The theme for the April meeting of my monthly “let’s try to taste every beer in the world” beer tasting group was lager. For many, the thought of “lager beer” conjures up images of the pale yellow American style lagers that have become the accepted standard for beer the world over. While those beers do occupy a disproportionate amount the worldwide shelf space, they represent only a small corner of the entire lager universe. Lager styles go from the super light American “Lite” beer to the richly caramel and high alcohol Doppelbock, with a stop at every color and flavor along the way.
The main thing separating a lager beer from an ale is yeast. Lager beers are fermented using what is known in the biz as a “bottom fermenting” yeast, so called because the yeast forms colonies on the bottom of the fermentor instead of at the top as ale yeasts do. Lager yeast also likes to ferment at colder temperatures than ale yeast. This limits the production of fermentation by-products that influence beer flavor and aroma, leading to the characteristic “clean” taste of a lager. Prolonged cold storage after fermentation also enhances this by allowing the yeast to slowly clean up after itself. Another defining characteristic of lager yeast is the ability to ferment trisaccharides, longer chain sugars that ale yeast cannot ferment. The ability to ferment additional sugars leads to a dryer beer, the “crispness” that many people associate with lagers.
For our monthly meeting the only assignment was to bring lagers. It didn’t matter where they were from, how much they cost, or what the quality was. They just had to be fermented with a bottom-feeding yeast. In all, sixteen beers were tasted and commented upon ranging from a 2% ABV German light beer to the 10% ABV Human Blockhead from the Shmaltz Brewing Coney Island line. We sampled beers from the US, Germany, Austria, Belgium, and even Wisconsin.
There were a lot of great beers represented here. It’s difficult to pick standouts from the bunch. One of my favorites was Midnight Session Lager from Port Brewing in California. The bottle describes this as a Schwarzbier, but it’s really much too roasty to fit that label. The aroma resemble nothing so much as the burnt old-maids at the bottom of a bowl of popcorn, something I love. The flavor was all roast, with huge chocolate and coffee character, but none of the astringent bitterness that often comes with big roasted beers. The only possible flaw was a startlingly quick finish. Whatever you want to call it, I would seek this beer out again. Another favorite and perhaps the most “interesting” beer of the night was the Beersel Lager from Drei Fonteinen in Belgium. Drei Fonteinen is mostly known for their fine sour beers and lambics. The Beersel Lager is lager as you would expect a lambic brewer to make it. It is a cloudy, light bodied beer that starts out bitter but sweetens mid-palate. Nice flavors of light stone fruit and fibrous plant are rounded out by a funky, brettanomyces tinged, dry finish. Also worth mention was the Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier, a cloudy golden colored beer with a creamy mouthfeel and bready/fruity flavors. The surprise of the night was the Mahr’s Bräu Leicht. At just 2% ABV this little golden lager packs in a ton of malt and hop flavor. It was tasty and you could drink a lot of it in a session without any serious consequences.
While I really can’t say that there were any bad beers in the mix, there were a couple of disappointments. One of these was the Blond Doppelbock from Capital Brewing in Wisconsin. Many of us had tasted this beer in the past and liked it, so this may have been an old or mishandled bottle. Whatever the case, we found it to be flabby, sugary, and full of banana and sulfur flavors and aromas. Also unfortunate was the Kapsreiter Landbier from Austria. Another Kellerbier, this one could not compare to the Hacker-Pschorr example. We found this to be underattenuated and worty, with honey and raw sugar being the dominant flavors. There was very little bitterness to counter the sweetness. One person described this beer as “under-carbonated Duvel.” A final disappointment was the Sam Adams Imperial Series Doppelbock. While not a bad beer, the consensus was that it was “definitely imperial.” The nice caramel malt and spicy hop were marred by a hot and solventy alcohol. And then there was the Mickey’s Malt Liquor……….
The beers tasted were New Glarus Bohemian Lager, Bell’s Lager of the Lakes, Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier, Kapsreiter Landbier, Beersel Lager, Schlenkerla Helles, Flying Dog Dog Schwarz, Mahr’s Bräu Jubelfest, Mahr’s Bräu Leicht, Mendocino Brewing Company Bock Beer, Capitol Brewing Blond Doppelbock, Sam Adams Imperial Series Doppelbock, Port Brewing Midnight Sessions Lager, Coney Island Human Blockhead, Sam Adams Winter Lager, and Mickey’s Malt Liquor. Those in attendance were Michael Agnew, Tom Graybael, Gera Exire LaTour, Joel Stitzel, Jonathan Crist, and Paul Dienhart.
