The Meaning Of Beer

As someone who has been writing about beer for a very long time, it is suffice to say I have sampled thousands of different beers. How strange it seems now, that at one time, my enthusiasm for this beloved ancient beverage made me appear as the odd duck out, when brews like Miller Lite and Bud Light were the rage of my peers. And this was before Corona became the yuppie lager du jour, at $25 a case at the time. So I am not all that surprised when I read pronouncements that IPA Is Here To Stay, as if it, or any other trend, decides what is relevant to an individual’s palate.

I must admit that the snob aspect of the craft beert movement becomes tiresome and distasteful. Those who are fortunate to have sufficient income that they do not mind plucking down $10 to $20 for a six pack, or a 22 ounce bomber (a description quite accurate, when it comes to something like Stone Double Bastard Ale). But some of those same folks become quite dismissive of the millions of beer drinkers who are not interested in participating in their consumerist tribalism.

This has also lead to being dismissive of some great beers because a particular style does not meet the requirements of the latest trend. Take Samuel Adams Boston LagerSamual-Adams-Boston-LagerA world class example of the Vienna amber style that is often written off by not being hoppy enough. How bloodty silly is that?

It is amusing that some beer writers justify their enthusiasm by pointing out that sales of craft beer (oh that term again) are increasing; as if market share determines the validity of these upscale products. But isn’t that the same concern of those evil big corporate brewers? A recent example comes to mind:
An article about the Molson Canadian Beer Fridge, which uses Google speech recognition software to translate the phrase I am Canadian in forty different languages, in order for the fridge to open. A marketing scheme for the upcoming Pan Amereican games that the writer Darrell Etherington, adds his own bit of snark:

“Of course, this is an unabashed marketing ploy from tip to toe, but it’s a well executed one, and I find myself swelling with patriotic feels despite myself… Molson Canadian is still terrible beer, however.”

Etherington’s opinion that Molsdon Canadian is terrible beer, is simply that. I prefer what David Kenning said in Beers Of The World, that Molson “served cold, its taste is crisp, modern and extremely refreshing.”

Another Shout If You Please

Moving towards the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, the season of summer brew is in full sswing. Take for example Twilight Summer Ale from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OregonTwilight-Lable. This is a rather lively, bottle conditioned ale. It reveals that a brewery started over 25 years ago, knows something about the use of hops that many hop-slaming upstarts do not seem to grasp. The careful use of Northern Brewer, Cascade,Tettnang. and most importantly, Amarillo hops, make this a very pleasant tasting experience. Well balanced with the malts, the hops selection collaborates in a refreshing dry finish.
Drink this fresh as possible, the bottle conditioning is for keeping the delicious flavor intact, not designed for cellaring.

One of the more unsual contributions to this season is Southern Tier Brewing’s Compassind_bp_compass A spring into summer seasonal, Compass is a 9% ale that uses rose hips in the brew kettle and is bottle conditioned. I was given this undecanted, so brewers yeast was floating about. No matter. Despite its so-called very big bitterness, I found this tasty and elegant, with nothing boozy in the palate. Listed as a sparkling ale, I was reminded slightly of Thos. Cooper & Sons Sparkling Ale from Australia. Unusual, but quite good.

Searching Kentucky Common and Other Adventures

The geography of beer production has always captured my attention. So it was quite a moment for me to visit the new brewery which has opened in my own neighborhood of Northside (also long ago known as Helltown) in what was once the St. Patrick Church and School, built in 1873. I will not trouble the dear reader with all of the history I have with this place, accept to say I was delighted to see this ancient part of local history rededicated as a brewing site.

It was also a joy to see that the Urban Artifact Brewery is also the Wednsday night home for The Blue Wisp Big Band, the large ensemble of the closed Blue Wisp Jazz Club.

What brought me to the Urban Artifact that Wednesday, was that I was hoping to try their take on a long lost style style of ale that was very popular in Louisville, Kentucky before prohibition. Made with usually 30% corn, it was first mentioned in the American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Associated Trades in 1902, and was said to be the drink of the “labouring classes”.
Well, the short of it was, they did not have any. The opening batch produced sold out and I was told by Scott Hunter, chief of strategic development, that they hoped to have a new supply by August.

Since I was already there, I decided to try what was available. An exotic sampler to be sure, that included the pre-reinheitsgetbot style of Gose which uses corriander and salt, a Berliner Weisse style (and yes there were flavoring syrups available) and a brown ale, also in coffee and nitro versions.

