Big Time Beer For Big Time Winter

After a modest celebration on Saint Nicholas Feast Day, the patron saint of brewers by the way, it dawned on me that Christmas is quickly approaching, with the added treat of a full lunar eclipse on the Winter Solstice, but boy has it gotten chilly around here. Mind numbing wind chilled cold in the early morning, bright but frosty in the afternoon.
In such climate conditions, the true reason why Winter Ales exist, becomes abundantly apparent. Here is one scenario: you show up at a friend’s house with a six pack of assorted samples. Opening a couple of bottles, your host asks do want to put the rest in the refrigerator? You immediately give them a mild shock by saying no, these beers could use a little warming up. To the ice cold lager swilling crowd, this appears as an anomaly.
What kind of beers am I talking about? Well Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout for a start. The annual Russian Imperial Style Stout weighs in at 10% alcohol by volume, so there is absolutely no need for this coal black colored brew to be frosty. In fact doing so would only deprive you of the actual beer tasting experience.
The same can be said of Weyerbacher Tiny, an 11.8% smooth monster. An Imperial Stout made with a Belgian yeast strain, providing a delicious flavor twist in the finish. A fifth of this cork caged beauty would be excellent to share with a few friends. But well chilled? Absolutely not.
With freezing cold temperatures there is always room for Great Divide and their chocolate notes masterpiece Hibernation Ale. Somewhat from the same English Winter Ale school as Avery’s Old Jubilation Ale, Hibernation, at least for this year, seems to have more aromatic hops than usual, giving this an orange-chocolate dimension in the finish. Again: Don’t Drink This Cold. Slightly chilled would be best to start with.
Summit Winter Ale is a welcome sight this holiday season. Yet another winter beer that does not use spices to be festive, what I affectionately refer to as the non-wassail group, which usually malt showcases, with the notable exception of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, where hops are moved to the forefront. Which reminds me, I just recently got a chance to try the year round Summit Horizon Red Ale, a very classy American hops display that is India Pale Ale like in its floral complexity.
I almost forgot. Besides their big time chocolate stout, Brooklyn Brewery also makes their Winter Ale, one of my personal favorites, a glorious tribute to Maris Otter Malt, which, when served with fresh baked Scottish Shortbread, is a perfect wee-heavy experience.
Stay warm. Stay bright. All my best and thank you.
The Beer Doctor


The Meaning of Pure Beer

I recently ruffled some feathers over at Beer Advocate when I invoked class warfare by stating that anyone who spent $44 for a 22 ounce bottle of Goose Island Bourbon Stout was a fool. What the hell do I know? other than having a working class appreciation of this ancient beverage, I know nothing about matching cigars with beer. Cigars? Nicotine poison combined with liquid bread? Thanks but no thanks. Whether it is some successful business type cleverly able to manipulate the money supply, so they can live out La Dolce Vita, or Brooklyn brew master Garrett Oliver; if you think cigars and beer belong together, you are being an elitist snob, whether you care to admit it or not.
Beer Advocate as a web site has plenty of folks with all kinds of opinions, but to be honest, I really don’t belong there. What do I have in common with someone discussing the merits of purchasing a $100 bottle of twelve ounces of beer? Absolutely nothing. Despite the level headed approach employed by the two brothers who created the site, too often the members wander off into yuppie drivel, totally unconnected from beer’s historic implications. Their rational usually proceeds along these lines:
1. Craft beer good. Giant (macro) beer bad.
Never mind that there are plenty of so-called craft brewed beers that are actually lousy. I will not bother to name brands because a beer seeker can find this out themselves. What is important to this line of thinking is that beers that the craft beer crowd doesn’t care for, like adjunct grain pale lagers, are not only reviled but actually hated. What is even more strange is the people who complain about corn in beer, have no problem seeking out rare stouts stored in bourbon barrels. If I remember correctly, bourbon, is made of at least 51% corn.

Which leads me to being asked recently what is pure beer? Pure beer, in the Bavarian Purity Law sense, is beer made with four ingredients: barley malt, hops, yeast and water. A rigid criteria to be sure, and one that was all but abandoned when new world all grain versions of golden pilsener became the American standard, until folks like Fritz Maytag noticed that flavorful beer was almost completely lost, at least on the national front. Of course what followed was the so-called craft beer revolution, where emphasis was placed on the purity of the recipe, such as Samuel Adams lager being allowed to be sold in Germany as beer.
Well one thing led to another and pretty soon all kinds of styles were being given new world treatment: from India Pale Ale, to Russian Imperial Stout, to wassails brewed with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkins. But the true meaning of pure beer remains the same, no matter what experimental brewers like Dogfish Head Brewery create.
Which is why I am surprised when a pure beer recipe is offered, is not often acknowledged, nor very well received. A case in point is Budweiser American Ale, the giant brewer’s pure beer take on American ale. A well made beer that has been given a short leash just because it is made by Anheuser-Busch. The very same indifference applied to when their Michelob brand reverted back to an all malt recipe. Remember: craft beer good, big beer bad.
Here in Southwest Ohio, the arrival of Hudepohl Amber Lager is hardly even acknowledged. A tribute to the non golden, non all grain beer made for the German immigrant population in the middle of the 19th century. It is straight forward, direct and good. The kind of beer made before golden lager took over the world. Modestly priced, the only elite factor is whether you know about it enough to seek it out. It certainly won’t increase your cachet with the crowd over on Beer Advocate.