Beercraft newspaper column #44- Beer on the internet

A trip down the Fermentation Superhighway

Isn’t it great, living in the information age? We have an entire world of knowledge at our fingertips. Anything you need to know about anything is a couple of clicks away. What awesome capabilities that gives us!

Like the capability to learn about beer. in the olden days, before the ‘World Wide Web,’ serious beer journalists like us would have to actually travel, visiting bars and breweries, not to mention spending considerable time in the library to bring you a fine column like this. Now, we can do it in an hour, with no research time whatsoever!

Seriously, the Web is a great place for someone who wants to learn more about beer. Brewers and beer lovers are passionate about their beverage, and hundreds of websites and blogs exist to teach, entertain, and make you thirsty. Here are some of the best.

It’s easy to get hammered with your brother and talk about starting the Web’s premier beer-oriented website. Jason and Todd Alstrom of Boston, Massachusetts actually followed through. Drawing on their backgrounds in advertising and, um, airport baggage handling, the Alstrom brothers created Beer Advocate.

And what a website. Beer Advocate has sections that teach you the basics about beer styles, hundreds of thousands of reviews which cover any beer you’d conceivably run across, beer bar suggestions for any city in the freakin’ world, and a huge forum for those inclined to discuss beer or share event information.

More than the work of two men, Beer Advocate has grown into a community of thousands. It gives people who are passionate about beer and brewing a place to connect, share knowledge, and swap stories. This is an invaluable resource for beer newbie and veteran commercial brewer alike.

California beer journalist Jay Brookston is another tireless champion of craft brewing. His site, the Brookston Beer Bulletin, demonstrates through sheer volume of information how the line between website and blog can blur.

In his pages, Jay takes us on a firsthand tour of the US craft brewing scene. His writing transports readers to beer events around the country, introducing us to a cast of idiosyncratic characters along the way. Brookston is a true journalist, digging through legislation and analyzing all the boring behind-the-scenes stuff that makes this industry tick.

Probably most enjoyable, however, is Brookston’s taking to task of journalists that diss beer. Many disparaging wine snob and neo-prohibitionist have felt the effects of Brookston’s pen, which he must keep in a scabbard at his hip.

Finally, brookstonbeerbulletin.com provides links to hundreds of blogs and beer writers. Anyone interested in the craft can get lost for hours among the esoterica of craft brewing this site provides.

Finally, for a multidimensional and multinational perspective on the world of beer, there’s the simply named A Good Beer Blog. It’s a collaboration of writers from Canada, the USA, Europe and Asia. The proximity to Western New York of Editor Alan McLeod and contributing writer Gary Rith means Rochester gets more than its fair share of press in this content-rich website.

The articles on A Good Beer Blog are great for beer neophytes. Accessible and conversational in tone, they guide the reader deeper into the beer world without lobbing around terms like “alpha acids,” “lauter tun” and “decoction mash.” Considering the geographic separation of its collaborators, there’s a real sense of continuity and community in the tone of the content.

We use these sites daily, even though we already know everything about beer. If you have so much as a passing interest in craft brewing (and you must, because you’re reading this article), then you should put down this magazine, boot up your trendy Apple MacBook, and get to reading.

After all, what else could you possibly use the internet for?

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

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Southern Tier… it rhymes with ‘beer.’

The 1st annual Swain Beer and Wine Festival was a really good time. The resort crew were super accommodating, and the comparatively sparse turnout gave us plenty of time to, uh, ‘interact’ with the other breweries.

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Robin from Custom Brewcrafters and buddy

This being a first for Swain, the lineup was small and limited to the immediate region. But any beer festival providing the chance to stake out the Southern Tier Phin and Matt’s Extraordinary Ale and Flying Bison Barnstormer Ale taps is a winner in my book.

Unquestionably, the beer of the festival was Roosterfish Hefeweizen, from the Roosterfish Brewing Company in Watkins Glen, NY. I would put this stuff up against the German stuff. A nice surprise indeed.

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Bruce and the Roosterfish guys setting up

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Festival goers received lots of individual attention

Crunch time.

The final paper for my advertising class has eaten up a good portion of my blogging time. Fortunately, I write better when drinking good beer. Or, at least, faster.

Anyway, hurry down The Old Toad because they’re featuring Kulmbacher Eisbock from Germany. If you’re unfamiliar with Eisbock, it’s a double bock (Doppelbock) which has been frozen to remove part of the water content. Basically, it’s like distillation.

The result, a very strong, sweet beer with a noticeable alcohol presence and almost no hop character to speak of. If you approach it with an open mind, and don’t expect it to taste like an IPA, you might find a new guilty pleasure. -Mark

Belgium comes to Cooperstown- the aftermath

We spent Saturday at the Ommegang Brewery in scenic Cooperstown, NY, at their annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival. It’s pretty much like any other beer festival. Except almost all the beer is Belgian in origin or style. And as such, it’s really freakin’ strong. And they have camping.

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The beautiful, Duvel-owned Ommegang Brewery

It’s truly surprising to discover how far American microbrewing has come. Five years ago, US interpretations of Belgian styles were usually iffy at best. It’s a testament to the tenacity of the brewers in this industry that the dubbels and tripels at the festival were uniformly good, pretty much nailing the style. American brewing just gets better and better.

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Legacy Brewing’s Scott Baver

I was going to break down various beers for you, naming show favorites and conducting informative interviews. But I got drunk. I can, however, remember that Weyerbacher had excellent Belgian beers, the names of which escape me at the moment. So much for responsible consumption.

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WTF?

Beer in Europe- the travels of Mark, Part II

When last we left our intrepid travelers, they were catching a high speed Thalys train through the Ardennes to Germany. We exited the train under the overcast skies of Cologne.

