A Review of The Brewer’s Tale

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 AleAffligem-PatersVat-75cl_1 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.

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Pure: The Essential 4

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 seriesHUDEPOHL-20150814-PURE-LAGER . This is kind of a local update to the series which began with their Amber LagerHudepohl0511 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 OneTwenty-One-Anniversary-226x300 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 IPAsaranacelegacyipa 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 Octoberfestsaranacoctoberfest 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)DarktoberfestGerman 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 Festbierweihenstephaner-festbier-2 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.