Beercraft seminars, coming weekly to a pub near me!

Bruce and I have been asked by the management of Monty’s Korner in Rochester, NY to put on a series of seminars that will introduce casual consumers to craft beer. We’ve agreed (’cause we get like a free pint, or something).

The first one will be held Thursday, March 8, at 7pm. In keeping with the season, we’ll be talking about Irish stout. We’ll briefly discuss the history and aspects of the style,then taste a range of Irish stouts. Everyone in attendance gets a free pint of Stout, too.

It’s a casual focus, so we’re not getting into the hardcore date: degrees Lovibond, IBUs, that sort of thing. Still, all are welcome and we hope to see you there.

-Mark

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Beercraft newspaper column #34- The anatomy of beer

The anatomy of beer
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

I think we can all agree that beer in its modern form is the pinnacle of human achievement. But when it comes to educating the masses about beer, there’s still a long way to go. Not everyone’s a home brewer or beer connoisseur, so let’s take a look at what’s really in your pint glass.

Beer is simple yet complex, like Mexican food. There are only four main ingredients, but the variety of colors, flavors, and aroma is staggering. Today, we’ll talk about those ingredients and what they do.

First off, there’s the water. It might all be clear, but water varies in hardness, acidity, salinity, and proportion of mineral salts, and has a tremendous impact on the beer in which it goes. Great brewing towns like Munich or Burton-on-Trent have become brewing centers because the quality of the water in those areas was the best for brewing.

Interestingly, the water from Hemlock Lake is quite similar to the water in southern Germany, which is why many German brewers set up shop in the Flour City during the 19th century. With dissimilar H20, it would have been much more difficult to brew their beer to the style they were looking for.

Malted barley is the primary grain used in brewing. To make malt, the barley is germinated and then dried. This creates enzymes that convert the grain’s starch into fermentable sugar.

The germinated grain is dried in a kiln, and often roasted to various degrees. When you roast barley, it gets dark. That’s where dark beer comes from. Stouts like Guinness are made from barley that’s roasted until it’s almost black, whereas a light lager would use malt that’s just dried in the kiln.

Because of its sugar content, malt by itself would make for a very sweet beer. What’s needed is a flavor that balances that sweetness. That’s why we have hops.

Hops are a flower that stabilizes the beer and imparts bitter and floral characteristics. They also work as an antibiotic that kills microorganisms competing with the yeast. By themselves, hop flowers are oily and strong-smelling, and there are many types. The Saaz and Hallertau hops used in German beer differ noticeably in flavor and smell than the Fuggles and Goldings hops used in British ales. American IPAs often contain the piney Cascade hops from Washington State and Oregon.

For centuries, brewers combined these ingredients in various ways, adding a little beer from a previous batch, and then waited, and presto! New beer. It wasn’t until guys like Louis Pasteur came along in the middle of the 19th century that the function of the fourth essential ingredient, yeast, was understood.

Yeast is a microorganism that eats sugar and poops out alcohol. When introduced to the wort (as the freshly brewed pre-alcoholic beer is called), the yeast begins a wild orgy of gorging and reproduction, converting the sugars to alcohol until all that fuel is used up. Brewers can measure and control the sweetness and alcohol content by stopping the fermentation at the appropriate measurement.

As you’ve probably already guessed, there are multiple types of yeast, each with its own long, Latin name you probably don’t care about. Suffice it to say there are two categories: Top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting.

The top-fermenting yeast makes ale. It foams up on the surface of the wort, thriving at higher temperatures than its bottom-feeding cousin. Lager is made from the bottom-fermenting stuff. These yeasts need a longer, colder fermentation period, and impart a crisper taste.

Finally, there are adjuncts: Grains like rice and corn that are fermentable, but cost less than barley. American macro brewers use them to lower the cost of brewing so their shareholders can be happy. These grains also have their taste characteristics, as anyone who’s ever suffered through a warm Molson Golden can tell you, and give American light lager its signature flavor.