The “You Can’t Get This Here” Challenge
Last night thirty beer enthusiasts gathered at the Four Firkins to witness a contentious confrontation between a bevy of brews to which their palates had previously been denied access. From East Coast and West, these beers, unavailable in Minnesota, were put to the test in a fierce fracas to determine which was the best. Big hoppy beer against big hoppy beer, big Belgian beer against big Belgian beer, and big black beer against big black beer, they did battle until only one reigned supreme over them all.
Round 1: Russian River Pliny The Elder vs Port Brewing Hop 15 – Pliny plowed the Port.
Round 2: Russian River Damnation 23 vs Allagash Les Deux Brasseurs – Allagash all the way.
Round 3: Port Brewing Old Viscosity vs Lost Abbey Serpent Stout – The serpent swallowed the competition whole.
Grand Champion: Pliny The Elder proved himself worthy.
Pliny the Elder – Folks enjoyed the intense citrus hop flavors and aromas while appreciating the balance and drinkability of this beer. Many expressed that unlike most Double IPAs they could imagine themselves having three or four of these in a sitting.
Hop 15 – While some enjoyed the complex fruity character and multifaceted hop flavors of this beer, others found the malt cloying or the bitterness harsh.
Damnation 23: Generally this beer was well liked by all. Good stone fruit notes with a dry spicy finish. The main criticism was that the rather woody oak character clashed with the peppery yeast and hop flavors.
Les Deux Brasseurs – For most this Brettanomyces fermented beer was heaven in a bottle with delightful stone fruit and cherries dancing with a gently horsey funk and light acidic sour. For some, though, the funk was too much.
Old Viscocity – For a beer with viscocity in the name, this was exceptionally light bodied, especially for its 10.5% ABV. It was a battle in itself with sweet caramel flavors competing with sharply bitter roast. The roast won out in the end. After a final bitter bite, the finish was astoundingly short.
Serpent Stout – Thick, rich, coffee and cream. Lucious dark fruits and warming alcohol. A great beer.
I find myself in Vincennes, Indiana, where the beer selection at the local liquor store leaves much to be desired. With great beers being brewed in the state, only one Indiana brewery is represented. That one is Upland Brewing Company of Bloomington. I always like to try the locals and I had read about Upland on a few occasions so I decided to give it a whirl. I opted for the amber ale as that is one of my favorite styles, one that I can drink anytime and anywhere. It was also the only one in the cooler. Here’s my notes.
Aroma: Caramel and grainy malt with some earthy and spicy hop character. Woody.
Appearance: In my Holiday Inn plastic cup it appears to be clear. Reddish amber color with a persistent and creamy off-white head.
Flavor: Starts with a nutty, caramel malt and spicy/earthy hop. A significant roasted malt character comes through mid-palate and lingers into the finish giving the beer an interesting roasty bitterness that hangs on for a while. Coffee and hints of bittersweet chocolate. Bitterness is medium with the emphasis more on the spicy hop flavor.
Mouthfeel: Medium body with medium-high carbonation. Slight creaminess but with a bit of roasted astringency on the backside.
Overall Impression: An interesting amber with bigger than expected roasted flavors and earthy/spicy hops. Like a Düsseldorf Alt. This beer tells a story from start to finish going from caramel to roasted coffee. It makes me want to try others from this brewery.
The “You Can’t Get This Here Challenge” at the Four Firkins is officially sold out. In what was perhaps a record, all slots for this great event were filled within an hour of the official Four Firkins notification.
If you missed out on this event, join the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club. I am considering a similar event for the club in the near future.
Monday, April 27th
At The Four Firkins
From across the country they have come, six expertly crafted beers from American breweries of legendary status; Russian River, Port Brewing, Lost Abbey, Allagash, all unavailable to the Minnesota beer drinker. Painstakingly selected by A Perfect Pint, these bodacious brews have come to test their mettle in Firkin Forum. This Battle of the Beers exhibition match pits West Coast Double IPA against West Coast Double IPA, Belgian Style against Belgian Style, and in a final cruel twist of fate two gargantuan black beers from the same brewer will lock hops in an all out struggle for supremacy.
