Please pardon me for saying this, but the recent post about the M&A of A-B InBev and SABMiller was for the beer doctor downright depressing. Why? Because all it means for beer lovers like myself is that we will see yet another increase in the price of beer, for no other reason than to make these avaricious business types take even more of our god damn money, while simultaneously, forcing many good folks to lose their jobs, in the holy name of streamline efficiency. It may be an early Christmas for the shareholders, but for everybody else, it is just more difficulties.
I take solace in the fact that the creation of beer is far greater than these counting-house concerns.
A prime example of this, is the re-appearance of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale 2015 Now brewed in California and North Carolina, this new world holiday classic remains one of the very best. Its hop signature is Sierra Nevada’s IPA contribution to the holiday/winter portfolio. Their hop-centric concerns are now manifest in all kinds of artisan brewing creations.
Which I should not be surprised that America’s oldest brewery now makes a seasonal version of this approach, in Yuengling IPL Which is a very hop-forward lager. What I enjoy about this one is the raw (some would say harsh) profile of the hops. A showcase for Cascade, Citra, Belma and Bravo hops, combined with Pale and Munich malts, and given a lively twist through the use of Yuengling’s house lager yeast. This is a powerfully flavoured 5% beer.
As November is halfway to December, I have come to realize after many years of sampling, that the best way to enjoy Great Lakes Christmas Aleis to drink this as fresh as possible. This legendary Midwestern wassail is truly a fantastic recipe. It is no wonder that people in Cleveland line up to experience the first tasting.
When it comes to the granddaddy of American wassail,ageing is not important. The 41st. edition of Anchor’s Our Special Ale is a kind of return to those earlier versions of their Christmas ale where the emphasis was on the malts, dialling back a bit on the spicy complexity, this dark brown (nearly black) pour has a subtle nose, and an almost stout like body. Beautifully balanced, this signature beer could have only come from the Anchor Brewery in San Francisco. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year indeed.
Concerning the A-B InBev SABMiller merger, let me say that although the subject involves the production of beer, this is not about beer. It is all about money. Which is par for the course whenever speculative Wall street and entities such as JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs become involved. Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev summed it all up with: “We believe this combination will generate significant growth opportunities and create enhanced value to the benefit of all stakeholders.” Envisioning this merger as a way to create “one of the world’s leading consumer products companies.”
The go-ahead for giving birth to this behemoth was made possible when the two largest shareholders of SABMiller , Altria the tobacco giant that once owned Miller Brewing when it was called Phillip Morris, and the Santa Domingo family of Colombia agreed to the merger, with a discount of the stock’s cash price, which was done, the New York Times observed, “in order to avoid a huge tax bill from the sale of their holdings.”
In order to pass through U.S. regulatory hoops, the Miller brand in North America will be bought by MolsonCoors. Making Miller Lite and Coors LIght under their control. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out: “taking complete control of MillerCoors would still benefit Molson, which could cut as much as $500 million in costs from the joint venture by eliminating breweries along the US-Canada border, reducing staff and improving procurement, according to analysts.”
The WSJ should know. Just ask the staff at National Geographic, when Rupert Murdoch bought their company.
Why the merger? The two main reasons cited are that A-B InBev wants to have greater presence in the continent of Africa and that they want to get a presence in China, with that holiest crown jewel of beer sales, the number one in volume, SNOW.
The purchase of the SABMiller portfolio involves an accumulation of a huge chunk of world beer culture, something that the money driven mainstream media tend to ignore. What will become of Dogbolter dark lager, the Australian beer dry hopped with cascade hops? What are the plans for Rhino Lager, Zambia’s “the pride of the copperbelt“, or St. Louis from Botswana. Will Impala the cassava based beer in Mozambique, undergo a reformulation? What about Trophy in Nigeria? Or Sheaf Stout in Australia, will they still use Nelson Sauvin hops in Fat Yak Ale?
Breweries from Romania, Slovakia, Peru, Columbia, Honduras, El Salvador, Italy, India, Hungary, Canary Islands, Uganda, Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic, are involved. If you do not believe that there will many people who will lose their jobs, then obviously you are puffing on a Neoliberal pipe dream.
Although there are less than 250 pages of text in William Bostwick’s The Brewer’s Tale, A history of the world according to beer, it is quite remarkable how many undiscovered facts are found in this book. It might be considered somewhat of a hybrid between the writings of Charlie Papazian and the late Alan Eames, in its focus to make sense of the world’s oldest beverage. But what sets Mr. Bostwick’s report apart from other encyclopedic reporting, is that he is also a home brewer, which gives his understanding of the subject a humility arrived at through his personal recipe experimentations that often involves subsequent failure, to achieve the desired results. As a beer writer of 20 years, I understand its one thing to write about beer, but quite another to create the product you are writing about. William Bostwick bridges that divide.