Sampling some of these beers, I was reminded of what seems a countless number of small brewery tap rooms, where beer is the focus above all. In this case, the obscure exoticism of these styles seemed somewhat startling, in a city that was built on Hudepohl. I joked to the very amiable Scott Hunter that I thought about growing hops in my backyard beer garden, which I could sell to Urban Artifact. Wishful, blissful, dreaming yes, but my how the geography of beer has become local. I told Mr. Hunter of a famous cafe in Northside, where at one time the only beer they sold was made locally. Only local, as they use to say at the bar, only local.

There Is Always Good Beer Along The Way

lKolschBottleOne of the truly outstanding artisan creations brewed in the United States, Schlafly Kolsch perfectly hits its mark. Perhaps its because they are using a yeast strain from the Gaffel Brewery in Koln, Germany. Thankfully this wonderful beer is available year round.
Ellies_Badge200 The malty delights of Ellie’s Brown Ale from Avery Brewing speak for themselves. I am just glad that brown ale as a brewing style has not disappeared.
5grassCombining Latin American culture with Aztec mythology, the 5 Rabbitt Cerveceria of Bedford Park, Illinois, produces this 5 Grass Hoppy Ale, an unusual tribute to flavor complexity, this recipe uses 2 kinds of sage, along with rosemary and Tasmanian pepperberry . All brewed with newport pacific jade and pilgrim hops. Vienna and dark malts combined with caramel and wheat. This is also a tribute to surprisingly subtle flavors, enormously drinkable.

A Guide To Value Beer

So much is written about the latest craft (that silly word again) brewed creations, from an upstart brewery. Understandably in their zeal to indent their brand presence in the very competitive market, they sometimes appear to have reinvented the wheel, at least to themselves and their devoted followers. But very little is written about that marketing tier that distributors call value beers, or to put it more bluntly, beers for people who do not have much money.
This is one of the blessings and curses of the beer world extending its reach through the Internet. A kind of consumerist tribalism has broken out that completely ignores the economic realities facing a significant portion of Americans who simply can not afford expensive artisan creations.
There is very little song for the common people in the beer world being created by the millennial generation. Even the expansion of market share for craft brewed creations, so highly touted, does not address the fact that those mainstream adjunct beers so demonized by their craft beer brethren have become quite expensive, in light of global consolidation. This becomes a challenge for the millions of low paid workers who are thirsty at the end of a day, and can not find comfort in quenching that thirst with those high fructose corn syrup creations known as soda pop. So in this guide to value beer, I have concentrated on the beers considered to be value beers and not such famous names as Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, or that famous American diet beer known as Miller Lite.

Genesee Cream Alegennycream An inexpensive hybrid style that decades ago won a gold medal at the Great American Beer festival. Rochester, New York’s most famous brand.
Milwaukee’s Best Icemilwaukee's best ice Affectionately referred to as “the beast” by construction workers. This is one of those boring recipes that will never go away.
Busch Beerbusch-beer-logoThe budget beer from Budweiser that uses corn in the recipe. This beloved swill of millions has seen a price increase due to A-B InBev consolidation.
Miller High Lifemiller-high-lifeBritish beer writer David Kenning described this as “soft, sweet, malty aromas on the nose” and “slightly creamy texture on the palate balanced with a moderate hop bitterness”. Other than the beloved television ads produced with the late Windell Middlebrooks. This once flagship brand has become almost an afterthought in SAB-Miller marketing plans.
Hudepohl Amber LagerHudepohl0511Probably the best value at $1 a 16 ounce can. This is the only all malt recipe available in value beer. A throwback to an earlier time, producing the kind of lager that was made before adjunct grains

Confessions Of An Ancient Malt Enthusiast

First to some good news on the macro beer front. Newcastle Brown Ale will no longer be brewed using caramel color. Removal of 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, is Heineken Brewing’s way to address the health concerns over this chemical. So instead of a chemical enhancement, Newcastle will now be a brown ale whose color is achieved through careful roasting of malts. Fancy that.
Winter in the Midwest, like much of the United States, has been especially brutal this year. As someone who has found the comfort of malts to be most certainly in order for this time of year, I found myself in somewhat of a conflict with all the sessionable IPA making the rounds. The question is, why in the world would I want to drink bitter beer when it is already bitter cold? But that did not stop me from trying to understand.
To start things off, there is this beer that sounds like an invention of Lewis Carrol:

Smutttynose Bouncy House IPABeer-Hero-410x410-BHI A session IPA (at 4.4%) that is slated to be the all occasion American ale. Which I guess is true if you like hop-forward beer all the time. But at $10 for 6 bottles that session is going to be removed from the value beer category, which traditionally was what slamming a few beers was all about. Getting you to drink more beer is what all breweries have in common. Responsibly they say, but still more.
The corporate schizophrenia of global A-B InBev is a prime example. Now television sports viewers are told that Budweiser’s golden suds are “brewed the hard way”, not for fussy peach pumpkin ale drinkers, but for people who like to drink beer (the slammer, also known as, the pounder, etc.) And there is little need to detail their forays into the so-called craft arena. Of more interest to me was the introduction of Busch Signature Copper Lagerbeer_249933 to the value beer tier. Oddly, the hard core Busch drinkers, the kind who buy a suitcase (30 beers) at a time are rather indifferent to Copper Lager. The fact that it is 5.7% and actually has flavor from toasted malts does not seem to be of interest them. Oddly, Signature Copper Lager is not even mentioned on the main Busch beer website.Value beer drinkers have loyalty to their favorite brands, which brings up the point that hardly anyone discusses what value beer means in America. For the majority of Americans who work for very low wages, the idea of beer being an affordable luxury is becoming an anachronism. Just think of it: you will have to work over an hour at Walmart, just so you can buy a six pack of Bouncy House. Oh and by the way, as far as bang for the buck, Bouncy House has the same amount of alcohol as regular Busch.

On to other matters, the hop obsession continues unabated. Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA is said to be the first beer using hop oil steam distilled directly in the field. This is suppose to enable the wet hop taste of harvest ales throughout the year. What I find here is a pleasant contribution to the IPA style, with plenty of floral aromatics to keep the bitterness in check.
Locally, Christian Moerlein Handle Bar Double Stout is a proper winter prescription for the beer doctor.From their limited release can series, Handle Bar is a very tasty imperial stout, with deep roasted flavors and plenty of body. Perhaps not great but quite good.
Also locally, there is Rhinegeist Mosaic Pale Ale, a tribute to the flavor complexity of a single hop. Mosaic (HBC 369) is a 21st century creation, said to be a daughter of Simcoe hops. It is wonderfully aromatic with a very long finish, full of botanical complexity. I just wish this had more malt. But that is my own personal concern.

Try To Make It Real, Compared To What?

It was a pleasure to read Christopher Barnes recent post on I Think About Beer where he passionately complains about what writer Matt Taibbi would call the vampire squid aspects of AB-InBev sticking its tentacles into beloved beer brands and ruining them. This is most certainly the case with many of the breweries acquired, and it is also true that many of these famous brands have become simply more products to disguise the fact that AB-InBev would like to own all the beer in the world. But what I find rather ridiculous is the notion that the American beer drinking public really cares where their beer actually comes from (and hey, Carlos Brito and the boys have you covered there, get your Bud app for your I-Phone!).

It was essayist Lewis Lapham who pointed out that the genius of market capitalism is that it has no morality. This was most certainly the case when the last irresponsible heir of the Busch family was made an offer the stockholders could not refuse, and the historic American brewing giant passed over into InBev’s global hands. But what is also rather silly is this notion that the brewers ethos is actually important in a country that has now embraced market capitalism to the exclusion of everything else.
Consumer boycott of products considered unethical has been practiced many times before. But to base your shopping decisions on what the Brewers Association has decided is righteous brew, is to say the least, beyond laughable. This was the same organization that at one time excluded from their club Yuengling and August Schell, two of the oldest breweries in America. But enough on this lunacy, let me get to some recent beers.

Sierra-Nevada Nooner Pilsner is a very good take on pilsner but I find the term Nooner to a be a superfluous marketing ploy, but nevertheless essential to marketing to the beer drinking crowd that uses words like session beer. But on the label, the use of Adirondack chairs in front of a body of water, is a graphic rip-off of the Saranac line by F.X. Matt Brewing of Utica, New York. Nothing original there, but what is original is the fact that Nooner Pilsner is Sierra Nevada’s first year-round lager and a quite good one at that.
For the over-the-hop folks there is Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Hoppy Lager 2015 an India Pale Lager, and it most certainly is that. Citrus like bitterness made somewhat more mellow by the longer lagering time.
Locally, I came across Pure Fury from Rheingeist Brewery. A hoppy pale ale, it is called, which has become nearly generic amongst artisan creations. But for me, there simply was not enough malt support to make this a substantial experience.
Two recent samples from New Belgium Brewing: Shift Pale Lager is yet another hoppy pale lager that takes into account the lupulin concerns of the younger generation. While their 1554 Black Lager I found much more interesting, mainly because I do enjoy the schwarzbier style, from Krostritzer and beyond. 1554 has captured this style with delicious accuracy. The same can be said of New Belgium Porter, with its very good roasted malt profile.
It is the 106th anniversary of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas, which has lead to the release of Shiner 106 Birthday Beer. A chocolate stout that is an easy drinking desert beer. Like all Shiner beers, it is only made in one place: the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.

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