Lewe’s Arms Race

A story I’ve been following on the Brookston Beer Bulletin: There’s an interesting battle of wills taking place in the Lewes Arms pub in East Sussex, England. It seems large English brewer Greene King has bought the pub, replacing the fine local beer they normally serve with Folger’s Crys…er…their own beer.

Needless to say, this has incensed the locals, who love their pub and their brewery. A boycott is in effect and business is off 90%.

I like Greene King’s beers, but their attitude sucks. It’s good to see a grassroots effort against corporate arrogance working for a change.

Beercraft newspaper column #36: Bock beer and Beyond

Bock beers will put hair on your…whatever

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Is there anything that makes you feel as good as a newly-emerging spring? No longer does the frigid air sear your lungs with every breath. The trees are beginning to show some tentative yellow-green. Those nasty grey piles of icy sludge disappear from the roadside.

They feel good about the coming of spring in Germany, too. Now, it’s the traditional time to tap the bock beer.

In the days before refrigeration, brewers in the German Alps needed help from the winter to make their cold-fermenting strong lager. They would brew in December, storing the beer in frigid mountain caves. When spring came, with the hills once again dotted with the wild goats that have become the symbol of the style (“Bock” is “goat” in German), the stored beer would be ready.

And, like a wild goat, bock has a powerful kick. The traditional style is sweet, with little to no hop flavor, and all that malt masks the taste of the beer’s 6%+ alcohol content. Further up the scale, Doppelbocks (double bocks) can clock in at 9% alcohol by volume and the mighty Eisbock (ice bock), which has been frozen to remove water and concentrate the alcohol, can top 15%.

So let’s go up the ladder and try one of each. Spaten Bock is currently available around our fair city. It’s surprisingly light in color for a bock, but quite beefy in sweet malt flavor. You’ll detect a pleasant bready flavor imparted by the grains, yet it retains a crisp finish.

This beer is definitely robust enough to pair with a steak dinner, but probably goes best with sausages. We recommend pairing a pitcher of Spaten Bock with a couple of Bauernwurst at Swan Market, our favorite lunch hangout, on Parcells Ave.

Of course, there are times, such as after losing your job or when the in-laws visit, where the regular bock just isn’t enough. You can tell a Doppelbock by its name. Most of them end in “-ator,” is in Paulaner Salvator, Ayinger Celebrator, and Spaten Optimator.

In addition to its higher alcohol content, Doppelbock is also darker and sweeter. Hops, slightly perceptible in bock, are almost completely absent from the Doppelbock’s flavor profile. Instead, you’ll find complex raisin, grape, and toffee flavors.

Our favorite Doppelbock, Tucher Bajuvator, goes well with meat dishes and chocolate. If you’re having trouble sleeping, it could also be considered the ‘Ny-Quil’ of Germany.

If you’re one of those hoity-toity types whose idea of a perfect evening is sitting next to the fire in a smoking jacket sipping port, you might want to try Aventinus Eisbock for your next apertif.

The freezing and water removal of this beer is actually a form of distillation, so the line between beer and spirit begins to blur, as does everything else when you drink this stuff. In fact, it’s illegal to brew and sell Eisbock in New York State without a distiller’s license, so don’t expect Rohrbach, Custom Brewcrafters, or Southern Tier to dabble in this style anytime soon.

In fact, it’s hard to characterize the flavor of Eisbock as beer. It’s like a malt brandy, with a thick, chunky mouth feel. At this level of alcoholic content, the sweetness is intense, with cherry and plum notes. It’s really something to be sipped and appreciated instead of quaffed by the liter.

German bock beers are a strange dichotomy. They’re at once a hearty farmer’s festival beer and a sophisticated evening fare. They’re enjoyed on an equal footing by both metrosexual nightclubbers and big, red-faced dudes in Lederhosen.

In a society where beer is considered the basest of beverages, Styles like this prove to the wine and brandy crowd how complex, varied, and skillfully crafted a great beer can be. Prosit!

In other beers:

The biweekly 7pm Beercraft Tasting Session is continuing every other Thursday at Monty’s Korner. Last week Jason Fox, Head Brewer at Custom Brewcrafters, took a small but enthusiastic crowd through a range of bock beer.

These events are free, and there’s pizza too. Really, it’s a win-win situation. Come down, grab a sampler glass, and learn about the best beverages on the planet.

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.

Bruce is returning to Rohrbach

Well, looks like my friend and co-columnist, Bruce Lish, is returning to work at the Rohrbach Brewing Company.