We don’t condemn the use of adjuncts, although our consumption of these beers is minimal. You drink what you like, and if you like Bud, than by all means, gulp away.

We, on the other hand, will be searching the internet for the definition of Reinheitsgebot.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

A surprise from Rohrbach

I gotta be honest. When Jen at Monty’s Krown first told me about the Rohrbach Brewing Company Java’s Espresso Stout (made with real Java Joe’s coffee) they had on hand-pull, I was a little skeptical. Coffee can be overwhelming in beer when not used judiciously, and Rohrbach isn’t exactly the best at the specialty ales.

But I tried a sample. I then ordered a pint.

The stuff is good. There’s a nice coffee essence that doesn’t domintate the flavor of the beer, followed up by a pleasant porter flavor that could probably use a bit more body, but went down nicely nonetheless. Thanks to Rohrbach for nailing down a first-rate pint.

-Mark

What makes a good beer bar?

First off… I got the sense from their last column that the Democrat and Chronicle’s Beer Buddies are getting their homebrew hats on. They’ve been threatening to do so for over a year. Good luck, guys, and save some for us! We’ll be gentle. We Swear!

Now, to the topic at hand. What makes a good beer bar? Is it as simple as the presence of good beer? I don’t think that’s enough. For a bar to earn the esteemed title Beer Bar from the esteemed likes of Bruce and myself, certain criteria must be met.

There must be a broad selection of styles.
A bar that features beer from 15 different craft breweries is great, but when each beer is an IPA, it tends to fatigue my taste buds. Show me something across the range. Have at least one good lager, a hearty stout, and, dare I suggest, something on hand-pull.

The staff must know what the f*ck they’re talking about
Everyone doesn’t have to be a zymurgist, but a basic knowledge of beer styles, flavor characteristics, and, most importantly, pronunciation is nice. I once tried to order a Kapuziner Hefe-Weizen. After a few minutes of back and forth, the server came back with “Oh, you mean Ka-PEW-zinn-er!”

Bartenders and servers, you can pronounce “chipotle” without a hitch. Why can’t you take two minutes at the start of your shift to nail the pronunciation of what your customers are going to be asking for? Communication is a wonderful thing.

The place has to be comfortable
There’s nothing worse than a stuffy beer bar. I’m fortunate to live in Rochester, which has some nice, knowledgeable pubs that fit (and sometimes smell) like an old shoe. In bigger cities, the places with the best selection tend to be huge and corporate, with 100% monthly staff turnovers and slick margarita menus. I can never feel at home in one of those places.

That’s all it takes to make me happy. I just wish places like that weren’t so rare.

An unlikely scenario, part two: Bruce’s list

My top ten beers to have if I were stranded on a desert island.

  • Southern Tier Phin and Matts Extrordinary Ale
  • Zywiec Porter
  • Spaten Lager
  • Catamount 10th Anniversary IPA-(unfortunately no longer produced)
  • Paulaner Hefe-Weizen
  • Bittburger Pils “Bitte ein Bitt”
  • Sheaf Stout
  • Tucher Bajuvator Doppelbock
  • AKTIEN – TÄNZELFEST
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale

Yup, that’s right, 5 of 10 are from Germany
-Bruce

An unlikely scenario

Bruce and I were enjoying an excessive quantity of Spaten Marzen yesterday, and the conversation turned to beer, as it so often does. Gazing down a line of 85 taps, we discussed which brews sucked, which were great, and which were totally indispensable (and therefore should be most frequently dispensed).

Eventually, the dreaded question was asked. “If you were stranded on a desert island with only 10 beers, which ones would you pick?”

Now assuage the more literal-minded readers, this is a purely hypothetical question that does not take into account temperature, storage, or an other external factor. We’ll just assume everything is perfect, every time.

Mark’s top 10:

For tomorrow, I’ll try to get Bruce off his lazy ass and post his list. As always, I’m eager to hear your choices as well. Even if they’re not as good as mine.

-Mark