There are lots of picturesque, stately towns in Germany, and Cologne is not one of them. You’d think any town with the worlds largest gothic cathedral would try to measure up with the rest of its buildings. This is not the case. The Dom (cathedral) is settled on top of a huge concrete slab, across the skateboarder- infested square from the train station. All the surrounding buildings on the south side are squat corporate lego-offices built in the ’60s. North of the church runs the Hohestrasse, a cloned German pedestrian shopping street in which high-end boutiques mingle with kebab stands and lowbrow discount stores. On the Hohestrasse, you could be in any crowded city in Germany.

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The Cathedral and an inexplicable David

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The Altstadt and the Rhein seen from the Cathedral

That’s ok, though. We weren’t there for shopping or architectural wonder. We were there for the Kolsch.

Light in body, light in alcohol, and unique to Cologne, Kolsch is at once a unique beer style and a proud symbol of a city. “We served our Kolsch in .3 liter glasses,” the bartender in an Irish pub told us, “and the locals got mad because they were too big.”

You see, traditionally, Kolsch is served in .2 liter glasses (6.7 fluid ounces). When you finish one, the server doesn’t even ask; he or she simply fills another one and marks it on your coaster. You have to tell them to stop. Because the beers are so small, it takes an army of servers, all running around with their special Kolsch-carrier trays, to keep up with demand.

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This beer gave me a complex

On the positive side, with such small, regular doses, it’s certainly easier to control your buzz, which is something I had absolutely no interest in doing.

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My second Peters Kolsch of the evening

Kolsch is only brewed in Cologne, and several principal brewers vie for market share. Gaffel Kolsch is the biggest, and probably the only brand you’ll find in the USA. There’s also Sion, which is better, Frueh, which is better still, and Peters, which tastes the best. Each of these breweries has a beer hall on premises, where you can eat traditional meat-oriented German food to buffer yourself from the onslaught of beer shots.

Lumps of meat aside, I still woke up with a hangover.

Next post: Belgium Comes to Cooperstown

Beercraft newspaper article #43: Trappist ales

More on the beer trip tomorrow. I owe you guys the biweekly newspaper column. It just so happens that the subject matter meshes well

In Belgium, the quest for the Holy Ale continues

This column is being written literally hours before the start of a trip to Belgium. That’s right, gentle reader. We at Beercraft are so focused on bringing you accurate, up-to-date information on the world’s beers that we’re willing to travel across an ocean to find it. And we swear we’re not just using this column in an effort to write off a vacation in Europe.

Anyway, since the plane is leaving in three hours, let’s get down to today’s topic: Trappist Ale. And no, it’s not made by dudes in buckskin and fur hats with raccoon tails.

The Trappists are a monastic Catholic order that follow the teachings of Saint (not Pope) Benedict. They’re technically called “The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, but that’s awfully wordy for a beer bottle. Instead they take their moniker from the abbey of La Trappe. Most of their abbeys are located in Belgium, although the order has spread to other regions as well.

These guys are serious monks. They live a life of rigorous personal poverty. They remain silent as much as possible during the day. They basically do two things: work and pray. When not at prayer, they’re making products to support the abbey: Cheese, bread, even clothing. But the most famous fruit of their labor is the Trappist ale that has given Belgium international renown as the world’s beer Mecca.

Belgian law allows only six abbeys to sell their beer as Trappist ale: Achel, Orval, Chimay, Rochefort, Westmalle, Westvleteren and Koenigshoeven. There are numerous other “abbey ales” that are brewed by laic interests and not necessarily at the monasteries themselves.

For many, the beers produced by these six represent the holy grail of brewing. They are all exquisite, Brown or reddish in color, with a fruit and nut aroma and complex malt flavor. Each sip reveals more intricacy of flavor: a hint of coriander, caramel, is that… citrus? Trappist ales are more deep and complex than any other beers in the world.

Trappist and Abbey ales are categorically divided by strength. There’s Singel, which is already strong, Dubbel, Tripel and Quadrupel, which can tip the scales at a skull-crushing 12%. Hey, even a monk gets to live a little!

Unfortunately, Trappist ale seems nigh-impossible for brewers outside of Belgium to duplicate. Each abbey uses a proprietary strain of Belgian yeast, and they’re not giving it out to just anybody. Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown New York comes the closest, benefiting from the resources of its Belgian parent company Duvel, a longtime brewer of abbey ales.

Other American stabs at the Trappist/Abbey style have yielded good, if inauthentic, results. If your only exposure to “Belgian Ale” has been through a bottle out of the Saranac Summer Sampler 12 pack, it behooves you to try a glass of the Trappist stuff. It’s night and day (although we’ll happily down a few of the Saranacs too).

As you might expect for a beer style brewed by monks in only six abbeys in a tiny European nation, Trappist ale is not cheap. In a Rochester beer bar, expect to pay wine prices. But that’s the cost of greatness. If it’s cheaper in Belgium, we’ll let you know.

Although it seems doubtful that Delta will give us any on the flight over.

In other beers:
Old Toad General Manager Jules Suplicki has recently taken on the responsibility of beer selection for the bar, and she’s developing nicely. Using patron recommendations as well as those of beer distributors, Suplicki has built an eclectic lineup of excellent beers.

Last Sunday the Toad was featuring Okocim Porter on draft and Czechvar (the real Budweiser) as a bottle special. You just don’t find these beers in Rochester bars. Well done, Jules!

Suplicki’s predecessor in the Toad’s Cellar, Joe McBane, is hard at work hand-renovating his new beer bar, in the old Gregory Street MacGregor’s location. We recently had a look at the construction. He’s gutted the place. Don’t expect MacGregor’s when the new bar opens in August. Do, however, expect a fantastic beer selection!

Bruce is a certified beer judge and 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.