The Brewer’s Tale is very extensive covering the many facets of brewing production. From artisan startups to global behemoths, Bostwick makes it quite clear that brewing beer, whatever the size of production, is first and foremost a business, and it has been this way for many centuries. But also, as a home brewer, he has witnessed the poetic alchemy of its creation. Which gives this book a very readable, poetic center.
For myself, he touches my home base with his discussion of Maris Otter barley, a winter-harvested malt that is a personal favorite. First developed in 1966, its use vanished in the last decade of the 20th century, only to be revived in 2002 (to my Brooklyn Winter Ale delight).
Bostwick is also kind to point out that the great Fuller’s London Pride use of Maris Otter is one of the reasons it is so admired. The book also strikes a balance between tradition and modernity, quoting a brewmaster at Fuller’s, John Keeling, who said: “some people think that the best way is the traditional way. No. Making consistent beer is about making small adjustments”.
But those adjustments, in the case of mega brewing can be quite life changing. As Bostwick discovered after meeting hop farmer John Segal Jr., when his Yakima valley farm lost its contract to produce Willamettes for Anheuser Busch, after it became A-B INBEV.
William Bostwick does an admirable job covering the history of hops, pointing out that East Kent Goldings in British ale, are “the spring-green jewel in pale ale’s crown”. Coverage of that mother of American invention, pumpkin ale, is given proper historical context, with the home brewer working on a batch of his own. (With that in mind, I wonder if Mr. Bostwick has sampled Schlafly Pumpkin Ale? An outstanding recipe that uses Polish Marynka hops.)
The Brewer’s Tale recognizes greatness in beer, mentioning Westvleteren XII and Affligem’s “equally stellar beer” brewed by Heineken, which caused me to recall Affligem Pater’s Vat Christmas Ale a holiday treat produced 18 years ago, when dry-hoping in Belgium brewing was quite rare.
In fact, Bostwick’s The Brewer’s Tale is often a reconteur delight in explaining the industrialization of porter, the use of the Sierra Nevada torpedo, along with the archaeological ramifications of ancient culture from Sumeria and nearly everywhere else. There is an optimism in this report that obliterates both snobbery and bland cynicism that all beer is the same. A kind of testament I found on the August Schell website. where America’s second oldest family own brewery states: WE Repeatedly Introduce New Beer Varieties Under The Simple Truth: The World Can Never Have enough beer.
That is why I have always said there is no such thing as too much beer. The brewers Know it is a continuous work in progress.
The reinheitsgebot purity law has been deemphasized of late because of the expansion of breweries has also expanded experimentation, where unusual ingredients are employed to create unique flavor profiles. Thus, you have beers brewed with all kind of things: from green tea, to Wheaties, to the juice of blood oranges. This is of course, all very interesting, but this does not change the fact that brewing the Bavarian way, can produce some spectacular, time-tested results.
Take for example The Hudepohl Pure Lager Beer. The Hudepohl Brewery’s latest example from their pure beer series . This is kind of a local update to the series which began with their Amber Lager Which now is being brewed in Cincinnati, rather than contract brewed in Wilkes-Barre, Pa, or La Crosse, Wi. Being brewed locally embraces the rich German brewing heritage of the city. A culture nearly destroyed after World War One, when a nationalistic phobia demonized all things German, including former President Theodore Roosevelt, who called for the banning of the German language, from being taught in schools. Combine this with the intolerance of the Temperance crowd, who demanded prohibition and got it.
It has been a struggle to restore our local brewing heritage which Christian Moerlein, Hudepohl, Samuel Adams, Reingeist, Mad Tree, and Rivertown among others, are bringing about.
The Hudepohl Pure Lager Beer has dialed back a bit of the amber colour to produce a more golden pour. And what a pour it is! I am sure part of my perception was due to this being a very fresh sample, but after tasting this, I would say that this is a local reinheitsgebot masterpiece. A delicious, beautiful, easy drinking beer.
The opposite of fresh, there is the vintage 2014 Avery Twenty One An anniversary edition, imperial India style brown ale. Even after a year and five months in the bottle, this reinheitsgebot ale is a cascading dark pour that forms a meringue-like head of foam that stays rocky and thick throughout. This brown ale reveals the sustaining power of Amarillo and Simcoe hops in a vintage setting. The dark malts employed give this a profile that I first experienced many years ago, when the now defunct New Amsterdam Brewery introduced what they called IDA, or India Dark Ale. Twenty One is one of those rare American beers, where the essential four ingredients perform their combined alchemy: peppery, spicy, licorice-anise like etc. It is for me, certainly worth seeking out. A peaceful liquid tribute for expanding my global brewing consciousness.
