open a few of these easy, tasty, but cheap, local beers, and cool down on one of these last summer nights. And if you want, relax a bit more by sticking the tips of your fingers down the front of your pants, Bundy-style. No one's lookin' and if they are... whatever.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

NKOTB - Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, just Festina Peche

OK, so what does Joey from New Kids on the Block have to do with my blog about beer? Other than another reason for everyone to question my sexuality, not a damn thing! You just read my acronym and jumped to an incorrect conclusion. NKOTB, or New Kind of Tight Beer, is going to be a reoccurring post that talk about new and tight (that's right TIGHT, I could have gone with terrific, but com'on) beer that I just drank. This time I will be talking about Dogfish Head's new Festina Peshe!

The First time that I tried Festina Peche, I thought I was drinking a peach flavored Wit ale. It was at the Extreme Beer Fest in Boston and maybe it was all that we had to drink that day or the flavor intense beers, but I swear it was a Wit ale. But I was wrong. It is actually a Berlinerweisse and to be even more specific, it is a "Neo-Berlinerweisse", so says Dogfish Head. That makes this beer even cooler.

So what is a Berlinerweisse? It is one of those beer styles, such as Rauchbier, that used to be popular, but are no longer. Berlinerweisse is a typical Weisse, an unfiltered wheat beer, except that is tart due to the lactic acid used in fermentation. In order to balance this sourness, it is typically served with a shot of raspberry, lemon, or woodruff syrup. The syrup flavors as well as colors the beer depending on which shot was added. The style's low alcohol, around 2.8%, mixed with the crisp effervescent action and a shot of sweet syrup make it a really easy drink to slug down on a hot day. According to Dogfish Head, there are only a few places left in Berlin that still make this style and that is down from over 70 breweries at one point. Another sad reminder that this beer is on the endangered species list.

Luckily for us, Dogfish Head is trying to pump some life back in to it with their Neo-Berlinerweisse. So what makes it "Neo"? My belief is that they couldn't sell a bottle and a shot of syrup, so they had to figure out a way to incorporate the syrup right into the brewing process. They added some peach juice into the fermenter and poof, a Neo-Berlinerwiesse was born. It isn't exactly the same as a Berlinerweisse as it doesn't have a shot of syrup (duh) and its alcohol comes in at 4.5 percent, but it follows the other characteristics pretty well. It is perfect for a light meal that could use a bit of citrus or vinegar to add some zest. I don't even eat fish and the first food paring that popped into my head was a simple fish dish. It would even work flying solo on a hot humid day. A perfect midsummer drink. Now if Bierkraft can only keep it on tap all summer long.

For you brooklyn based beer lovers, I urge you to go pick up a growler at Bierkraft and give this one a whirl. After one taste, you too will be singing along with NKOTB: New Kind of Tight Beer.


Friday, May 4, 2007

The Gateway Beers

I believe that the five most wonderful words in the English language are "Would you like a beer?". But there is a yang to this yin. A horrible concoction of verbal nastiness that is like a piercing sound that only beer geeks can hear and feel as it crawl up their spine no matter where they stand: "No, I don't like beer.". It gives me the shivers to even think about it. For those of you out there that didn't feel it rattle your soul, it probably means you have said this phrase at some point, and if so, then this post is for you.

I am not a beer snob that believes that if you don't worship beer, then there is something wrong with you. I like to think of myself as a beer therapist, a beer counselor, or that matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof, but for beer. What I am saying is that if you don't like beer, that's fine. But maybe it isn't that you don't like beer, but rather that you just haven't met the right beer yet. That is exactly what this post is all about, walking you or your no-beer-drinking friend thru a few beers that could help them see that there is more to beer than Corona.
**Side note:
I am not saying that these are the best beers ever, but I am saying that these are easy beers for the non-beer drinker to find, enjoy, and possibly get hooked on. This post is not for reader who, while reading, will think, "Shit, these aren't interesting beers." because if you know them, you are into beer. **

Believe it or not, but I used to not like beer. Granted, most of what I knew was the piss American lager from The Big Three, but for me, this first beer was like a first toke on a crack pipe. After one pint, I was hooked on beer.