Round One: Russian River Pliny the Elder vs. Port Brewing Hop 15.
Round Two: Russian River Damnation 23 vs. Allagash/DeProef Le Deux Brasseurs.
Round Three: Lost Abbey Serpent Stout vs. Port Brewing Old Viscosity.
The lines have been drawn for an epic battle of the beers; six locally unavailable beers in four styles. Which will emerge victorious from the crucible of Firkin Forum? You will be the judge. Let the “You Can’t Get This Here” Challenge begin!
Limited to 35 attendees.
To register email firstname.lastname@example.org with “Can’t Get This Here” in the subject line.
This event is first come, first served. You will be notified by email if you are one of the lucky attendees.
The next event of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club!
When: Friday, May 15, 2009
You must be a member of the club to attend. Go to the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club to sign up and RSVP.
It is said that brewers make wort (unfermented beer), but yeast makes beer. Yeast ferments the sugars from the malt to create alcohol and carbon dioxide. In the process it also produces by-products that influence taste and aroma. The brewer’s real job is to create the best possible environment for happy yeast to multiply and prosper. When this happens, the result is a range of yeast derived flavors and aromas that run the gamut from fruity, to spicy, to barnyard and wet leather (good things, trust me). With thousands of strains of brewer’s yeast to choose from the flavor possibilities are almost endless.
For this meetup we will focus on yeast. We’ll wander among the Weizens with their clove/banana notes and haze of suspended yeast. We’ll “bring it” with the Belgians and their signature yeasty funk. Finally, we’ll slip into the sours from the fruity Flanders Red to the mind-bending, mouth-puckering depth of Lambic and Gueuze.
This is the third in a series of three meetups in which we will explore the main ingredients in beer, malt, hops, and yeast. At each session we will taste beers that highlight one ingredient over the others to develop a better understanding the flavor and aromatic contributions of each ingredient.
A recap of the April meeting of the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club
On April 10th, the Twin Cities Perfect Pint Beer Club gathered again, this time to delve into the world of hoppy beers. Ten club members gathered at Jeff’s apartment on the fringes of downtown Minneapolis to get their bitter on. This event was the second of three monthly events exploring the main ingredients of beer, malt, hops, and yeast. If last month’s Malty Beers event was about the meat and potatoes of beer, this month’s event was all about the spice. As Perfect Pint’s resident CiceroneTM I guided the group through a selection of beers intended to showcase the full range of hop experience from no hops to over-the-top hops with several stops in between.
At last month’s event, the group had been pestering me about bringing one of my own homebrewed beers to taste. I acquiesced, pouring my own pre-prohibition American lager as the welcome beer. This is beer the beer your grandfather or great grandfather might have enjoyed. Full flavored with a grainy/corny malt profile, it is assertively hopped with native Cluster hops with their distinctive “catty” or “marijuana -like” flavor and aroma. Maybe they were just being nice, but many claimed this beer as a standout of the night.
From this historic beer style we moved on to another even more ancient, a 13th Century Gruit Bier from Weihenstephan and the Doemens Institute in Germany. As hops are a relatively recent addition to the brewer’s toolbox, it seemed to me appropriate to begin an exploration of hops with a sample of what beer might have been like before hops. This herb-bittered and wild fermented wheat based beer reveals complex menthol, citrus, and herbal flavors with just a hint of wild yeast funkiness. It received a mixed review from the group with one club regular commenting, “I didn’t say I liked it, but it does taste how I thought it would taste.”
From there we entered a more familiar realm with Well’s Bombardier English Pale Ale. Exhibiting the typical English caramel malt and hay-like English hops with a bite of bitterness at the front, this beer was a favorite of those who do not tend toward the hoppy beers. Next we jumped the Channel to the continent to taste the European Noble hops, starting with the original light colored lager Pilsner Urquell. Because it comes in green bottles and is typically skunked by the time it arrives here in stores, many people don’t fully appreciate the beauty of this beer. Look for the cans to get the full rich malt and perfumy Saaz hop character that makes this a world class beer. The Düsseldorf Altbier style was represented by the regional pick of the month Headless Man Amber Ale from Tyranena Brewing in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. This was another good one for the non-hop-lovers with a rich caramel and toast malt balancing the peppery spiciness of the German hops; bitter and hoppy, but not over the top.