I finally was able to experience Saranac Legacy IPA A golden pour with obvious quality foam. This is an expertly made American IPA, where emphasis is placed on subtle flavor variations, rather than over-the-top extreme bitterness. A historical recipe that reveals F.X. Matt’s significance as a regional family owned brewery, still going strong in its third century.Their Saranac Octoberfest Is a bright copper-colored pour, with an inviting malty nose. A solid take of the marzen Munich style, with Saphir and Perle hops proving support for the 2-Row and Crystal malts.
This is Octoberfest is spelled with a c because Francis Xavier Matt wanted only English to be spoken at the brewery. This was a case of assimilation: a new language in a new land.
Their Dark-tober(fest)German style lager appeals to this beer drinker because I favor beer with a malt emphasis. A dark pour that has the rich malt flavors I welcome, with outstanding body. What else needs to be said? Munich, Caramunich, Pilsner, and Dark Munich malts are supported by Magnum, and Hallertau Mittelfrum hops.
Then, finally, there is Weihenstephaner Festbier It will come as a bit of a shock to those who think German beer is either amber or dark. This very light golden pour with a botanical nose, comes from the world’s oldest brewery. Here is where the reinheitsgebot quality is in full swing. Especially because the Weihenstephaner house yeast provides a mysterious transformation to the Bavarian malts and hops.
When it comes to the market selection of beer, the casual consumer, as Norman Miller has pointed out, can very easily be overwhelmed by the new varieties that appear on a weekly basis. But of course that is also the best part of being the beer doctor, and after 20 years of professional study, I am simply amazed by how the subject of beer has evolved, in all its myriad forms.
One thing is now obvious to me. Pumpkin beer, like Oktoberfest and Harvest Ale, has become a permanent part of the fall season portfolio, despite those beer tasters who loath it. A quick perusal of the selection available in grocery stores reveals, even to non-beer seekers, that there is an obvious market for this style of beer.
New Belgium Pumpkick Ale is a good example of the Fort Collins brewery’s inventive originality. A bronze-gold coloured pour, with an unfamiliar nose to an unfamiliar palate, where the usual spices associated with pumpkin ale, are given a tart twist through the use of cranberry juice. A Halloween beer to be sure.
Oktoberfest season of course is in full swing and it was a pleasure to sample this year’s Abita Oktoberfest The Louisiana brewery’s take on Marzen is an excellent example of the many variations possible. Here Munich and Crystal malts are given hop (and dry hop) support from Hallertau hops, providing a nut-like profile that has a touch of anise in the semi-dry finish.
From an early contributor of the North Carolina artisan brewing renaissance, there is Highland Brewing Clawhammer Oktoberfest Lager A thoroughly delicious take on the style. Roasted malts given full hop support make this an easy drinking beer. At 5%abv, this Clawhammer (named after the mountain found in western North Carolina) is enjoyable from start to finish.
After reviewing Schlafly Pumpkin Ale recently, I have now had a chance to sample Schlafly TIPA a special release in time for fall. This is a golden rocky headed pour, with a very subtle nose.
The use of Galaxy and Topaz hops from Australia give this IPA a unique profile. A very mellow approach that does not reveal its 7.2% strength. In other words: there is nothing boozy about this, The two hops combined with a single pale malt, using an American ale yeast make this a rather nectar-like presentation.
Despite outbreaks of extreme hop insanity, the Marzen style also known as Fest beer, abides. For those who think the lupulin of hops is their main reason to consume beer, their aversion to the malty approach of Fest beer reveals a one dimensional outlook that remarkably almost denies the history of brewing. Face the fact that without malt, there is no beer.
Oktoberfest has many manifestations. This year, the Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest, which I have already written about, with its use of traditional Steffi barley, caused me to celebrate Fest beers, with a newly found appreciation. Putting aside the judgmental frame-of-mind, I find these Oktoberfest beers to be wonderful variations on a timeless beautiful theme.
Take for example Left Hand Oktoberfest A dark copper-amber colored pour with plenty of malty depth. It is also superbly balanced with a biscuit profile complimented by precise hop support. An outstanding pleasurable drink.
For those who think only microbreweries are capable of making good marzen, it would be wise to check out Yuengling Oktoberfest A quite good example of Fest bier from America’s oldest brewery. A clean malty profile has nothing out of place. This year’s production is one of my favorites.
Here in Cincinnati, home of the largest Oktoberfest in the United States, we have several very good examples. Hudepohl Oktoberfest Bier. If you Google up Hudepohl Oktoberfest, you mostly see reviews of when the beer was contract brewed by the The Lion Brewery in Pennsylvania. But now it is brewed right here in Cincinnati and it is even better. This dark amber marzen style, is straight forward and unpretentious.
This also of course is where Samuel Adams Octoberfest is produced (please note the earlier label), the world’s best-selling Fest beer, and quite understandably. As I noted in 2009: “this big bright malty recipe is so in tune with the end of summer that I can not think of autumn without it. This is one of my favorite beers, period.”