Brooklyn's Weisse
The thing that shocked me about this beer was that it didn't taste like beer, or at least the beer that I knew. For you newbies, unlike a bud, when you pour it into your glass (if you were served with a lemon, don't squeeze it just yet), stick your nose in and take in the beer's aroma. What do you smell? Probably, the first thing you will notice is the sweeter, fruitier scents. Take a sip. For me, I am hit with bananas and clove. Maybe a bit of citrus and some breadiness, but overall a smooth beer with light bubbles that nip at your tongue that accentuates the zeztiness of the beer. Now ask yourself, is this like any other beer you have had? If you want to, go ahead and squeeze in that lemon. Take another sip.

You have just experienced what is called a Hefeweisen, a German style beer that means Wheat with yeast. The cloudiness within that orange wheat beer is yeast. The style is normally unfiltered. Don't worry, it isn't bad for you. It actually adds some of the flavors in the beer. Many brewers make this style of beer, esp German breweries, and is a perfect beer to drink on a hot summer day.

Unibroue Éphémère Apple
This Ale proves that Canada has more up its sleeve than Labatt's Blue, a beer that once again proves that Canadians have just as bad taste as American.
Éphémère's style is called a fruit beer. It is similar to the Brooklyn's Weise in that it is a light, fizzy beer that is wonderful on a summer day, save one aspect. Fruit! It is teaming with flavors of spiced Grannysmith apples, a slight hint of crisp pear and a touch of coriander. You could compare it to a cider, but it is really all ale.

Unibroque makes other fruit beers that fall under their Éphémère label, such as cranberry, peach, cassis, and framboise (raspberry). Belgian brews, like Éphémère, have a unique sub-style called Lambic entirely dedicated to the use of fruit and wild yeast. Many other breweries experiment with fruit/beer combinations, such as Dogfish Head's Peach and champagne-like whit ale Festina Peshe ( I am really excited to start drinking this beer this summer!)

For you men who are fearful that all the beers on this list are going to be "Girl beers", this one is for you. I have already discussed Bitter in an earlier post and how it is a great beer for non-beer drinkers and experienced beer drinkers alike to start exploring. It is light, crisp, and don't let the name fool you, it ain't that biter. There is a wide array of Bitters, everything from light crisp style to an almost apple cider like beer. For the whole rundown on Bitters, read the post: Know Your Beer: Bitter.

OK, last "Girly Beer":

Hoegaarden (Pronounced 'Who-Gar-Den')
What can I say. This beer is super easy to find in New York and many other places. It is another Whit ale and has a unique flavor provided by the brewery's use of coriander and dried Curaçao orange peel. It has a very light flavor and like the Hefeweisen is unfiltered and typically served with a lemon. I like it cause it is simple, refreshing and really easy to find in NYC. Almost all midtown bars have the standard 3 imports: Bass, Guinness, Stella, and many of them rebound this list of monotony by offering Hoegaarden. So for you adventurous types who want to throw caution to the wind and break into beer, this one can be found all over the place and is worth a try.

An interesting side story about Hoegaarden: It was started like many other breweries are started, by one passionate man with a vision, but it ended, at least for him, on a sad note. The brewery caught fire in the mid 80s and a few other breweries pitched in to "help" him out. InBev, the largest beer company in the world, loaned them the money for the repairs. Once they were back up and running, InBev then leaned on Hoegaarden's founder to change his recipe to give it a broader appeal. The owner decided it was time to sever his ties with the brewery as he no longer had true control over the product. Sadly, the beer that you try today is this altered recipe and is owned and controlled by InBev. The founder moved to Texas to found another brewery to keep the original recipe alive. Making a woeful tale even bluer, his new brewery was also consumed by a major megabrewery, this time it was Miller. The true original recipe can be found thru a few small breweries in Belgium.

While this list is in no way a complete list of all the beers I would suggest, it is comprised of some beers that will intrigue new comers and are easy to spot in NYC. So, break the habit of saying No to beer and remember, at one point in time, I, too, had no interest in beers. But after a few pints of gateway beers such as these, I was a changed man and a few (thousand) pints after that, I was hooked in a real bad way. Here's hoping that even if you don't get hooked, you will at least find some beer that you can enjoy. And when that day happens, I can stop shivering every time someone, somewhere says "No, I don't li...." Sorry, I really can't say this awful phrase twice in one post. It hurts too much.