Bruce was the brewer at Rohrbach’s downtown Rochester location for a couple of years, until it closed. Now that the microbrewery is expanding again, he’s back to brew their specialty ales.

It’ll be a few months before you taste Bruce’s beer, but trust me, it’ll be worth the wait. It’s a smart move on Rohrbach’s part.

An ale for what cures you?

Local Rochester nightclub magnate Ronnie Davis has just opened up a new neon-resplendent establishment near my house. It’s called “The Ale House,” and rumor has it they’ll be focusing on good beer.

I’ve not yet visited, but I have my doubts that a dude who built his nightlife empire on the dispensing of 2 for 1 Coors Light and Sexes on the Beach into giggly, barely legal proto-adults will put together a compelling beer menu. I could be wrong, though.

Anyway, next door, at Monty’s Korner, there’s a high quality, interesting lineup of beers. That’s probably good enough for me.

Beercraft tasting on Thursday

Continuing our nigh-indefinite series of beer tastings, Pat and I will be guiding interesting parties through a flight of, ahem, Beers From Ireland That Aren’t Stouts. We haven’t nailed everything down yet, but you can figure on Harp and Smithwicks, plus whatever else we can dig up at Beers of the World.

The tasting is at 7pm tomorrow, at Monty’s Korner in sunny Rochester, New York. It’s free, with a free pint at the end. It’s a pretty good deal, actually.

Beercraft newspaper column #35: St. Patrick’s Day

Begorrah! Here we go again!

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

Well, it’s that time of the year again; the time when everyone freaks out about all things Irish. Not that we’re complaining. After all, it’s much easier to wrap a beer column around a holiday like St. Patrick’s Day than, say, Arbor Day or President’s Week.

So you’re gonna dress up in green, pile the family into the SUV, and head on down to the scary, scary City for the parade. Chances are you’ll wind up with a Guinness in your hand, and that’s not a bad thing, even if you’re unfamiliar with the style.

Guinness is one of the most well-known beers in the world, and the preeminent Irish stout. Thanks to the brewery’s enormous marketing outlay, they have completely co-opted any religious significance that St. Pat’s still had, effectively turning March 17th into “Guinness Day. But we can forgive them for the ruthless commercialism, because they do brew a fine stout.

Irish stout as a beer style evolved from the dark, malty porters brewed in England during the 18th century. As Porter’s popularity waned in the big island, it remained popular in Ireland until the latter half of the 1800s. Arthur Guinness, local Dublin brewer, modified the beer until it suited local palates, using darker malt and changing the hop balance to create a full-bodied, nearly black brew which was less sweet than its ancestor, and that’s more or less what we have today.

Irish stouts like Guinness are carbonated with nitrogen, not carbon dioxide, so the bubbles are smaller. This gives the beer its distinctive cascading foamy pour, full body, and creamy head. The strong roasted malt dominates the flavor, but it’s skillfully balanced by the hop bitterness. You’ll also detect a slight sour astringency in the aftertaste.

Naturally, Guinness isn’t the only Irish stout. Ireland’s second city, Cork, is home to the two other big brewers of the style: Murphy’s and Beamish. These two lack some of Guinness’ bitterness and retain a bit more sweetness. However, they’re going to be a lot more difficult (nigh impossible at the moment, actually), to find on draft here. They’re only available in nitrogen cans at your favorite specialty beer store.

The dark color and thick mouth feel of Irish stout often leads people to assume that the style is very strong and highly caloric. Actually, the opposite is true. The only thing that makes stouts dark is the fact that the malt has been darkened by the roasting process. The “thick” feel is due to the nitrogen carbonation. A 20 ounce imperial pint of Guinness contains around 210 calories, fewer than in a pint of orange juice. And at 4.2% alcohol by volume, it’s no stronger than a typical American lager.

So Irish stout may not actually be diet food, but with its beautiful visual and flavorful aesthetics, it might be just the beer to inspire your poetic muse, just like it did for James Joyce, Brendan Behan, and that guy from the House of Pain. We’ll leave you to your pint with an old Irish proverb:

May the wind always be at your back
May Celtic win the Champion’s League
May your pint always be fresh
And may the road rise up to meet you (but not too hard)

In other beers:

If you like bowling, and you like good beer, check out L&M Lanes on Merchant’s road by Culver. Two floors of bowling lanes, a steel-tip dart board, and an impressive array of taps make for a fun, social evening. Standouts from the beer menu include Victory Prima Pils and one of our favorites, Southern Tier Phin and Matt’s Extraordinary Ale. These beers are just the thing for when you’re swinging hard15-pound spheres by the tips of your fingers.

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.