Locally there is the great Christian Moerlein Fifth & Vine Oktoberfest Hudepohl’s big brother, emphasizing the location of the world’s largest chicken dance.
Then there is the can of Franz, from Rhinegeist Brewery, another fine example of why this blessed recipe style is in the soul of Cincinnati. The exclusive use of of Munich and Vienna malts give this recipe character, with an inviting aromatic nose.
Moving north in the state of Ohio, there is the mighty Great Lakes Oktoberfest A time-honored take on marzen-style lager that quite simply, speaks for itself. In Akron,the same can be said of Brew Kettle Oktofest where the malts, by the very nature of this recipe style, do all the talking.
This year, I thought I was not going to sample pumpkin beers. This was due to the fact that I was disappointed when my beloved Saranac Pumpkin Ale seemed compromised last year. How do I know this? Well the abv of this beer was 5.1%, while in previous years it was 5.4%. I asked about this on line, but I never got an answer from F.X. Matt Brewery. Perhaps the change in alcohol strength meant a slight reduction in the use of Maris Otter malt? Anyway, I was surprisingly disappointed, and what made it worse, my friend Sam at Winner’s Market had gone to the trouble of getting it in stock for me.
Thankfully, I overcame my pumpkin beer aversion, in order to experience Samuel Adams Pumpkin Batch. A lovely golden pour. A saison style take on pumpkin ale that uses its Belgian yeast strain quite effectively. A marvelously complex palate presentation that reveals that artisan thought went into this recipe’s creation, and not just slamming spices into an ordinary ale. With its long dry finish, it reveals itself to be a pleasurable, sophisticated drink.
Then there is Schlafly Pumpkin Ale from The Saint Louis Brewery. This ale has literally, a pumpkin pie nose! This big time pumpkin ale is a bit of a departure from Southern Tier’s Pumking, with its candy corn profile. Here, this autumn wassail goes deep with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, making this a bit of a shocker, but nonetheless a very interesting recipe. Unless you do not like the taste of pumpkin pie. In that case, don’t even think about it.
So much is written about American IPA. A kind of Polonius mentality has seized this market segment of artisan brewing: This above all: to thine own hops be true!… which in the American way of doing things, casts aside the historical significance of the India Pale Ale style, created for the colonial British in occupied India.
It is sometimes said that original IPA began with Hodgson’s October Ale,a barley-wine style that was heavily hopped, in order for it to survive the arduous half-year journey by ship to the Far East. This historical account is a jumble at best. But one thing is certain. IPA was created by market necessity and no single brewer or brewery can claim its invention.
Perhaps Vico’s theory of cyclical history has proven itself, in the case of American market necessity. For in the world of craft beer, hop bombs are found everywhere.
Take Brew Free! Or Die IPA 21st Amendment Brewery, a “west coast style with attitude”. Served at lager temperature, this is one cold bitter beer. Warming up a bit, I noticed the lupulin effect (along with 7% abv) was softened somewhat by a malt base of support, keeping the recipe from becoming too dry.
Locally, there was Mad Tree Brewing’s Rounding Third Red IPA A tribute to professional baseball, there is a huge aromatic release of hops when cracking open a 12 ounce can. This has the obsession with hop freshness that the younger beer generation seems to love. It is beautifully balanced because it retains the complimentary support of malts. Very well done, unpretentious and direct.
I also tasted (alas) an old bottle of Victory’s Moving Parts Batch No. 2 The Dowingtown, Pennsylvania brewer’s take on a traditional British IPA, using English malts and hops, it has the apple aspect in the flavor notes that make it an unmistakable homage to original IPA.
The emphasis on hops is also found in American Pale Ale. Rhinegeist Brewery’s Glow Is a tribute to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Lumenocity concerts in Washington Park, in front of Music Hall. Rhinegeist’s special pale ale is brewed with a single hop, the German Hull Melon, giving this summer ale a focused complexity, where the fairly dry finish has a subtle melon- strawberry flavor, due to the use of this extraordinary hop.
Leaving the hop emphasis, the arrival of Oktoberfest beers puts me back in the malty universe I truly love, This year’s Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest Is a one time only collaboration between Sierra Nevada and Brauhaus Riegele of Augsburg, Germany. A beautiful reminder that Fest Bier goes back centuries. A golden colored Oktoberfest with delicious balance where the aromatics of the hops combine with the traditional German malts to produce a sublimely tasty beer: honey nut–like if you will.
Which brings me lastly to Vitus Bayerische Weihenstephaner’s Weizenbock, from the world’s oldest brewery. A brew of unbelievable depth, this is a showcase for the flavor complexity of the weizenbock style. The yeast alone reveals the magic of the 1516 Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot) with layer after layer of flavor notes. Outstanding from start to finish. A prime example of the difference between good beer and great beer, which even today, is rarely found.