The big and bracing flavors of American hops were represented by four beers, Cane & Ebel from Two Brothers, New Dog Town Pale Ale from Lagunitas, Three Floyds Dreadnaught Double IPA, and Old Horizontal Barleywine from Victory Brewing Company. These beers represented American hoppy styles of different intensities and flavors, from the bitter but balanced Cane & Able to the super-intense Dreadnaught, and from the grapefruit citrus of Old Horizontal to the straight-up Christmas tree pine character of the New Dog Town Pale Ale.
Like Malty Beer Night where I had malt samples on hand for tasting, for this event I had examples of English, Continental, and American hops on hand for smelling. Attendees were able to smell and taste the beer and compare that experience to the raw ingredient. Overall the event was great fun, with a good amount of education thrown in. I will say one thing for this group. We can go through some beer. Once again, there was not a drop of beer left at the end of the night.
Next up is Yeast!
I had the opportunity to sample a bit of Summit Horizon Red Ale the other day at an undisclosed location. For anyone who does not yet know, Horizon Red a new year-round beer that Summit is officially releasing in bars on April 16th. It will be available in stores on April 20th. It’s exciting as Summit has not released a new year-round beer in a good many years. Summit describes the beer as “an emerging American hybrid ale that crosses the boundaries of styles. This red-hued ale projects an intensity of complex hops – yet allows the drinker to experience the character of the malt with notes of apricot, pine, and grapefruit.”
Here are my quick notes from the small sample I had.
Aroma: Biscuit malt and citrus/pine hop. The hop presence in the nose is very nice.
Appearance: Bright red. Beet-like. Crystal clear. Nice persistent white head.
Flavor: Hops are the dominant feature with a blend of spicy and citrus flavors. Bitterness is high. The underlying caramel and biscuit malt provides support, but not quite enough for my taste. It wasn’t bad, I would just like a bit more malt. Dry and well attenuated. I detect the characteristic English yeast character of Summit EPA.
Mouthfeel: Medium body. Crisp. Medium-high carbonation.
Overall Impression: This is a nice hoppy session beer. More malt than a standard American Pale. Not as much malt as an Amber. It’s not overly complex, but still tasty. Don’t serve it too cold. It gets better as it warms.
I finally had a chance to taste 16 Grit, the new über-hopped double IPA from Surly. Before I get to the tasting notes, let me just throw out a couple of caveats to asuage the ire of the legions of Surly fans out there. First, this beer is exactly what it claims to be. Second, I don’t tend to like that kind of beer.
I have never been a big fan of over-hopped, super-grapefruit, American double IPAs. I have often voiced my hope that last year’s hop shortage would curtail the just-add-more-hops ethos of American craft brewing. I like balance and these beers are not about balance. There are a couple that I find to be brilliant beers. Russian River’s Pliny the Elder is a prime example. But what makes them brilliant is their ability to showcase an amazing citrus hop character while balancing it with a solid and flavorful malt backbone. Okay, so now you know my bias.
Aroma: All grapefruit citrus hop with a hint of grainy malt in the background.
Appearance: Deep golden to light copper. Clear. Fluffy and persistent white head. Lace on the glass.
Flavor: Huge grapefruit citrus hop character and very bitter. Decidedly tilted toward hops. The light grainy malt background is barely enough to support, although it did become more prominent as the beer warmed. Some light stone-fruit flavors. Remarkably well attenuated for 10% ABV, giving a dry finish that is all about hops. Unfortunately that attenuation also thinned out the malt character. Alcohol is well hidden (but it will kick your a**.)
Mouthfeel: Medium-high carbonation that emphasizes the bitterness. High attenuation gives it a medium body, light for such a big beer. Bitterness is astringent.
Overall Impression: While this did improve as it warmed and the malt became more pronounced, I found this to be a bit thin and over-hopped. As stated above, I want more balance. Astringent bitterness is also off putting, but then it is called 16 Grit. I will say that the beer hits the mark that it aims for. I, however, would not likely order another.